Scope and arrangement
The Hilda Simms papers date from the 1930s to 1994 (bulk dates 1940s-1950s) and document her career as an actress; her work on creative arts and drug treatment programs in New York; and her personal life. The collection consists of correspondence, scripts, programs, clippings, photographs, sound recordings, moving images, reports, notes, ephemera, and writings. It is not a comprehensive record, but it does highlight many of her endeavors; especially her title role in the Anna Lucasta play; her WOV Ladies' Day radio show; her work on the New York State Commission for Human Rights and the Addiction Research and Treatment Corporation programs; and her commitment to various organizations. The bulk of the collection is correspondence, both professional and personal, and tracks the development of her career, and details Simms's relationships. Simms's time in Europe during the late 1940s to early 1950s is also represented here through theater files, a diary, notes, expense lists and receipts, and souvenirs.
Researchers should consult the related photograph and portrait collections that were separated from these papers. Sound recordings and moving images are unavailable pending digitization.
The Hilda Simms papers are arranged in two series:
Series I dates from 1937 to 1993 and details Hilda Simms's career, but it is not a full representation of the many roles she played or the positions she held. The series leads with Theater, Radio, Film, Television, New York State Commission on Human Rights, Addiction Research and Treatment Corporation; and other materials arranged alphabetically by category thereafter.
The Theater files document some of Simms's early work through correspondence, play scripts, sheet music, programs, and sound recordings. The correspondence is primarily about role offers and possible productions. The scripts are from various playwrights. Anna Lucasta and many others are clean copies; but there are a few with actor notes such as Hassan by James Elroy Flecker, and Dulcinea by Gaston Baty. Programs from her plays as a cast member include The Afro-Philadelphian (1920); The Captain's Paradise (1961); and The Gentle People (1950). Anna Lucasta programs from productions at the Civic Opera House in Chicago (1945) and the Mansfield Theatre in New York (1944) are also present (all programs mentioned are in box 3, folder 20). The run of Anna Lucasta at His Majesty's Theatre in London, England is one of the more featured productions in the collection through letters, opening night well wishes, and reviews. Other materials related to this title role include narratives Simms wrote about her experience, and information regarding publicity.
Radio files primarily relate to the development of her WOV Ladies' Day daily morning program, which is documented through numerous scripts, playlists, and sound recordings. The commercials and public service announcements demonstrate the program's influence in the local community; and the post cards with song requests display trends in music during that time period.
Film and Television files contain schedules, call sheets, and a moving image clip for the Joe Louis Story (1953); a synopsis for Black Widow (1954); and correspondence and scripts for The Nurses (1962-1964). This area of the collection is scarce.
Simms's duties as director of the Creative Arts Program for the New York State Commission for Human Rights is reflected through agendas and press releases for public hearings; surveys; and reports related to minority actors. These files also indicate how the program initiatives aimed to improve the working conditions of artists of color.
Simms's long-term position with The Addiction Research and Treatment Corporation is represented though memorandas; a couple of research notes on substance abuse; original poetry by her participants; and copies of scripts possibly used during her workshops. These materials communicate Simms's intersecting work; and track the development of her "theatre therapy" program.
The Agents and Managers files hold correspondence about scripts and payments; receipts; and contracts related to the William Morris Agency, Al Parker Ltd, and a few other agencies.
The Appearances files include request letters from various individuals and organizations. These materials give an account of Simms's involvement in her community. An example is a 1944 letter from Publicity Limited confirming Simms as the guest of honor at the Woman Pays Club event (box 27, folder 10). The club was a group of self-supporting women in the arts. Another instance is when Simms served as the official hostess of the 1956 Exposition of Progress event held in New York City. The event was dedicated to the cultural and economic growth of black people; and is recounted here through posters, press releases, letters, and a schedule.
A few of Simms's awards are present in the collection, including a program for the Citizens Achievement Day Committee of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, where Simms was honored with a public service award; and an award for the special distinction in the field of stage, radio, and television from the National Council of Negro Women.
The clipping scrapbooks feature reviews of productions and profiles of Simms, primarily regarding Anna Lucasta.
Other professional correspondence includes requests from service men and fans asking for autographed photos; and organizations seeking appearances or other forms of support.
Lucky Lakes estates, a New York summer community, appears to be a business venture Simms participated in with her husband Richard Angarola based on the visitor registers, newsletter production documents, and promotional radio scripts held in the collection.
Notes and Research Materials consists of loose paper, index cards, and a few notebooks that record some of Simms's ideas on various topics, notes on acting and theater, and some lists of names.
The Office of War Information files contain a studio pass, purchase vouchers, a few letters, and a script written by Simms.
Organization files convey Simms's commitment to various civil and political organizations through membership letters; copies of the by-laws and the constitution from the American Negro Theater; contracts and letters from the Actor's Equity Association; agendas, notes, and meeting minutes from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists; and a transcript of proceedings from the Conference on Creative Use of Minorities in Theatre (1946).
Pariscope was an American news-room project created by Simms and her husband Richard Angarola to chronicle the news, events, and activities of American artists in Europe. The collection contains a manuscript, agreement, and a few pitch letters about the project.
Simms's writings express many of her views on social, cultural, and political issues through her addresses, speeches, and drafts of a few articles. Examples include an address delivered for the National Andrew Jackson Oratorical Contest at the Washburne Trade School (1946); "The Negro in America Theatre" speech; as well as a narrative draft retelling her experience at Camp Wo Chi Ca, an interracial organization for children to work and play in a democratic atmosphere (box 40, folders 8 and 9). There are also drafts of her "The Living Arts" column from the Tuesday publication (1960s).
Series II dates from the 1930s to 1994 and concerns Simms's private life. The series is arranged alphabetically by category. The bulk of this series is correspondence, including a few letters pertaining to her divorce from Williams Simms; many affectionate exchanges between Simms and her husband Richard Angarola during their marriage; and greeting cards and telegrams from other family and friends.
Biographical information consists of resume drafts, identification cards, educational degrees and alumni newsletters, a will, and a few obituaries. Financial Records include itemized expense lists, invoices, and receipts; a 1949 European income tax form; and a 1957 United States tax form filed jointly with Angarola. The materials illuminate the finances of a working woman and artist during the mid-twentieth century.
Simms's time in France is documented here through a diary of daily updates, brief observations, and a list of her appointments; a notebook in French; and another notebook of expenses (box 55). Additionally, the collection holds ephemera and souvenirs from Paris.
Personal writings contain original poetry written by Simms and Angarola; such as an untitled poem Simms wrote in 1959 about their separation.