Post contributed by Hillary Gatlin, Records Manager.
With the 150th anniversary of the first American college football game fast approaching (Rutgers faced off with Princeton on November 6, 1869), let’s take a look back at Duke University’s early football history.
The beginnings of Duke football stretch all the way back to Trinity College. The first “Duke” football game was played on Thanksgiving Day 1888. Football was introduced to Trinity College by President John Franklin Crowell, who imported it from the northeast. Born in York, Pennsylvania, Crowell had attended Dartmouth College before transferring to Yale where he earned a B.A. degree in 1883. Crowell then served as principal of Schuylkill Seminary in Pennsylvania, eventually returning to Yale to study at both the Divinity and Graduate Schools. Crowell began his presidency at Trinity College in 1887.
Crowell was a strong advocate of physical fitness and felt a football team would benefit the health of the Trinity College community, a far cry from current health concerns about the modern game. Crowell was in fact the coach of the first football team, which defeated the University of North Carolina in its first game 16-0 on Thanksgiving Day 1888 at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh. Crowell’s version of football, imported from Yale, used an oval ball and focused on rushing rather than kicking. These new “scientific rules” of the American Intercollegiate Conference resulted in this game being considered the first true college football game in the American South.
Crowell brought football to Trinity College, but not without controversy. Many church leaders, highly influential given Trinity’s close relationship with the Methodist Church, complained about and protested the matches, declaring the sport to be too dangerous. After Crowell’s resignation as President in 1894, the next President of Trinity College, John Carlisle Kilgo, banned football that December, stating that it was too dangerous to play.
Trinity students and alumni were not happy about the ban. They routinely complained about the absence of football and fought for its reinstatement. There was even a demonstration in the fall of 1913. However, administrators would not budge. Football was too dangerous, too expensive, immoral “in the methods used to win victories”, and resulted in scandalous conduct. Intercollegiate football remained banned at Trinity College.
Football began to be reinstated in 1918. A commission was formed to review the case for football on campus, and play eventually resumed on October 1, 1920 with Trinity beating Guildford College 20-6.
College football has been a continual presence on campus since 1920, including through the creation of Duke University and the beginnings of West Campus. The first football game at Wallace Wade Stadium, then called Duke Stadium, took place on October 5, 1929. Over 90 years ago, Duke’s reinstated program lost big to Pittsburgh, 57 to 7.
Post contributed by [Matthew] Farrell, Digital Records Archivist.
The Duke University Archives collects records documenting University history. We’ve done it for a long time, and we’d like to think we’re (pretty) good at it. While there are a lot of organizational, legal, and business-oriented reasons to preserve the records of Duke, a university isn’t really a university without the students who live, study, and work here. So in addition to the records documenting Duke’s administration, building and grounds, and athletics, we also collect materials documenting student life.
One of the biggest and best sources of such materials are student organizations (fun fact: there are over 800 organizations listed in DukeGroups !). We accept records in a large number of formats, but since I’m the digital records archivist, I’m going to focus on DIGITAL FORMATS.
We accept many, many types of digital stuff from all types of student organizations. Some examples:
Arts organization Amandla Chorusdonated video recordings of their dance performances.
Club Athletics organization Duke Taekwondo sent us digital photographs of their competitions.
Political action organization Graduate Students Union donated document files in both MS Word and PDF regarding their struggle to gain official recognition as a labor union at Duke.
Cultural organization Desarrolla asked us to crawl their website with our web archiving service.
We can work with your organization to identify the best way to get digital records to the Archives. Google Drive and Box are popular methods to transfer files to us from the Cloud. We can lend you a hard drive for files stored on local laptop or desktop computers. We can accept removable storage media of many different types (CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, ZIP disks, or Floppy disks). We have a whole website set up to give student organizations information about how to transfer materials to the Archives. We’ll consult with you to ensure that you’re sending us the records you want to send us, and not any sensitive material.
Bottom line: we want to make it as easy as possible for your organization to donate your records to our holdings, to ensure that the mark your group is currently making (or made if you’ve already graduated) enters the historical record, able to inspire future generations of Duke students.
Hello new friends who are arriving on campus this week! Duke is big and busy and multi-faceted and, well, sometimes you need a guidebook. (And there’s no shame in that; I’ve been here for 14 years and I sometimes still need a guidebook.)
