Guest Blogger: Emelyn Schaeffer “Wealth of Colleges: A History of Learning and the Texts that Help Us”

My name is Emelyn Schaeffer and I am from Atlanta, GA. I am approaching my sophomore year at Davidson and I am thinking about double majoring in English and Gender and Sexuality Studies. I am excited about working in Archives and Special Collections this summer, learning more about how the library operates, and discovering more about Davidson’s past.

Davidson’s two libraries, the Main and the Music, house many interesting volumes just waiting to be opened and explored by students eager to learn.  As a student, the Library often feels like more of a social hub than the Student Union, the tables packed with students studying together or planning group projects, sharing fascinations and frustrations about their classes. I have no way of knowing if this is what the library looked like throughout the history of the college, but the Original Davidson College Library gives us a peek into what students of the past studied.

The Original Library used to be housed in the Davidsoniana Room, where the works of alumni and faculty are available for students to use, but was recently moved to the Rare Book Room. This move gave me a chance to compare what my predecessors read to what I read.

Bookshelves containing the Original Davidson College Library and the personal library of President Morrison, the first president of the college

Original Davidson College Library in its new location in the Rare Book Room

 

One of the books we have in common is Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nation, though admittedly the green-covered and gold-embossed copy belonging to the Original Library looks much nicer than my yellow paperback. The work inside the Algebra textbooks also looks rather familiar – one of which, written by Davidson Mathematics professor Major (later General) D.H. Hill, contains the note, “This book was published in 1857 and was considered an excellent text, tho’ it is chiefly notable for the strong sectional feeling it displays (Note Yankee and wooden nutmeg problem 41). James G. Blaine referred to it in the U.S. Senate in an effort to keep alive Northern hatred for the South.”

As is likely expected, there is a plethora of books on historical, religious, and linguistic subjects. Historical texts include Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson, and the Marquis de Lafayette. Students simultaneously studied the history of the Church and natural theology, along with the works of several philosophers. Languages studies included Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

This is just a sampling of the books the Original Library contains. If you want to learn about this or any of our other collections, you can head on over to our website to contact us or schedule an appointment!

 

Lights, Camera, Davidson! “American Animals” is a Sundance Hit

Advertisement for 4/18/18 screening at Our Town Cinemas.Last Wednesday, Davidson College community members had the unique opportunity to attend a free advanced screening of Bart Layton’s most recent film, the true-crime thriller “American Animals” which was filmed on campus during the spring of 2017!

A man in a parka and winter hat stands behind film cameras.

Director Bart Layton outside of Chambers last March.

While the cast and crew were on campus, students had the opportunity to act as extras and intern on set to learn firsthand how film sets function. A question and answer followed the advanced screening and director Bart Layton explained that Davidson’s Archives & Special Collections had the unique feeling they sought when scouting film locations at colleges and universities and appreciation for student employees who “ask the right questions.” Filming took place outside of Chambers and inside the E.H. Little Library, particularly the Davidsoniana Room and the Rare Book Room.

Look for how familiar campus spots were transformed for film!

The film, starring Evan Peters (“American Horror Story”), Barry Keoghan (“Dunkirk”), Blake Jenner, and Jared Abrahamson is based upon the “Transy book heist.” In 2004,  four students robbed Transylvania University’s special collections of several rare books and were arrested after attempting to auction their stolen goods at Christie’s auction house in New York City.

Film crew set up in front of Chambers.

“American Animals” will not be the first retelling of the tale. Chase Allen II, one of the original four heist members, published the story of the heist as his first public acknowledgment of the crimes after declining all interview opportunities. Allen’s telling of the story, entitled Mr. Pink: The Inside Story of the Transylvania Book Heist, was published under the pseudonym “Chas Allen” in 2010.

The film opens in select theatres on June 1! Click here to read a review from Variety.

Welcome to Archives & Special Collections, Molly!

Join us as we celebrate the arrival of Molly Campbell, the new Digital Archivist! I took a little time to interview our newest addition to the team to introduce her to Around the D.

Woman on a mountain trail wearing a white t-shirt and black sunglasses.

Molly Campbell

You’re just beginning to get to know Davidson’s Archives & Special Collections–what’s your background in archival work?

