COVID-19 has changed and disrupted our lives, at Duke and around the world. On campus, most students have returned home, classes are online, and all events are cancelled. Many staff are working from home; others that are deemed essential continue to work on campus. The hospital is preparing for an influx of people infected with COVID-19. Duke researchers are trying to find ways to fight the disease, from identifying treatments to creating better protective equipment.
And we all live with the fear of the impact of the virus, both for ourselves and our loved ones.
The Duke University Archives and the Duke University Medical Center Archives have been hard at work to document this unique time in history. We have been capturing all of the news alerts, email updates, Duke COVID-19 websites, and online research symposiums. As much as we are able to gather online, these materials only tell a part of the story.
We would like to hear from students, staff, faculty, and other people who live, work, or study at Duke. You may tell your story through writing, photographs, film, or other means. (Durham community members, connect with the Museum of Durham History to share your stories!)
Interested? If you are interested in sharing your story at some point in the future, please fill out this online form. Signing up won’t obligate you to submit anything; it simply permits Archives staff to reach out to you periodically to let you know about options for submission. You can opt out of receiving these notices at any time.
Ready to share? If you would like to share your story now, you can send it to us using this submission form. Your story will be submitted to the University Archives or the Medical Center Archives, where it will be permanently preserved and made available for research. NB: School of Medicine, School of Nursing and Duke Health community members should use this submission form from the Medical Center Archives.
We recognize that you may want time to reflect on your experiences and will continue to collect stories on an ongoing basis. The submission process will include options for keeping your name anonymous; in that case, your contact information would be known only to the staff of the University Archives and Medical Center Archives.
Post contributed by Hillary Gatlin, Records Manager.
When one of my Duke University Archives’ colleagues alerted me to the presence of an Academic Council memo from 1982 requesting information on the management of faculty records, I was intrigued. Though often critical to an organization’s well-being, issues of records management rarely make headlines, and an administrative body like Academic Council taking an interest in records management was a big deal. I sought out the Academic Council records and unearthed the story behind the memo.
Academic Council first indicated their interest in faculty files and records management with an announcement at the January 21, 1982 meeting, declaring that “the Executive Committee will shortly appoint a three-person ad hoc committee to ascertain what university files are kept on faculty members and who has access to them.” The Ad Hoc Committee on Faculty Files was established the following month at the February 18, 1982 meeting and consisted of committee chair Professor Paletz (Political Science), Professor Weistart (Law), and Professor Dearlove (English). The focus of the committee was on identifying university files that contained information on the faculty, including whom had access to those files.
As part of their work, the Committee drafted and sent out the aforementioned memo to university departments, seeking data to report back to Academic Council. Some of the questions asked in the survey are still asked by records managers today including: Who has access to the files and under what conditions? What is the content of the files? Who purges or expunges files? When are they purged?
While an initial report from the Ad Hoc Committee on Faculty Files was expected in March 1982, it was not filed with Academic Council until May 25, 1982. Sadly, the actual report, including the results of the records survey, appears to have been lost to time. The Executive Committee of Academic Council provided a brief update on the report at the September 16, 1982 meeting, with the promise that further discussion would take place once the report had been more closely reviewed. This update did clarify the reason for Academic Council’s interest in faculty files: “the concern is with faculty rights to access of their personnel files, the ability to correct factual or other errors contained in those files,” and the absence of a clear University policy on faculty files.
The development of this policy stayed on Academic Council’s radar, and at the May 5, 1983 meeting, they reviewed a proposed policy draft. This review resulted in over five pages of documented discussion on faculty records issues. Major issues touched on during the discussion included the number of files to be maintained by the administration, who within the administration should be responsible for maintaining files, and whether information should ever be removed from files, and if so, under what conditions. There was also an in-depth discussion of confidentiality, particularly as it relates to faculty recommendations and the university’s procedures for appointment, promotion, and tenure.
After this substantial discussion, Academic Council agreed that a clearer policy was needed and decided to resume talks again in the next academic year. As far as the Academic Council records show, the policy discussion never resumed at this level.
The Records Management program is happy to assist University departments and offices with managing their university records and preserving their university history. To schedule a consultation with the Records Manager, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Smith Warehouse, the Technical Services archival processing area of Bay 11 is quiet. But not because the librarians working there have shushed everyone. Rather, the archivists, catalogers, interns and student workers perform many tasks by themselves. And most of us are wearing headphones or earbuds. Undoubtedly we are listening to music, podcasts, sports events, and whatever else we can stream. As a self-proclaimed news junkie, I often listen to live broadcasts.
