In the basement of Meredith’s Carlyle Campbell Library is a room with a dehumidifier and a gauge measuring humidity. A 1968 Time magazine ad for Meredith leans, framed, against a wall. Drawings of young women holding pennants for Meredith College and Baptist University for Women, done by the Fidler sisters in the early 20th century, hang on the wall. Filing cabinets hold thousands of photographs. Books, magazines, and boxes of various sizes line the shelves.
Together, these items add up to something invaluable: Meredith’s history. This room is home to the Meredith College Archives, which serves the College community by preserving Meredith’s memories, history, and heritage.
According to Ted Waller, recently retired technical services librarian and head of the Archives, this is “a place where those important stories can be preserved and shared.”
A visitor to the Archives can see the scrapbooks of Lucy Sanders Hood, who attended Meredith from 1909 to 1913. The scrapbooks contain images of everyday life at Meredith, including photos of students in dorm rooms and even of a breakfast party “with Miss Ida [Poteat].”
It’s unclear when the Archives were formalized, but Mary Lynch Johnson’s A History of Meredith College first mentions them in conjunction with the year 1945. In fact, according to Jean Jackson, ’75, vice president for college programs, the Archives “were very important for both editions of Mary Lynch Johnson’s books and the centennial book.”
The Archives store minutes from board meetings and each year’s College Catalogue. They hold the records of Oliver Larkin Stringfield and Thomas Meredith, the College’s namesake, as well as each College president. The Archives include the personal library of Carlyle Campbell, the College’s fourth president. They include files from longtime Professor of English Norma Rose and Johnson herself and commencement programs for every year since 1902, the first graduating class. The Archives store files from academic departments and other campus offices, along with every issue of the Acorn, Twig, Herald, and Meredith Magazine. They store recordings of plays, dance concerts, music recitals, and Cornhuskin’ competitions.
Scrapbooks such as Hood’s are Archives Assistant Meredith Haynes’ favorite items.
From them, “you really get a good idea of the student life here at certain times,” she said.
One of Waller’s favorite items is an undated – but very old – Meredith College water pitcher, perhaps from the dining hall or a washbasin, before indoor plumbing. The Archives also has a spoon, ladle, and napkin ring used at the old campus.
Waller said that artifacts and documents such as these play an essential role in preserving Meredith’s history.
“It’s really a big part of the College’s collective memory,” Waller said. “We’re the only part of the College that does that, and without it, much, if not most, of the College history would disappear, as the people who experience things leave.”
According to Dan Fountain, associate professor of history and director of Meredith’s public history program, archives such as Meredith’s do important work: “The Archives safeguard these documents so that they are available for individual study for centuries to come.” He added that preservation is important because “historical interpretation isn’t stagnant.”
“The collections we have are an important gateway for the story of women’s education, not only in North Carolina, but also the South and the nation as a whole. ” – Dan Fountain
Did you know that you can access Oak Leaves from 1904 to 2009, as well as Twig and Herald issues from 1921 to 2007, online? Mary Lynch Johnson’s A History of Meredith College has also been digitized, as has Carolyn C. Robinson’s The Vision Revisited. Visit infotogo.meredith.edu/archives_publications to access these publications.
Alumnae Support Keeps Archives Going
The Archives serve the College and alumnae as a place of preservation, but alumnae serve the Archives by donating artifacts and documents they’ve saved.
Cindy Griffith McEnery, ’70, has donated items, such as her Philaretian bear, to the Archives. McEnery has also donated, on behalf of her class, some items her classmates brought to reunions, such as a Meredith gym suit and a pair of Pappagallo shoes, which were popular during their college years.
“I was a history major,” McEnery said, “and I just think this kind of stuff is important. A college’s traditions and history define a college so much. It’s up to the alums to provide that because if we don’t, it gets lost.”
Waller said alumnae and their families “provide a lot of material,” such as the recent donation of a trunk from 1904, which belonged to a student who graduated from Meredith in 1907.
The trunk, along with other artifacts in the Meredith Archives, was on display for the month of February at the City of Raleigh Museum. Haynes and Fountain helped create an exhibit featuring important documents and artifacts from Meredith’s 125-year history.
This display of archived materials at the museum highlights another function of the College Archives: the sharing of preserved materials.
During the 2013-14 fiscal year, 239 people – a combination of alumnae, faculty, staff, students, and outside researchers – visited the Archives, nearly one for every day the Archives was open.