I first became interested in archives when I was an undergraduate student studying  public history at James Madison University. I was lucky enough at that time to acquire a summer internship at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, DE. Over the course of that summer I really fell in love with archives and decided to pursue a MA in History to further my knowledge of the field. Once I had obtained my MA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst it was fairly apparent that I was also going to need a Master in Library Science (MLS) in order to better understand archives, so I did just that at the University of Maryland, College Park. After graduation I worked in the archives of The Lawrenceville School, which is a boarding school in Lawrenceville, NJ. At Lawrenceville I had the chance to work on a number of exciting projects, including working with students and faculty.

What about the Digital Archivist position interested you?

The position interested me for a number of reasons. I think initially the title “Digital Archivist” attracted me because I am particularly interested in working with and managing electronic records. Thanks to the proliferation of digital technology our society is producing a massive amount of data that archivists are trying to collect, organize, preserve, and make accessible. I want to be part of that movement to preserve digital records and this will be a fantastic opportunity to do just that. Davidson is currently producing a large amount of digital material and I hope that I can help collect that information so future students, faculty, and staff can easily access it. I am also excited to make our print and a/v collections more easily accessible through digitization initiatives.

Are there any projects you’re particularly passionate about introducing to Davidson?

I have a number of ideas relating to projects that I think would be exciting to introduce to Davidson, but for the time being I am going to try and better understand what this particular community values and how the Archives & Special Collections can better serve it. I would really like to take the time to learn how people currently utilize the materials in Archives & Special Collections to see what projects would best serve our userbase.

White sheet cake that reads "Welcome Molly"

A welcome party was held in the Library for Molly on Wednesday, April 4!

You haven’t been here long yet, but what has been your most memorable or surprising experience at Davidson thus far?

I was pleasantly surprised how welcoming everyone has been since I arrived. The most memorable experience thus far was when a group of the Library staff surprised me with a welcome song set to the tune of “Hello, Dolly.” It was great and certainly very memorable!

 

What are three things you want Davidson’s community to know about you?

More than anything else I would like the community to know that I am excited to be here and am ready to hit the ground running!  I am excited to begin meeting students, staff, and faculty across campus and would like to hear how they envision Archives & Special Collections best serving them. Please feel free to drop me a line anytime!

“The Total Package”: Advertising in Davidson’s Past and Present

Last month, Davidson College made headlines when Kiplinger’s 2018 Best College Values report revealed that it had been ranked as the liberal arts institution of the highest overall value in the country and the second best overall value in higher education, following Princeton University.

Davidson was lauded for its commitment to providing an education on par with large New England universities in a small town environment. Also noted were the College’s 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, NCAA Division I athletics and financial aid packages devoid of loans thanks to the Davidson Trust. On offering generous financial packages, College President Carol Quillen says, “The no-loan program is our way of telling talented students of all financial backgrounds that we want them here and will do what we can to make it possible for them to attend.”

Looking back in Davidson’s history, College advertisements boasted the College’s curriculum geared toward Christian leadership, the connection to the Presbyterian Church, the outstanding faculty and available athletic facilities.

The College Archives & Special Collections features two newspaper advertisements for the College from the turn of the 20th century, unfortunately, their specific publication dates are unknown. Do you have any advertisements from Davidson’s history?

Newspaper advertisement describing school year and offerings, interested students should inquire with Registrar.

College advertisement, year unknown.

Newspaper advertisement describing course offerings and listing faculty.

College advertisement, year unknown.

Uncovering the Unknown: Artifacts Excavated from Beneath the Sparrow’s Nest During July 2017

Small brick building with a covered doorway, one window and a chimney.

The Sparrow’s Nest, unknown year.

This past July, although activity had slowed down around campus for the summer, a renovation crew discovered that there was much of interest below ground. Specifically, beneath the Sparrow’s Nest. At first glance, the Sparrow’s Nest does not look like much. It is a small, brick cottage nestled between Belk Hall and Vail Commons, across from the Lula Bell Houston Laundry. During the school year, any glimpse of activity in or around the building. To the untrained eye, the Sparrow’s Nest appears to be unused, perhaps simply a storage room. However, the history of the Sparrow’s Nest reveals there is much to be learned about its history with reference to Davidson College and the town of Davidson itself.