First things first, it’s Orientation Week, so of course you need a guidebook to orientation week activities (for you and your parents), just like these 1971 orientation schedules for the Woman’s College and Trinity College/the School of Engineering (coincidentally, this would be the last year of the Woman’s College, which merged with Trinity College in 1972). That year, your orientation activities would have included a Union “Happening,” whatever that might have been, and a discussion of The Lord of the Flies.
If those events were signs of their times, then so too was the “Welcome to Personal Computing at Duke” session you would have taken as part of the 1989 Orientation Week. You’d also have taken part in the inaugural annual address to the first-year class by poet, author, Wake Forest University professor, activist, and legend Maya Angelou, which is pretty enviable in my opinion.
Starting with the class of 1970, you’d also receive a class directory (sometimes referred to as a “pic book,” since its main feature was photographs of your new classmates). Initially published by the Associated Students of Duke University (Duke’s student government until 1993, also known as ASDU), they’ve more recently been a gift from the Duke Alumni Association. This page from the Class of 1992’s directory includes a now-famous alum. Let us know if you spot her!
We’ve digitized these, if you’d like to browse through a few decades of hairstyle trends.
As with any community, there are policies and rules meant to ensure that everyone has a safe and positive experience. These were outlined in The Duke Handbook (admonishingly titled The Duke Gentleman from 1965-1968) and the Woman’s College Handbook.
Woman’s College students took a two and a half page “exam” about the regulations outlined in their handbook as part of their Orientation Week activities. A question from the 1964 exam reads: “What procedure would a student [follow] if she wishes her brother to carry her record player to her room?” and yes, I’ve asked most of my colleagues this question this past week. I don’t actually know the correct answer—any alums reading this who can help us out in the comments?
But wait! If you were a student at the Woman’s College, one handbook wasn’t enough. The Social Standards Committee of your Woman’s Student Government Association provided you with a guide to proper campus etiquette called “It’s Not in the Handbook” (late 1940s-mid-1950s) or “Design for a Duchess” (mid-1950s-early 1960s).
This 1954 edition promises “frowns unlimited” to students who “wear socks to the Union for Sunday dinner” or “use the phone as if it were a personal possession.” (You were to wear hose to Sunday dinner and yeah, there was one phone for your entire dorm.) Design for a Duchess did also advise you to keep up with studying so you don’t have to cram, get plenty of sleep, and eat breakfast, which is still pretty sound advice.
In the late 1960s-1970s, progressive students appropriated the handbook concept to create an “unofficial” guide to Duke called The University Experience. In addition to some fantastically psychedelic covers, the table of contents from the 1974-1975 edition below shows some of the voices that were beginning to speak out and claim space on campus, with articles titled “Duke’s History of Feminism,” “Being Black and This Being Duke,” and “Being Gay and Proud.” (There’s also an article titled “Journey through the Archives,” which I’m fond of.) You can browse through digitized copies of all of the issues here.
(And this type of handbook is alive and well in the recent Duke Disorientation Guides; here’s the 2018 issue!)
And a 1982 guide from ASDU—titled Bull on Bull: Duke’s Guide to Durham—reminding first-year students that they should get off campus and explore Durham! It’s also digitized, if you’d like to see where Duke students hung out in 1982.
Hmmmmm. Do I love these handbooks so much that I found it difficult to choose which ones to share and just . . . included way too many here? Yes, and I apologize. Please don’t feel overwhelmed, new friends. You’ll figure all of this out more quickly than you think you will—and until then? Just ask anyone on campus! We’re the best guides around! Good luck this year and come visit us at the Duke University Archives!
Post contributed by Val Gillispie, University Archivist.
With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing right around the corner, I’ve been researching Duke’s history with NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I’ve found a number of interesting stories, but I’ve been struck by the work of one Duke alumna whom I had not known about previously—and she’s a woman who deserves our recognition and thanks.
Eleanor C. Pressly, originally from the Charlotte area, received a master’s degree in mathematics at Duke in 1944. After working at Harvard, she served as an aeronautical research engineer at the United States Naval Research Library. She quickly became a specialist in rockets, particularly sounding rockets, which are unpiloted rockets that collect atmospheric data. Responsible for more than two dozen launches at the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico, she was thought to have been the first woman to fire a rocket.
