Beverly Perdue, the first woman to serve as governor of North Carolina, recently donated a collection of her materials to Meredith College. Her papers, photos, inaugural materials, and other relevant items have already provided educational benefits to Meredith scholars.
According to Carrie Nichols, head of technical services for Meredith’s Carlyle Campbell Library, the donation includes personal, biographical, and campaign materials from Perdue, who served in numerous leadership roles before being elected governor in 2008.
The collection includes documents from Perdue’s career as an educator, her service in the state legislature, as lieutenant governor, and as the first – and so far only – woman to serve as governor of North Carolina. Materials include daily calendars, travel notebooks, photos, debate videos, campaign advertisements, and awards. Inaugural materials, such as the pen used to sign the executive change order, her inaugural speech, and her inaugural transition notebook, are also included. There are hundreds of photos documenting Perdue’s historic inauguration and other moments in her term.
“It is an amazing collection and we’re excited and honored to have it at Meredith College,” said Nichols, who manages Meredith’s College Archives. “This collection will be heavily used by our students as they study the best practices in historical and political research.”
Although the collection is still being processed, one student, Inaya Rivera, ’22, was given complete access to the collection during the summer for a research project. Her research was under the direction of Nichols and Professor of History Dan Fountain.
As part of the project, Rivera, Nichols, and Fountain were able to do oral history interviews with Perdue. Their conversations included what Perdue wanted to emphasize about her accomplishments and her hopes for the collection at Meredith.
Perdue said she could think of no better place for her collection than Meredith. As the largest women’s college in North Carolina, Meredith is a logical home for this collection. Perdue’s husband, Bob Eaves, served multiple terms as a Meredith trustee, strengthening her connection to the College.
“I wanted my collection to be in a place that can survive and thrive and actually grow new wings as society demands it,” Perdue said.
Another goal is for the materials to be used in ways that are inspiring to future women leaders.
“What I hope will come out of it is to inspire some young woman to take a chance. I hope it might inspire people to see that the journey of public service is a good journey,” Perdue said. “It’s not about me – it’s about the future.”
Meredith President Jo Allen, ’80, was proud to accept the donation from Perdue.
“Meredith’s connection to Governor Perdue extends to her time as governor and her husband’s time as a member of our Board of Trustees,” said Allen. “Governor Perdue, of course, had many options for the placement of these remembrances but ultimately selected Meredith because of our status as a women’s college and her family connections to us. We are delighted to have this treasure trove of a key figure in North Carolina’s history.”
Fountain reiterated how important it is for Meredith College to be chosen to house Perdue’s collection.
“This is a special opportunity that was brought here because Beverly Perdue wanted to connect with a women’s college,” Fountain said. “She was interested in having women understand what it was like as a candidate, what it was like as a leader for the state, and the challenges she faced.”
Educational Benefits Are Already Apparent
Fountain said the Perdue materials are meant to be a living collection that benefit students in history, political science, and other fields.
“When we received the Perdue collection, we immediately envisioned having opportunities for students to work with materials to bring her story alive,” Fountain said. “That was something that we promised very early on in conversations with Beverly Perdue. She was interested in making sure that these were not going to be objects that sit dormant in an archive somewhere.”
Rivera, who is completing a contract major in public history, spent the summer researching the former governor’s years of service. Her research resulted in an exhibit, Beverly Perdue, Educator in Chief. The exhibit was first on display in Ledford Hall, home to Meredith’s education program, and then in the foyer of Carlyle Campbell Library.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Rivera was able to achieve a substantial research experience that supports her career goals. She completed her preliminary research while off campus.
“It was convenient to be able to start with outside research, which was mostly biographical, just finding out little things about her life, where she’s from, her life as a child, her life as a mom, as a wife, as a politician, as a teacher, as a healthcare provider,” Rivera said.
Rivera followed her research with hands-on work with the donated collection.
“I was able to come into the library and start working with the materials to piece together the story that I wanted to tell in the exhibit,” Rivera said. “It was fun to get a peek at her life. Going through her daily calendars and seeing what she did on a day-to-day basis was really interesting and insightful.”