During renovations in July, Barbara Benson, Director of Building Services, and David Holthouser, Director of Facilities and Engineering, informed the College Archives & Special Collections that the crew found more than the expected decay of an old building. Whilst removing the termite-damaged floor system, the renovation crew from Physical Plant discovered a myriad of artifacts from former inhabitants of the Sparrow’s Nest. Currently, the building is used as a Physical Plant facility. Prior, the Sparrow’s Nest served as a Campus Security Office from 1974 to 1990. It was acquired by the College in 1908 and continued to serve as a boarding house for some time after its acquisition.

 

A bearded gentleman in a suit sits with his left arm folded on the armrest.

Reverend Patrick Jones Sparrow.

A green plastic bag with broken animal bones and glass pieces. A clear plastic bag with old, worn pairs of shoes.

The shoes. bones, and personal belongings found beneath the floor of the Sparrow’s Nest in July.

The house originally served as slave/servants’ quarters for Thomas Williams Sparrow (1814-1890.) Thomas was brother to College co-founder Patrick Jones Sparrow, who taught Ancient Languages at the College from 1837 to 1840. Thomas W. Sparrow married Martha Lucinda Stewart (1820-1905) and together the two ran a boarding house for the college students in a house on North Main Street. In the May 1912 edition of D.C. Magazine entitled “Memories of the Fifties,” J.J. Stringfellow from the Class of 1850 recalls that the Sparrows were nicknamed “Uncle Tom” and “Aunt Tom” by students. Stringfellow describes them as “always kind in treatment and generous at table” and continues to compliment their hospitality saying, “No boy of that olden time can ever forget their famous molasses pies.” Thomas Sparrow is buried in the Davidson College cemetery.

As for the children of Thomas and Martha Sparrow, their daughter Helen married J. Wilson McKay, D.D. from the Class of 1870. He went on to be the president of the Board of Trustees for some time. Their son, John Sparrow (1845- October 30, 1883) was a bit of a troublemaker and was eventually expelled from Davidson College. In 1866, John Sparrow eloped with Helen Kirkpatrick (1847-1900), the daughter of the College President of the time, John Lycan Kirkpatrick. John and Nellie had seven children. Their four daughters were named Anna, Marry, Mattie, and Nellie; the latter married Wilson McKay, the son of Dr. McKay who had been President of the Board of Trustees. John and Nellie also had three sons: Robert Gordon, Thomas Hill, and John Kirkpatrick Sparrow. Although Thomas Hill Sparrow did not attend college at all, his two brothers did. John Kirkpatrick Sparrow was a member of the Davidson Class of 1901 but did not graduate. Notably, Robert Gordon Sparrow was the Valedictorian of the Class of 1888 and long-held the record for the highest grades ever received at Davidson College.

Three rows of young men in suits stand in front of windows.

The Class of 1888. Robert Sparrow is pictured second from the left, seated in the first row.

There is great evidence of the Sparrows’ slaveholding practice. In an essay entitled “My Unreconstructed Grandmother” by Mary Sparrow Harrison, she describes the attitudes and experiences of her grandmother, Martha Lucinda Stewart Sparrow. Mary remembers Martha as a distant, unaffectionate grandmother who was proud, yet hardened by her Southern heritage. According to Mary, Lincoln’s name was never mentioned in their household but that former slaves continued to visit her grandparents annually for years after the Southern “surrender.” Following the death of John Kirkpatrick Sparrow, Mary’s father, a former slave traveled from South Carolina to grieve with “Miss Martha.” According to Mary, he had been a wedding gift from College President John Lycan Kirkpatrick to Martha. Mary writes that the older gentleman had accompanied her father during childhood, young-adulthood and even during when he joined the army in 1862. Of the relationship between this man and her family, Mary writes, ” I do not know how long he stayed with the family after the end of the war or where he went or how he knew that “Miss Martha” need him that day, but I do know that the meeting between those two—the proud reserved women and the ex-slave and friend who had learned of her sorrow and had come to comfort her left an indelible impression on my child-mind.” Perhaps the artifacts discovered beneath the Sparrow’s Nest holds answers as to that gentleman’s identity and his experiences being enslaved and freed by the Kirkpatrick-Sparrow family. In order to continue following the story of the Sparrow’s Nest’s purpose throughout the centuries, follow the blog-tag: “Sparrow” or the hashtag: “DavidsonHistoryMystery” on Instagram and Twitter.