Her work was highly technical and time-sensitive. A 1956 article syndicated by the Newspaper Enterprise Association described her at White Sands: “With one eye on an anemometer, the other on wind reports coming in from balloons and on a crew of computers, she keeps a constant watch six hours previous to firing.” She was responsible for ensuring that the angle of the launch was appropriately calibrated to the weather, and if anything were to go wrong when it was in the air, she would pull the switch that would cause the rocket to self-destruct. Despite her serious scientific bona fides, the reporter could not resist describing her appearance in the article, too, referring to “… this youthful looking woman who gives the appearance of a happy housewife set for a round of afternoon bridge. She has bright blue eyes, blonde hair, and an infectious laugh.”
A 1957 article in the Washington Post and Times Herald claimed she was called “Uncle Sam’s Blonde Rocketeer.” It also connected Pressly to future developments in the space program: “Later this year, if the earth satellite is launched as planned and the world applauds the first ‘man-made’ moon, remember that a woman had a finger in it too. Eleanor helped on the original research to determine how long the satellite could be expected to remain aloft.”
When the Goddard Space Flight Center opened in 1958, Pressley became the head of the Vehicles Section of the Spacecraft Integration and Sounding Rocket Division. She continued to make improvements to the sounding rockets, developing several models of Aerobee rockets, and collecting atmospheric data.
In 1963, Pressly was one of six women, selected from nearly 600,000 female federal workers, whose “high achievement, outstanding contributions, and influence on major programs” deserved special recognition. The award was presented by President John F. Kennedy at the White House. Duke President Deryl Hart sent a letter of congratulations, to which Pressly sent a handwritten note. “Of course it was exciting, personally, to win such an award. But my big hope is that more girls in schools such as Duke can be made aware of the tremendous opportunities open to them. We need them.”
Pressly remained connected to Duke through giving, and even served as a class agent for the 1971-1972 Loyalty Fund. Pressly continued her work at Goddard, eventually retired from NASA, and she passed away in 2003. As we reflect on the fifty years since the moon landing, it is humbling to think about the massive amounts of research and testing that led to the fateful moonwalk—and the work that a woman educated at Duke contributed to that effort.
Post contributed by Tracy Jackson, Head, Center Manuscript Processing Section and Technical Services Archivist for the Duke University Archives.
The Women’s Studies Program was founded in 1983, but women have been attending and graduating from Duke since the 1870s, and have been active as alums and supporters of the University. In the mid and late 1980s, as the Women’s Studies Program (WSP) was growing rapidly, they began to form a Friends of Women’s Studies group to help support the growth and evolution of the academic program.
In 1987, administrators in WSP created a survey focused on women’s experiences and sent it to the more than 16,000 women who had received undergraduate degrees from Duke since the 1920s. More than 700 responses came back. The first issue of the Women’s Studies Program Friends Newsletter published summary results of the survey in Spring of 1988. The piece in the newsletter breaks down the percentage of responses by decade of graduation, gives an overview of advanced degrees received and professions pursued, and includes information about involvement with alumni organizations, a major concern to WSP at the time. The following two issues of the Friends Newsletter give more in-depth profiles of the two women most commonly cited as role models by the survey respondents, Anne Scott and Juanita Kreps.
The survey asks about a number of issues not covered in the Newsletter summary, however, and the answers are fascinating. The survey includes questions about what women experienced as women at Duke, about what they would want to discuss with then-current students, about what they saw as the most important events for women in the last 25 years, whether they’d ever heard of Women’s Studies, and what else they should have been asked.
The answers to these questions give us a glimpse of what women’s lives were like at Duke over the decades, but they also show what the respondents saw as mattering to women’s lives at the time. It’s important to realize the limitations of this trove of information: since Duke didn’t desegregate until 1965, this is what predominantly white, relatively affluent women thought in 1987 and 1988. From the perspective of 2019, 30 years later, it is very much of the moment of the late 1980s, yet has strong echoes of concerns women still struggle with now.