When alumnae come to the Archives, they frequently use the boxes associated with their classes. Each graduating class has a box, in which the class can preserve photos, documents, artifacts, and mementos associated with the class.
In preparation for her class’s 50th reunion in May 2015, Sally Howard Moore, ’65, along with several of her classmates, visited the Archives to help them create a memory book for their class.
“We had a blast,” Moore said of looking in their class box, which contained photographs, scrapbooks of college days, and other documents. “It was just a great resource for us in working on this memory book for our class reunion.”
Jackson noted that she has used letters from the Archives as resources for talks she has given, noting that the letters “give a vivid and particular accounting of what life was like when that alumna was a student.”
Archivists want people to use archives in these ways because fun and interesting discoveries about the past are made there.
Moore and her classmates made one such discovery in their class’s box. In a scrapbook donated by Moore’s college roommate, they found a note signed by Ms. Lucile Dandridge, who served as the assistant house director from 1961 to 1971. “Don’t use so much toilet paper,” the note said.
Even something as small as this scrap of paper is important because, as Fountain said, the Archives “house the daily lives and experiences of generations of women, and the faculty and staff who have worked with them.”
Although the history kept in the Archives is important to the Meredith community, Fountain sees a role for Meredith’s Archives beyond the bounds of campus.
“Meredith as a college is one of the few places where academic egalitarianism would have been supported as an ideal and where it thrived, and that’s an important story. Our Archives help support that story.”
"Meredith Moments" Showcases College History
To coincide with the 125th anniversary of Meredith College, Archives Assistant Meredith Haynes and Professor of History Dan Fountain created the “Meredith Moments” blog.
The idea, Haynes said, was to showcase, in 125 entries, some of the items and documents in the Archives and to emphasize Meredith’s history in the lead up to the 125th anniversary.
Haynes and Fountain chose the items and moments for the blog by referencing Mary Lynch Johnson’s A History of Meredith College and Carolyn Robinson’s companion, The Vision Revisited. They also read through Twig and Herald issues and looked through objects in the Archives.
Said Fountain: “We wanted to represent broad constituencies — faculty, administrators, students, visitors to campus — as well as reflect on the day-to-day experiences of Meredith students.”
For the blog, Haynes looked at Meredith’s history from 1891 to the 1950s, and Fountain looked at Meredith’s history from the 1950s to today.
Haynes’s favorite entries are the ones on Dr. Elizabeth Delia Dixon-Carroll, who was the Meredith College physician for 35 years and the first female doctor in Raleigh; World War I; and the quarantine during the flu epidemic.
“The combination of these three all together” is interesting, Haynes said, noting that the 1919 yearbook was dedicated to Dixon-Carroll “because of how she helped them through the quarantine.”
Fountain said the blog illustrates that “what is tradition has, in many cases, evolved over time.” He cited Palio, which was featured on the blog, noting that it “was a major campus event that has faded, but it was a centerpiece of a time.”
The blog also depicts how Meredith fits into society’s larger changes.
For instance, Fountain noted that while the academic rigor has stayed the same, society has changed: “The College that opened its doors in 1899 was in a rural state with very little global connection. Today, 45 percent of [North Carolina’s] population has an origin outside of the state. We’re a very different community,” said Fountain. “It’s important for the blog to show this part of Meredith’s story.”
Haynes was pleased with the Meredith community’s response to the blog: “It’s been fun to see what people think of when they see the photo” on social media, she said.
She hopes that with the blog entries, readers will learn information about Meredith’s history but also want to explore the Archives further.
Read the blog at meredith.edu/celebrate125/objects-blog/.
How to Contribute to the Archives
You might have archival material and not know it. For instance, as an example of the kind of material that is preserved in the Archives, one alumna recently donated a box of letters written both by her and to her while she was a student at Meredith.
Meredith Haynes, archives assistant, notes that, in general, the Archives collects documents and artifacts from alumnae of Meredith or that pertain to Meredith’s history.
According to the Archives’ website, these materials include “primary source material about the College,” “resources on student life and experience,” “information about Meredith’s Baptist heritage,” “publications by people associated with the College,” “college publications,” and “photographs, scrapbooks, memorabilia, videos, jewelry, clothing, and oral history.”
Haynes noted that class boxes are great places to store class-specific information or records. As well, she noted the Archives accepts scans or copies of documents or photographs if alumnae are not quite ready to part with the item. If you have items that you are interested in donating to the Archives, please email or call before you bring or send in the items: email@example.com or (919) 760-8381.