Celebrating Founders Day by Conserving Early Duke History

Written by Meg Brown, Special Collections Conservator and Exhibits Coordinator

Founders Day at Duke University has been celebrated since 1901 and marks a day to honor our benefactors and our University’s history. Duke University was originally formed when the Union Institute Society’s 1839 constitution established a body with responsibility for the oversight of the affairs of Union Institute Academy of Randolph County, North Carolina. The Board of Trustees was legally recognized in 1841 by an act of the North Carolina General Assembly incorporating Union Institute Academy as a private school for boys. A digital version of this constitution can be seen online.

Duke documents after treatment

In honor of Founders Day, Conservation Services would like to share a few early founder’s documents that have received treatment recently. These documents were sent to conservation after many years of sharing them with the Duke community–just in time to retain their original character as artifacts even though some of them are still very fragile.

These bound manuscript volumes include account records, meeting minutes, and signatures of many of Duke’s founding fathers including the Constitution of Union Institute Academy (bound with the Union Institute Academy Minutes and Accounts, 1839-1853), and the first three volumes of the minutes of Trinity College (June 19, 1860-June 12, 1879; June 9, 1880-June 10, 1891 and September 19, 1891-February 19, 1900.)

The pictures here show some “before treatment” images, with broken sewing, missing spines and torn up-bindings; the “after treatment” images show how they can now be safely used by our community for years to come. More images from this project can be found in our photo essay on Flickr.


Before Treatment (Left) and After Treatment (Right)

Union Institute 1839-before

Union Institute 1839-after

Trinity minutes 1880-1891 Before

Trinity minutes 1880-1891 After

Trinity minutes 1860-1879 Before

Trinity minutes 1860-1879 After

Trinity-BOD-minutes-1891-1900 Before

Trinity-BOD-minutes-1891-1900 After