The responses on what were the most important issues to women in the last 25 years had a few common themes most often listed: birth control, both contraceptives as in the pill, and legalized abortion after Roe v. Wade, grouped together as well as listed separately; greater number of women in the workplace, sometimes listed in conjunction with concerns about equal pay, sometimes with concerns about the economic necessity of married women working (with some respondents questioning the necessity), and often in conjunction with concerns about the effect of working mothers on “the family”; civil rights; and greater visibility of women’s efforts to achieve equality, as in the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), the women’s movement and feminism, and wondering if women can really have it all. Other concerns often listed include AIDS, drugs, and welfare, issues that would have been frequently and prominently discussed in the late 1980s. In my random sampling I didn’t find any mention of lesbian or queer issues, or of immigration or refugee concerns, and very little mention of the specific needs of women of color. But the focus on issues of equality, economic concerns, reproductive justice, and whether women can really get what they need in a complicated world – these all still ring so true for me today.
(Editor’s note: the text of these responses should be accessible as alt text via your screen reader. Please let us know if that’s not the case!)
The long answers are my favorite, especially about the respondents’ memories of Duke. They’re anecdotal and can’t necessarily be used to draw larger conclusions, but in my brief review some patterns did emerge: there weren’t enough women faculty; everyone wanted more counselling, whether for future careers or life during and after college or handling alcohol; most people struggle to “have it all” and it’s important to address that.
Most of the memories of time at Duke are pleasant, recalling friendships still important in the lives of these women. There are, however, a number of vivid anecdotes of facing sexism from the administration or predominantly male faculty or from the career world outside of Duke. There are also reminisces of struggling to fit in, and struggling to find one’s place in the world or find appropriate role models. These, I think, are concerns still relevant today, even as we have far greater numbers of women in faculty and mentorship roles.
These are just a small slice of these surveys. They show a group of women who all seem to be brilliant, capable people. Respondents listed long histories of community involvement, educational achievements, work lives with copious variety, parenting and dedication to families, overcoming disappointments and adversity, and deep interest in what effected women of the time, both Duke students and everyone else. There’s also more I wanted to explore related to discussions of divorce, the often negative perception of the “women’s movement” contrasted with stated support of some women’s issues within the same survey, the differences in reference to some issues between graduates of different decades, the implicit assumption that women WILL become wives and mothers, but there just isn’t space here. It would be interesting to see these experiences analyzed for other trends and patterns (if anyone needs a research project!), but it is also engrossing just to read about the lives of these women, every one of them complicated and compelling.
Post contributed by Hillary Gatlin, Records Manager
The University Archives works with offices across campus to collect and preserve university history. As part of these efforts, the William Lowell Putnam Competition scrapbook, previously on display in the Department of Mathematics, has now made its way to the University Archives for preservation.
The scrapbook describes Duke undergraduates’ participation in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition. The Putnam, which began in 1938 as a competition between college and university mathematics departments, is now the premier mathematics competition for undergraduate students. In fact, it has been repeatedly described as the “NCAA tournament” of the math world. Taking place each December, undergraduates attempt to solve challenging mathematical problems over a six hour period. This is both an individual and team competition, with prizes awarded to students with the highest scores as well as to the five institutions with the highest rankings.
This scrapbook contains press releases, correspondence, programs, and photographs related to the Department of Mathematics’ participation in the Putnam Competition. In 1993, Duke University won its first Putnam, with the team of senior Jeffrey Vanderkam, junior Craig Gentry, and freshman Andrew Dittmer taking first place. Harvard University had taken the top honors for the previous eight years. While the scrapbook focuses primarily on Duke’s first victory in 1993, it also includes some material from later years, including a photograph of Duke’s second winning team in 1996, and a copy of a Board of Trustees announcement honoring five mathematics students in 2000, when the Duke University team again took first place in the Putnam.
Duke University students compete in both athletics and academics. Now the victories of these undergraduates will be preserved and shared with the larger campus community as part of the University Archives.
The William Lowell Putnam Competition scrapbook was created by Dr. David Kraines, Associate Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, who leads many of the Putnam competition teams. It was transferred to the University Archives by the Department of Mathematics in April 2019.
Among Duke’s countless unexplainable quirks are sleeping outside for a basketball game, the first-year meal plan, anything to do with the transportation system, and most mysteriously, Selective Living Groups. Prospective students are puzzled by the concept, and Duke students stammer to conjure an explanation: it functions similar to Greek life but it’s certainly not that; it’s not a club but it’s also not a friend group; you live together, but it extends beyond that—and all of these responses leave you equally as confused. Eventually, as one transitions from wide-eyed first year to aloof sophomore, the questions fall away and the social landscape becomes comprehensible. And yet, the underlying question: ‘what is an SLG?’ slips away unanswered.