Justice, Equality, and Community Archivist Is In The Library!

Hello, my name is Jessica Cottle and I am the recently hired Justice, Equality, and Community (JEC) Project Archivist.

A group of dedicated faculty and staff developed this new position to further the goals of the “Justice, Equality, Community: Reimagining Humanities Curricula for an Interconnected, Rapidly Changing World” initiative, funded by a generous Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. Over the course of 3.5 years, the initiative aims to “reimagine humanities curricula through the lens of three ideas that…cut across cultures, time, and disciplines: justice, equality, and community…to demonstrate the critical role of humanistic inquiry in public discourse, global problem-solving, engaged citizenship, and democratic leadership.”

The grant includes funding for innovative partnership between faculty and students, a humanities practitioner-in-residence program, community-minded experiential learning projects, and archives-supported assignments centered on questions about race and religion in the greater-Davidson area.

As the JEC Project Archivist for this endeavor, I will be developing, promoting, and digitizing archival resources related to the research and teaching of social justice issues (particularly race and religion), and facilitating collaboration between community partners, faculty, and students. I was raised in Charlotte—I graduated from Harding University High School in 2011—so I plan on tapping into personal connections to homegrown groups to ensure the initiative’s positive impact on both the campus community and local residents.

I graduated from Appalachian State University with my B.A. in May 2015. I majored in Global Studies with a concentration in East Asia, and double minored in Women’s Studies and Chinese. I returned to Boone that fall to complete my M.A. in Public History, graduating in May 2017. I believe unearthing connected historical and current marginalized narratives and subsequently serving as a conduit through which people can address their communities for themselves is my foremost responsibility as a public historian and archivist. When applying for jobs this summer, I immediately connected with the project goals described in this position’s advertisement as I saw my understanding of history and archives reflected in them. I am excited to familiarize myself with the archive’s resources and getting to know everyone as the JEC initiative moves forward!

Jessica Cottle
Email: jecottle@davidson.edu
Phone: 704.894.2669
Office: E.H. Little Library, Room 203

Research, Teaching, and Collection department's contributions to welcome Jessica Cottle. Table full of donuts, cake, bread, and paper plates

Research, Teaching, and Collection department’s contributions to welcome Jessica Cottle.

Jessica Cottle's Welcome Cake. Carrot cake with 8 icing carrots on the top with, "Welcom Jessica" written on the top as well.

Jessica Cottle’s Welcome Cake
August 28, 2017

Guest Blogger: Emily Lauher, 2017 volunteer and future archivist, Changing Landscapes and Changing Attributes

Hi everyone my name is Emily Lauher. I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. I am a 2017 volunteer at Davidson College organizing the personal papers of Anne Stewart Higham, an adventurous world traveler.

Davidson College received this collection from one of Anne Higham’s granddaughters, Dr. Carol Higham. Dr. Higham is a professor of Native American History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She has also worked as an adjunct professor at Davidson College. She first approached Jan Blodgett, College Archivist, regarding the personal papers belonging to Anne Higham.

Anne Stewart Higham

Anne Stewart Higham

Anne Higham traveled extensively between 1940 and 1969 to Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

1945 Christmas Greeting card when Anne Higham traveled throughout the Middle East.

1945 Christmas Greeting when Anne Higham traveled throughout the Middle East.

During that time, she surrendered her American citizenship and became a British citizen (later requesting a return to American citizenship). Somehow, during those transactions, her birth year was also altered, making her five years younger on a return trip.

Working as an Army lecturer for the British Army, she first toured Royal Air Force stations in the Middle East and in 1946, began a tour of India and Africa. The correspondence in the collection discusses her lecture topics such as the history of Britain, conditions in Africa, and the Middle East. She also gave lectures on British women and the British war effort during World War II.

