By Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs Curator of Collections Elizabeth Coulter

The Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs currently curates approximately 100,000 objects in the State of Delaware’s Historic Collection among them, a child’s ladybug costume dated to 1974. As people search for Halloween-costume inspiration this month, it may be found in unexpected places, like a museum collection.

Photo of the ladybug costume
Bonnie L. Pritchett, costume, 1974, cotton, ink, cardboard, polyester, chenille, metal, 1977.113. Image courtesy of the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

This ladybug costume gives new meaning to the phrase “big things come in small packages” as it commemorates a significant moment in Delaware history. Made from cotton, cardboard, polyester, chenille and metal, the red costume with six symmetrical black spots on the back and an antenna headband was fitted for a second grader in Mrs. Mollie Brown-Rust’s class from Lulu M. Ross Elementary School in Milford, Delaware.

In 1974, Mrs. Brown-Rust and her class of 19 second-grade students read their Weekly Reader magazine to learn about state bugs. They realized Delaware did not have a state bug and they felt it should have one, so after many discussions they voted for the ladybug. Mrs. Brown-Rust and her students went beyond the classroom and lobbied state legislators to have the ladybug become the official bug of Delaware. After a lot of hard work, State Rep. Lewis B. Harrington invited the class to Legislative Hall in Dover on Thursday, April 25, 1974.

For the occasion Mrs. Brown-Rust and Title I aides Mrs. Pyne and Mrs. Bonnie Pritchett purchased material from the Leggett’s store in Milford to make ladybug skirts and costumes for their students to wear to Legislative Hall. That day, Gov. Sherman W. Tribbitt signed the bill to make the ladybug the state bug on the back of a second grader wearing a ladybug costume. At a young age, these students learned first-hand that hard work for a cause can result in official change.

Photo of Gov. Tribbitt signing the bill making the ladybug the state bug of Delaware
1974 photograph, provided by the Lulu M. Ross Elementary School in Milford, Delaware, that pictures then-Gov. Sherman W. Tribbitt signing the bill to make the ladybug the official bug of Delaware.

The ladybug is the official state insect of six other states including Massachusetts (1974), North Dakota (2011), New Hampshire (1977), New York (1989), Ohio (1975) and Tennessee (1975). In addition to the state bug, Delaware also recognizes the tiger swallowtail as the state butterfly and the stonefly as the state macroinvertebrate. Other state symbols for Delaware listed in Title 29 State Government’s General Provisions Chapter 3: State Seal, Song and Symbols include:

-State song: “Our Delaware” written by George B. Hynson
-State bird: blue hen chicken
-State tree: American holly
-State flower: peach blossom
-State mineral: sillimanite
-State beverage: milk
-State herb: solidago odora, commonly known as sweet golden rod
-State fossil: belemnite
-State soil: Greenwich loam
-State star: Delaware Diamond
-State marine animal: horseshoe crab
-State dessert: peach pie
-State fruit: strawberry
-State wildlife animal: grey fox
-State shell: channeled whelk
-State sport: bicycling
-State tall ship: Kalmar Nyckel
-State historical aircraft: Bellanca Cruisair

Many of these symbols are represented by objects in the Historic Collection of the State of Delaware.

As the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ Curator of Collections, Elizabeth Coulter participates in developing and installing exhibits, developing and presenting educational programs, providing access to the collections, collaborating with partnering organizations and expanding the profile and use of the collections. She holds a bachelor’s degree in art history and American studies from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in decorative arts history from George Mason University and the Smithsonian Associates.

Photo of Elizabeth-Coulter
Elizabeth Coulter (she/her)