Although the definition of a Selective Living Group is concrete now, it began as a nebulous idea pioneered by some innovative students of the Woman’s College, women who wanted to extend their learning into their living space. In 1961, the Women’s Student Government Association (WSGA) Council defined the reasoning for the living situation in their “Proposal for an Experimental Dormitory”:
This logic parallels modern-day defense of the selected living group system, wherein living with people of diverse backgrounds and thought processes is a learning experience in and of itself. The women of the Experimental Dorm, which was housed in the Faculty Apartments (Wilson Residential Hall) beginning in the fall of 1961, had varying academic talents and interests: they organized themselves with the intentions of pursuing academic stimulation, learning for the sake of learning rather than learning for a course. The women read common books to expand their knowledge, but they also extended the experimental aspect past their studies.
At that time, students of the Woman’s College had strict curfews and restrictions regarding their social lives and freedom, and the women of the Experimental Dorm took on an unprecedented level of self-governance. They requested self-monitoring on the tracking of their movements, along with control over the rules in their own house, and adopted a government-like structure that resembles the House Councils that each dorm currently has, with assistance from older (male) faculty members. The members organized a flexible leadership system that included rotating chairmanship and standing committees to address particular issues–including monetary ones, given that the members paid dues to be a part of this community. In this sense, and the selection process, the Experimental Dorm distinguished itself from the residential Corridors that would soon follow.
Although the vision of the Experimental Dorm prioritized “intellectual orientation”, they were intentional in not pursuing a specific academic community (like the later Corridors); in fact, the girls aimed to acquire a diverse group of interests in order to promote mental stimulation. As was recognized by these women, learning stems from exposure to new concepts and ideas; they aimed to choose members that stimulate one another. This aspect was evident in the fact that the Experimental Dorm took applications followed by interviews, attempting to select candidates who reflected a passion for learning. As the women outlined in their selection guidelines, their criteria specifically stated that they did “not want grade point averages or other specific records to be used in judging the girls” and that “each choice would be made on an individual basis,” with diverse interests being of particular importance. This dorm set itself apart by incorporating a social aspect along with an academic one: the Experimental Dorm was designed to create a community, not just a study group. In this sense, the ancestry of modern SLGs is clear, the creation of a group that shares similar values beyond their academic interests, designed to grow its members as people as well as students.
Selective Living Groups today are often praised for their ability to bring people together; to create a learning environment in the dormitory alongside the classroom. The origins of those aims can be traced directly to the goals of the women who began the Experimental Dorm: a project which began to create a community, but whose effects have grown to become an important aspect of student life at Duke to this day.
Post contributed by [Matthew] Farrell, Digital Records Archivist.
I last wrote about harvesting Twitter for the archives way back in April 2016. Toward the end of that post I expressed our ambivalence toward access, essentially being caught between what Twitter allows us to do, what is technologically possible, and (most importantly) our ethical obligations to the creators of the content. Projects like Documenting the Now were just starting their work to develop community ethical and technological best practices in social media harvesting. For these reasons, we halted work on the collecting we had done for the University Archives, monitoring the technological and community landscape for further development.
February 2019 saw the 50th Anniversary of the Allen Building Takeover, when a number of Duke students occupied the Allen Building to bring attention to the needs of African-American students and workers on campus (here is a much better primer on the takeover). There were a number of events on campus to commemorate the takeover on campus, both in the Rubenstein Library and elsewhere. As is de rigueur for academic events these days, organizers decided on an official hashtag, which users could use to tweet comments and reactions. Like we did in 2016, we harvested the tweets associated with the hashtag. Unlike 2016, community practice has evolved enough to point to a path forward to contextualizing and providing access to the harvested tweets. We also took the time to update the collection we harvested in 2016 in order to have the Twitter data consistent.
In terms of technology, we use twarc a tool and Python library created by DocNow, to harvest and process Twitter content. Twarc interacts with the Twitter API and produces output files in JSON format. The image here is an example of JSON, which is clearly not human readable, but is perfect for machine processing as a data set.
But twarc also allows the user to work with the JSON in different ways. Some of these are obviously useful–e.g., you can create a basic HTML version of the data set.