The project gave Rivera an opportunity to serve as a curator for an initial exhibition. Narrowing down what to include was a major challenge. The goal was to convey the intended message in a way that appeals to a general audience.
“[Communicating concisely] is a big thing for historians to be able to do, especially as curators,” Rivera said. “You have a limited amount of space that you can use and you have to be able to get that story across, and get that message across clearly to audiences of every age from 8 to 82.”
Rivera hopes to work as a museum curator in the future. Her dream job is to be a curator at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Her experience with the Perdue Collection has solidified her career goal.
“This is exactly the kind of thing that I want to do in the Holocaust museum, to go through research and go through archives and piece together something that is going to speak to the audience,” Rivera said. “It made me see that this is something I can do. This is something I’m passionate about.”
During the spring 2021 semester, Rivera is doing an internship in the College Archives, with a continuing focus on the Perdue Collection. Nichols said once the internship is complete, Rivera will have gained more experience while also helping make the Perdue Collection accessible to a wider audience. Another goal is to bring the collection’s materials up to present day.
“I would like for Inaya to continue building her professional skills by organizing the materials and creating a finding aid, adding descriptive details and digitized documents/photos about the Perdue Collection to the Archives website, and creating another exhibit showcasing materials from the collection,” Nichols said.
An Example of Undergraduate Research at Meredith
Fountain, who teaches Meredith’s public history courses, is proud of what Rivera has achieved with the Perdue Collection, doing “painstaking, detailed archival work” during a pandemic.
“Undergraduate research projects give students the opportunity to bring theory into life. You’re not just theorizing or imagining what can happen, you’re actually doing the work, exactly what professionals do,” Fountain said.
The Perdue Collection project allowed Rivera to work with an important person in North Carolina’s history.
“This was working with Governor Perdue, doing interviews with a former governor to capture her story, learning how to connect with a person of power, someone who’s had a serious impact on the state. That’s a very rare opportunity,” Fountain said.
While the Perdue Collection presented a unique opportunity for a public history student, the chance to do substantial undergraduate research is not unusual at Meredith.
“We’re always pushing our students to engage in undergraduate research, and we’re seeing very significant work being done, such as in sociology doing the report on the Status of Girls in North Carolina or in political science through The Meredith Poll,” Fountain said. “We’re connecting with the public as well as with answering big questions throughout North Carolina and the country as a whole.”
Rivera is looking forward to “making a bigger dent in the materials” and curating another exhibition through her internship.
“As challenging as it was [to create an exhibition], to understand that that’s something that I did warms my heart, because this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Rivera said. “This is my career choice and to see that I have the ability to do it, still in undergrad, is amazing.”
Goals for Future Women Leaders Archive
The Perdue Collection is just one of the special collections in Meredith’s Archives. The College’s Archives houses and preserves the Women’s Oral History Collection, which includes interviews with Women’s Forum of North Carolina members. Nichols and Fountain hope these collections eventually grow into a Women Leaders Archive.
“Given our location in the state capital, we hope Meredith College becomes the go-to location for the state’s leading women seeking to share their stories and archive-worthy collections,” Nichols said. “Another dream that Dr. Fountain and I share is that other faculty would begin to have their students collect women’s oral histories from their specific disciplines. This would greatly expand the Women’s Oral History Collection, providing a variety of primary research materials.”
Nichols would also like to expand the Oral History of Meredith College Alumnae collection that was started by Jean Batten Cooper, ’54, in 1988. The existing collection shows how Meredith prepares its graduates to be leaders.
“We have so many alumnae who are leaders in their respective fields. Many are business leaders, leaders in education, the arts, the sciences and on and on,” Nichols said. “It is so inspiring, just listening to and reading through the transcripts of the collection that Mrs. Cooper created. The passion, the determination, and the sense of purpose is evident in each woman’s interview.”
Support the Meredith College ArchivesThe Meredith College Archives welcomes donations from alumnae of documents and memorabilia from their time as students. Suggested items include photos, items for their class boxes, scrapbooks, documents/items specific to their program of study, etc. Alumnae who are interested in participating in an oral history interview are encouraged to contact Meredith Archives staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.