Retro: Happy Anniversaries

Duke has the luxury of celebrating many anniversaries. Originally founded as Brown’s Schoolhouse in 1838, it formed a constitution as Union Institute in 1839, was chartered as Normal College in 1851, then as Trinity College in 1959, and finally as Duke University in 1924. Nearly any year can be celebrated as a milestone.

In 1935, Duke administrators noted that the 100th anniversary of the institution from its origin was approaching. Only a decade after the founding of the university, campus leaders wanted to look back at Duke’s history and forward at its aspirations. Once in a Hundred Years, published in 1938, observed, presciently, “There is scarcely a more interesting example of educational inheritance than that of Duke University—beginning a hundred years ago, in a brave little school called Union Institute where a determined group of Methodists and Quakers undertook to meet the vital need for the better education of their children. That ambition is Duke University’s heritage today.” It continued, “The University was ready to move quickly forward when Mr. Duke’s generous endowment became available. Much has been accomplished. Much more must be compassed. It must go forward. Duke cannot stand still.”

The formal opening of the Centennial Year took place on October 6, 1938, in Page Auditorium, with Gov. Clyde Hoey among the participants. A series of symposia would follow: “The Future of American Medicine,” “The New Economic Base of the South,” “Law and Modern Society” (described as “the encroachment of legislation upon the rights of the individual”), “Women in Modern Society.” The culminating events took place April 21-23, 1939. The organizers selected the weekend after consulting with the U.S. Weather Bureau in Raleigh about which dates would be the least likely to encounter rain. The grand weekend started with an outdoor academic procession on Friday afternoon, with delegates from hundreds of universities, learned societies, and cultural institutions. The weekend continued with addresses, concerts, recitals, a “light opera” (The Mikado), and a religious service on Sunday in the chapel. It was also, notably, the weekend that the Sarah P. Duke Gardens were formally dedicated.

Tangible traces: One of artist Louis Orr’s Centennial Etchings

In addition to the gardens, the anniversary left some tangible traces behind, some of which may be seen around campus or in the homes of Duke supporters today. One is the set of six Louis Orr prints of the campus, known as the “Duke University Centennial Etchings.” Louis Orr was a Hartford-born, Paris-based artist, well known in the U.S. for his etchings of American universities. According to an ad in the Duke Alumni Register in 1938, “The artist has been very lavish in his praise of the beauty of the University. He states freely that he is doing some of his most serious work and expects the etchings to be outstanding examples of his work.” Each set was $100.

Similarly treasured are a set of twelve Wedgwood plates that were produced in conjunction with the anniversary. Each plate in the set depicted a building; the back of the plates featured Duke President William Preston Few’s signature. The ad for the plates noted, “The official choice of the committee as to the color of the center scenes is Duke blue; however, the plates may be ordered in rose-pink, green, or mulberry.”

Formally yours: The centennial year 1939 activities included the dedication of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Duke University Archives

Seventy-five years after the grand celebration, during the 2013-14 school year, Duke will celebrate the 175th anniversary of its founding as Brown’s Schoolhouse. To mark the anniversary, University Archives has created an online timeline of major events, found at http://library. An exhibition featuring artifacts, photographs, documents, and other highlights will be on display in the Perkins Gallery through January 23, 2014. 

Then & Now: Residence Halls

Since 1995, East Campus has been the official campus for freshmen. It had previous lives as the Woman’s College campus and before that as the entirety of the Trinity College campus. Do you know how the residence halls— some more than 100 years old—got their names? 

1892: Epworth Residence Hall. Named for the parish in which John Wesley’s father was the minister in England. Originally, it was simply called “The Inn.” 

1911: Aycock Residence Hall. Named for Charles B. Aycock, a controversial North Carolina governor who supported public education but also used damaging racial rhetoric. 

1927: Wilson Residence Hall. Named in 1970 for Dean Mary Grace Wilson of the Woman’s College. Before the naming, it was known as the Faculty Apartments. 

1927: Bassett Residence Hall. Named for John Spencer Bassett, a faculty member in history who be- came nationally known for his role in an academic-free- dom controversy in 1903.

1928: Giles Residence Hall. Named for Persis, Theresa, and Mary Giles, the first three women to receive degrees from Trinity College, in 1878.

1994: Blackwell Residence Hall. The Blackwell Park fairgrounds were originally on the land given by Julian Carr to form Durham’s new Trinity College. The original racetrack can still be seen in this map.

2005: Bell Tower Residence Hall. The design of the tower is based on the Washington Duke Building, which was on East Campus from 1892 to 1911 before it burned down. 

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