Those funky characters are because twarc has a hard time encoding emoji. These web comics (here and here) are not full explanations, but point to some of the issues present. If you take nothing else from this, observe that you can somewhat effectively obscure the archival record if you communicate solely in emoji.
Finally, for our ability to offer access in a way that both satisfies Twitter’s Terms of Service and Developer Agreement, twarc allows us deyhdrate a data set and respect the wishes of the creator of a given tweet. “Dehydration” refers to creating a copy of the data set that removes all of the content except for Twitter’s unique identifier for a tweet. This results in a list of Tweet IDs that an end user may rehydrate into a complete data set later. Importantly, any attempt to rehydrate the data set (using twarc or another tool), queries Twitter and only returns results of tweets that are still public. If a user tweeted something and subsequently deleted it, or made their account private, that tweet would be removed from rehydrated data set even if the tweet was originally collected.
What does this all mean for our collections in the University Archives? First, we can make a dehydrated set of Twitter data available online. Second, we can make a hydrated set of Twitter data available in our reading room, with the caveat that we will filter out deleted or private content from the set before a patron accesses it. Offering access in this way is something of a compromise: we are unable to gain proactive consent from every Twitter user whose tweets may end up in our collections nor is it possible to fully anonymize a data set. Instead we remove material that was subsequently deleted or made private, thereby only offering access to what is currently publicly available. That ability, coupled with our narrow scope (we’re harvesting content on selected topics related to the Duke community in observance of Twitter’s API guidelines), allows us to collect materials relevant to Duke while observing community best practices.
So far this academic year, Rubenstein librarians have taught 132 class sessions (though we won’t finalize these numbers until the end of the spring semester). You’d think that’d be enough to fill our time, but we’ve also been meeting monthly to discuss our individual teaching practices and how to improve our students’ experiences in our class sessions. We want to inspire confident special collections researchers for life!
Through our discussions, we realized that we often returned to couple of key points about archives and primary source research in our class sessions. We’d broach those points on an ad hoc basis as they arose in classes, but we wondered if starting our class sessions off with a shared understanding of those points would be useful, reassuring, and perhaps even empowering for our students.
We’ve followed the development of codes of ethics for different spaces and organizations within (and beyond) our profession and thought that model might also work for us. Early this semester, we drafted and began implementing what we’re calling our approach to classes at the Rubenstein Library. (“Code of ethics” seemed so heady that it might have the unfortunate effect of tamping down student engagement.) Here is what we developed:
Explore and be curious! Our class sessions are interactive, hands-on opportunities to look at lots of materials, so take advantage of this time. Challenge yourself to look (even briefly) at items that don’t initially catch your interest—you might be surprised at what you discover.
Our class sessions seek to be inclusive, offering multiple perspectives, viewpoints, or lived experiences, but may not include the voices of every population for a number of reasons. Let’s talk in class about the voices that aren’t being presented.
The background, experience, and knowledge you bring to this class session are valuable. There isn’t one right interpretation of a historical document. Please listen carefully and treat everyone’s responses respectfully.
The material you encounter in this session has the potential to be uncomfortable or upsetting. Be kind to yourself and recognize your limits. You can look at something else or even step out of the room to take a break.
When working with historical documents, you may encounter racist, oppressive, or outdated language in the documents themselves or in the archival record. When we discuss these items, we will want to use terms that reflect the ways these communities describe themselves today.
Later this month, we’ll come together as a group of instructors to talk about how we’ve been able to incorporate the code into our class sessions—but informal reports suggest it’s been useful! Our practice has generally been to give students two to three minutes to individually read over the code (presented on a slide) and then talk as a class about any questions they might have and how the individual points in the code might come up in the class session.
We see this as a living document that we’ll continue to refine and add to as needed. So please do let us know what you think and feel free to borrow or adapt our instruction code of ethics for your own class sessions!