Anne Higham, United Nations lecturer with an itinerary of her lecture topics such as the history of Britain, conditions in Africa, and the Middle East

Anne Higham, United Nations lecturer

Dr. Carol Higham will be sharing an accretion to this collection, and I am hoping for copies of Anne Higham’s lectures and research notes to add to the photographs, negatives, correspondence and other materials in the collection. I am also hoping to learn more about Anne Higham’s life in these international locations and her relationship with her brother and son who served in the military during World Wars I and II.

Happy Retirement, Jan Blodgett!

A few weeks ago longtime College Archivist and Records Management Coordinator Jan Blodgett retired after 23 years of service to Davidson (for information on our new College Archivist, DebbieLee Landi, see our earlier blog post introducing her). Jan has made an impact all across the Davidson College campus and the town of Davidson, including on this very blog – Jan started Around the D on January 21, 2009! This week we’ll celebrate her time as College Archivist by delving into our photo archives for images of Jan:

Jan sits at a table in the archives in 1994, with Loyce Davis and Barbara Butler.

Jan sits at a table in the archives in 1994, with Loyce Davis and Barbara Butler.

Jan leads a discussion on Davidson history in the Davidsoniana Room during Freshman Orientation in 1996. Jan's introduction to the past and present of Davidson College has been a part of orientation for over 20 years.

Jan leads a discussion on Davidson history in the Davidsoniana Room during Freshman Orientation in 1996. Jan’s introduction to the past and present of Davidson College has been a part of orientation for over 20 years.

Jan stands by one of the columns of the Chambers Building in 1997, while then Library Director Leland Park chats with Josh Gaffga.

Jan stands by one of the columns of the Chambers Building in 1997, while then Library Director Leland Park chats with Josh Gaffga.

Members of Common Ground, including Jan, a local grassroots organization designed promote communication and understanding and improve relations among people of all races in Davidson, gather for a Christmas Day memorial service in 1998.

Members of Common Ground, including Jan, a local grassroots organization designed promote communication and understanding and improve relations among people of all races in Davidson, gather for a Christmas Day memorial service in 1998.

Library staff, including Jan (in the pink skirt and shirt), gather in the lobby of E.H. Little Library, circa 1998.

Library staff, including Jan (in the pink skirt and shirt), gather in the lobby of E.H. Little Library, circa 1998.

Library staff gather in front of Beaver Dam in 1999. Jan is towards the back of the group.

Library staff gather in front of Beaver Dam in 1999. Jan is towards the back of the group.

Jan chats with then Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, in the Rare Book Room during his visit to campus in 2001. Billington is looking at the Arabic language Bible of Omar Ibn Sayyid, one of the highlights of our rare book collection.

Jan chats with then Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, in the Rare Book Room during his visit to campus in 2001. Billington is looking at the Arabic language Bible of Omar Ibn Sayyid, one of the highlights of our rare book collection.

Jan works with a student on researching campus architecture, looking at a blueprint in the Rare Book Room in 2014.

Jan works with a student on researching campus architecture, in the Rare Book Room in 2014.

Jan leading a paddleboard tour of the history of Lake Norman in July 2015, in partnership with Davidson Parks and Recreation.

Jan led a paddleboard tour of the history of Lake Norman in July 2015, in partnership with Davidson Parks and Recreation.

A full Archives & Special Collections staff #shelfie (a picture in which the photo is taken using the front camera on a phone, in this case a "shelfie" because they are next the shelves) in 2015! From right to left: Caitlin Christian-Lamb (me!), Sharon Byrd, and Jan Blodgett.

A full Archives & Special Collections staff #shelfie in 2015! From right to left: Caitlin Christian-Lamb (me!), Sharon Byrd, and Jan Blodgett.

Jan (with her back to the camera) works with ENV 340 students in the Rare Book Room, in 2016.

Jan (with her back to the camera) works with ENV 340 students in the Rare Book Room, in 2016.

Hilton Kelly is photographed while photographing Jan (meta!) working with Charlotte Mecklenburg public school teachers on a workshop in summer 2016, aimed at integrating archival materials across secondary education.

