In the University Archives, it is not unusual to interact with students and alumni who have familial ties to Duke. It is not often, however, that we obtain collections with such steep ties to the university like the Dorothy Newsom Rankin Papers. Rankin has the distinction of being the daughter of a Trinity College graduate (Class of 1899), an alumna herself (Class of 1933), a faculty wife, and the mother and grandmother of Dukies.
As I processed the collection, it quickly became obvious that Rankin was an archivist at heart. There were handwritten notes throughout which said “give to the Archives.” She understood and realized the value of what she had accumulated and its significance to preserving and sharing pieces of Duke’s history. The bulk of her collection centers on her father’s time at Trinity and her life as an active and engaged alum.
Her father, D. W. (Dallas Walton) Newsom, edited The Trinity Archive, was elected Phi Beta Kappa, and was a member of 9019, Kappa Alpha, and Sigma Upsilon. He was also a successful orator. Prior to entering Trinity College, he learned a form of shorthand, a skill which provided him the opportunity to work as personal secretary to President John C. Kilgo. Newsom kept a student diary, written in shorthand, which describes his daily activities and provides insight into the life of a Trinity student during the last years of the 19th century. The diary and its typescript translation are part of his papers within this collection, in addition to several of his Trinity College textbooks.
Rankin was elected Phi Beta Kappa, served as senior class president of the Woman’s College as well as May Day Queen her senior year, and was a member of Kappa Delta and the White Duchy. After graduation, she married Professor Robert Rankin. She was actively involved in university life until her death in 2002. The Woman’s College Class of 1933 gift to the university was the tower which holds “Marse Jack,” the bell on East Campus given by Ben Duke in honor of President Kilgo in 1911. In the early 1980s, some faculty and students lobbied to have the bell moved to West Campus. Rankin argued against this and led an effort to keep the bell at its original location because of its relationship to the history of Trinity College. She was successful in this endeavor. The bell is now housed in Bell Tower Residence Hall on East Campus.
We also received as part of the Rankin papers, the Kappa Delta sorority rush jumper, worn by Rankin’s daughter Battle Rankin Robinson (Class of 1959), in circa 1956.
The Dorothy Newsom Rankin papers are available for use in the University Archives within the Rubenstein Library. For more information, visit the finding aid.
Post contributed by Kimberly Sims, Technical Services Archivist for University Archives.
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