Spend a moment chatting with me and there’s one thing you’ll likely learn: I really like beer. Since my arrival in Durham nearly a decade ago, I’ve spent an uncomfortable amount of my income at Sam’s Quik Shop. It’s changed a lot since my time here—expanded indoor space, the addition of outdoor seating, a less surly staff. However, it has always been a hub for me, a family-owned bottle shop that still feels like the Durham I met years ago. In an evolving cityscape featuring more new high-rise condominiums than personality these days, Sam’s is iconic. Like many local beer drinkers, I was stunned but not altogether surprised by the news that the bottle shop will close at the end of the month and the property sold. As a beer-loving member of the Duke community I started thinking about what Sam’s, in all its historical iterations, has meant to generations of Duke students. Taking advantage of resources available in the Duke University Archives we catch a glimpse of the evolution of Sam’s and a feeling for what the institution meant to generations of Duke students.
In the 1950s, when the Woman’s College was still active, codes of conduct choreographed interactions between men and women on campus. Consequently, students sought friendly establishments off campus where they could socialize freely. One of these was Sam’s Blue Light Basement, named after the hit song “The House of the Blue Lights,” which opened its doors in 1954 to students eager for a new nightlife spot in the city. Modeled on the German Rathskeller, students could dance to juke box tunes, drink beer, and mingle in proximity to the opposite sex, all without the heavy hand of administrative oversight. In a 1981 profile of Sam’s Quik Shop in The Chronicle, owner Sam Boy spoke fondly of current Duke students who tell him that their parents “came a courtin’” to the Blue Light years earlier.
While the basement boomed, the ground floor Blue Light Cafe thrived as well, with locals and students alike lining up for the drive-up food delivery. During the annual Joe College celebration, a mainstay of every Duke students’ social calendar in the 1950s, students found the time between scheduled events for a trip to the Cafe. “At 5 the lawn concert breaks up . . . a quick stop at the Blue Light for an in-car supper,” reads a poetic homage to Joe College weekend in the 1955 Chanticleer. The in-car service was so popular that by the 1960s local police were required to direct traffic on busy weekends. “Cars were lined up outside looking for a place to park,” Sam Boy remembered. In 1974, Sam and his wife Gerry converted part of the business into a convenience store, changing the name to Sam’s Quik Shop, while retaining the neon Blue Light sign that adorned the facade.
The Quik Shop became a one-stop establishment for anything one might need. From convenience store staples to automotive supplies, the Quik Shop had it all. However, alongside the self-serve carwash, books and newspapers, and VHS rentals (over 3,400 titles!), beer was the most prominent feature of their offerings. Sharing shelf space with standard brands like Miller, Budweiser, and for those with an aversion to beer, Bartles and Jaymes and a large selection of wines, the Quik shop also stocked less familiar names and imports like Old Peculiar, Glacier Bay, Chihuahua, and Sol. “That’s our drawing card as opposed to the supermarkets,” noted a prescient Sam Boy in 1981. Sam’s found its niche.
By 1984, a legal drinking age of 21 put beer drinking by law-abiding college students out of reach. However, thanks to advances in home computing technology and photo editing software, a surfeit of fake IDs hit the nightlife scene in the late 1990s. During this scourge of lawlessness, many Durham drinking establishments reported an increase in fake ID confiscation—IDs most easily identified by their atrocious quality. Sam’s on the other hand reported a decline in the number of fake IDs. “Usually we have a whole wall full by the end of the semester,” exclaimed Robert Clark, a Sam’s clerk in 1999. “Right now, we only have four or five.” (If you were one of those lucky students publicly shamed on the walls of Sam’s circa 1999, let us know!).
“It has been said that one cannot stand in the way of progress,” began an editorial by student Marc Weinstein in the October 5, 1990 issue of The Chronicle. The extension of the 147 Expressway to the west turned the area around Sam’s Quik Shop into a construction and traffic nightmare that affected the livelihood of the family-owned business. While approving of necessary infrastructure improvements, Weinstein went on to say that he equally liked Sam’s Quik Shop. “I like being able to snatch a 6-pack of Colt 45 . . . rent Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo, and grab some hot pork rinds at 10 on a Friday night,” said the Trinity senior. Weinstein vowed to contribute in some small way to ensuring the survival of this “shoppers paradise” by making extra trips to the Quik Shop each week. His fear, surely shared by many, was that the institution would go the way of Pete Rinaldi’s Chicken Palace, a beloved eatery on 9th Street.
Alas, progress has finally caught up to Sam’s Quik Shop. As another Durham landmark is swapped for clean, commodious living, let us—Durhamites and Duke students alike—mourn the loss of one of the city’s most enduring locales . . . over a beer, of course.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University