Hilton Kelly is photographed while photographing Jan (meta!) working with Charlotte Mecklenburg public school teachers on a workshop in summer 2016, aimed at integrating archival materials across secondary education. The teachers’ projects can be found here.

Jan, Roman Utkin, and Caroline Fache drinking archival gloff in December 2016

Jan enjoys archival glogg in December 2016 with Roman Utkin and Caroline Fache.

Jan addresses the crowd at her final campus history tour outside of the union on the patio facing the football field in April 2017

Jan addresses the crowd at her final campus history tour in April 2017 (you can view the livestream of the tour here).

Jan Blodgett was the first professionally trained archivist to work at Davidson College, and her work building and organizing collections, as well as fostering community and curricular connections is fundamental to the Archives & Special Collections current and future work. We will always be grateful to Jan for her tireless, generous, and energetic work – please join us in wishing Jan a fond farewell and a happy retirement!

Welcome DebbieLee!

As we say goodbye to longtime Davidson fixture Jan Blodgett, who retires this month, we say hello to a new archivist – join us in welcoming DebbieLee Landi, the new College Archivist & Records Management Coordinator! DebbieLee began work two weeks ago, and I conducted a short interview with her to introduce Around the D readers to the newest member of our team:

You just began working at Davidson a few weeks ago – can you talk about your background in archival work and where you’ve worked before?

I was fortunate to attend the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada and gained a solid foundation in archival theory and practice while living (and playing) in one of the most beautiful and captivating cities in the world.  I have worked at two other private liberal arts colleges, Furman University and the University of the South, affectionately known as Sewanee.

What appealed to you most about the College Archivist & Records Management Coordinator position?

The quality of the established program that includes both the archival records for the College and Records Management.  I was already familiar with the work of the current archivist, Jan Blodgett, and when I visited campus, I was impressed with the expertise and talents of the other members of the department as well as the staff of the Little Library.  There were several students involved in my interview process and they, too, were exceptional, demonstrating a keen interest in the work of the department and asking insightful questions.

Beginning a new job can be a bit of a whirlwind, but do you have any favorite moments so far?

There are so many.  Each day I learn something new and receive warm and welcoming greetings from people all around campus.  In the E.H. Little Library, one of the greetings was a musical serenade performed by members of the staff (including an original song!).  Another very unexpected welcome was an anonymous donation in my honor to support the #allinforDavidson campaign.

The #AllinforDavidson campaign donation card that DebbieLee received

The #AllinforDavidson campaign donation card that DebbieLee received.

What has surprised you about the college or the area?

The number of smiling, friendly faces and the beauty of the campus.

Are there any new initiatives or ideas that you’re hoping to implement here?

Augmenting the impressive work of the department with the integration of Archives & Special Collections resources in the curricula and expanding those initiatives to include programs such as Study Abroad and Service Odyssey.  Involving students as field agents and inviting guest curators to increase the involvement of the college community in building the archival record. Exploring the possibilities of a digital badging initiative and archival records as Open Education Resources … to share just a few ideas.

What are your hobbies when you’re not in the archives?

Trying new recipes and new restaurants and incorporating chocolate whenever possible!  Keeping up with Moxy, my canine companion, and the latest travels of Dr. Who.  Hiking and visiting state, national and provincial parks in search of waterfalls and secluded beaches.

Behind the scenes of the Presidential Portraits Tour

This week’s post was written by Caroline Turner ’17, a volunteer in the Davidson College Archives & Special Collections and a future archivist!

When I first heard the presidential portraits were getting moved out of the library, I was initially stunned and more than a little unnerved. How would I be able to work on the first floor without the presidents smiling down encouragingly (or glaring down ominously)? To me, the portraits represented Davidson’s leadership and tradition as well as the college’s arc through time. As a history and art history double major, I felt like the portraits held a special place all together on the library wall, watching all the students working (or socializing). But as I found out more about the project, I knew I wanted to get involved.

Former Presidential library corner with portraits of previous presidents

Former Presidential library corner

Portrait of Walter Lingle sitting in a chair with a book under his hand

Portrait of Walter Lingle – holding students to higher standards.

I work with Jan Blodgett in the Archives on the second floor of the library, and with Lia Newman in the College Art Galleries over in the VAC. By working in both environments, I had learned the tools of both trades, which would come in handy as I navigated between the art and the history. I was tasked with researching each president and his experience at Davidson and then writing the accompanying label for the portrait, including information about the president’s life and presidency, as well as tidbits about the artist and portrait itself. Each president would be given a new place of honor based on his personal legacy, and I would connect the place to the president in the label.

I worked from most recent president (Thomas Warren Ross), backwards. I began by pulling out each president’s clipping file from the archives and reading through. I expected to quickly find, somewhere near the back of the file, a summary of each president’s contributions to Davidson, perhaps with an announcement of his retirement. But as I opened each file, I found masses of information and I quickly forgot my plan to skip to the back. Often there were cautious announcements of the new president, clipped from The Davidsonian and The Charlotte Observer. Who was he? What will he do? What has his experience been? Then I found invitations to inaugurations, wrapped in tissue paper. Then came the pictures of each president at athletic events, the Cake Races, and speaking at Commencements. These middle pieces were filled with gems.

Tom Ross penned this Davidsonian article to introduce himself, "12 things you want to know about Tom Ross"

Tom Ross penned this Davidsonian article to introduce himself.

One of my personal favorite finds was a debacle resulting from President Bobby Vagt hosting a party for graduating seniors. The Charlotte Observer wrote an article titled “Beer, pizza at college bash? Yes, and president’s buying,” in which the author tsked tsked for a president caring more about being popular among, and having fun with, students than about being respected and attending to important college business. Comments streamed in supporting President Vagt, and admiring his dance moves. One local said parents should be grateful their children were attending parties with the “best qualified chaperone.” It was clear from the other notes and Davidsonian articles that I found in President Vagt’s file that the students held him in high regard.

 

Charlotte Observer headline, "Beer, pizza at college bash? Yes, and president's buying"

Charlotte Observer headline

President Vagt in a more serious pose leaning on a chair

President Vagt in a more serious pose

 

Another fun moment for me was finding out that one of the portraitists never existed. When I got to Dr. Grier Martin’s portrait, I searched for information on the artist, Charles J. Fox. I found some scanty information on how he was a New York businessman and artist, but not a whole lot more. But then I found that Charles J. Fox was actually a pseudonym for Leo Fox, who was actually a New York businessman. He had photographs sent to him for portraits but then sent them right on to Irving Resnikoff, a Russian immigrant. Resnikoff was trained as an artist in St. Petersburg and left Russia in 1917 to go to New York City. He never met any of the people he depicted in portraits, which included many leading figures in government, including John F. Kennedy as well as our President Martin.

 

D. Grier Martin portrait with his cap and gown on

D. Grier Martin portrait.

I also enjoyed delving deeper into the history of Davidson and realizing how different the College was in its earlier days. I had to blink when I read one quote from a student who said that Reverend John Rood Cunningham “possessed a magnetic presence when riding his horse” and I suppressed a chuckle when I read that President Morrison (who reigned over Davidson from 1836-1840) was in charge of corporal punishment of the 60 boys that attended. He accompanied his physical punishment with a long prayer for the penitence of the sinning boy. One source noted that many boys simply requested two beatings if they could skip the prayer.

Davidson's first president as painted by his daughter. in a golden picture frame

Davidson’s first president as painted by his daughter.

I found that poring over the presidencies gave each president a more individual life. No longer were they a row of former presidents scolding me for going on Facebook when I should be writing my history essay. Now I think of Reverend Cunningham when I pass by Belk, which was built during his presidency. I think of  the raving reviews of students and faculty alike of President Vagt’s “Donut Wednesdays” when I pass through Chambers lobby. I think of Dr. Kuykendall when a friend discusses their Dean Rusk grant, since the Dean Rusk Program was established under his leadership.

To me, the presidents have become individual leaders and representations of Davidson’s evolution. I hope that their placement and labels encourage students to learn more about the College’s history and connect more with each president. Hopefully the presidential portraits will no longer be just faces of presidents past, but instead will become individuals with stories and experiences that connect with current students, faculty, staff, and visitors.