As an archivist of University Archives records, my worlds collided in a “deja vu all over again” manner. At the end of January and beginning of February I was listening to the impeachment hearings and trial of President Donald J. Trump as I was processing the John S. Bradway Correspondence with Richard M. Nixon records. The collection is comprised of letters written between the Duke law professor, and his former student from 1959-1978. Nixon graduated from Duke Law in 1937, and the two men stayed in touch. These letters were recently gifted to Duke from a historical society in New Jersey.
The correspondence covers the time periods that Nixon worked as an attorney at a law firm, a United States Vice President, a newly-elected United States President, an embattled impeachment defendant, and finally, a former President looking back at his legacy. But the bulk of the letters fall between 1973 and 1974, when President Nixon was first tied to, then accused of, and later resigned due to the Watergate break-in and scandal and subsequent White House cover-up.
Bradway and Nixon’s correspondence show the respect each had for the other. They often mention their spouses, Mary Bradway and Pat Nixon, offering their greetings to them in each letter. The men also write glowingly of each other, and Bradway offered his suggestions to “stay with it” and his view that neither the Republican party nor the country would have anything to gain by Nixon resigning. When Nixon finally did resign and leave Washington, the correspondence continued, and Bradway urged him to write “a book or a series of articles” giving his side of the Watergate story.
Processing this collection with impeachment trial streaming through my earbuds led to an unusual echo chamber. The same phrases that I saw in the documents were being repeated on the floors of the House and the Senate. For example, liberal media was mentioned in both the recent impeachment hearings and the correspondence. The phrase “Impeachment is a political process” and concerns about the health and future of the Republican party were discussed in the letters I read, and in the very recent commentaries I heard. For me it was a startling reminder of how primary source documents very clearly connect to our present-day lives and current affairs.
Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Librarian.
A few days ago, I went searching (in the catalog) for the perfect Thanksgiving-related item and came across a folder titled “Turkey Test, 1951-1952” in the papers of Theodore “Ted” Minah. What kind of test could Minah, the Director of Duke University Dining Halls from 1946 to 1974, be conducting on turkeys? Was it a taste test or some sort of “mystery meat” challenge? Was he investigating the sleep-inducing properties of turkey meat? Was he out to prove that turkeys really are as dumb as they are rumored to be?
Sadly (for us), Minah was a practical fellow and it was none of those things. Minah, who worked hard to provide quality food at the lowest price to the university, wanted to know if turkey could be a cost effective meat option for campus dining halls. The test was part of an effort by the National Turkey Federation (NTF), an organization representing turkey farmers and processors, to better market the turkey and get more turkey on more American tables. (The NTF is also the organization that provides turkeys for the annual White House turkey pardon.)
Duke, along with dining offices at other schools, participated in a 1951 study to determine how much edible meat a cooked turkey yielded and how much a single serving of turkey would cost. Led by Food Production Manager Majorie Knapp, Duke cooked several whole turkeys and took detailed measurements before and after cooking. Duke’s test used Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys from Sampson County, North Carolina which, according to Minah, “is a delicious eating turkey.”
According to the results of the Duke test, turkey would cost around $1.50 per pound of cooked meat and around $0.20 per serving. In her summary, Knapp noted that the price for chicken was cheaper at $1.37 per pound. A serving of chicken would be a few cents cheaper than turkey.
The test results were submitted and later included in NTF marketing materials designed to get turkey on the menu at places like schools, hotels, and hospitals. In addition to the study results and Ted Minah’s correspondence about the study, the “Turkey Test” folder also includes a few of these industry publications.
The booklets and brochures, with catchy titles like “Carving the Turkey for Portion Control and Greater Profit” and “Pre-Cut Turkeys for Institutional Use,” mostly contain recipes and instructions for properly cooking a turkey. The recipes were certainly creative. Creamed Turkey in Pastry Tart, Turkey Salad Roll, and Turkey Chow Mein on Chinese Noodles (to name just a few) were suggested as “profit-making turkey dishes.”
If you are desperately seeking things to do with all of those turkey leftovers, the NTF has your back. You could make a Jellied Turkey Salad, put some gibblets on toast, or impress your guests with jellied turkey feet. They even provide tips on what to do with the carcass!
The Ted Minah materials include one more turkey item worth mentioning. He was sent a booklet of photos showing turkeys frolicking on a farm. It includes a photo of a turkey that doesn’t seem particularly pleased to have his photo taken for the purposes of marketing his own deliciousness as food.
If your uncle brings up politics at Thanksgiving dinner, just turn the conversation toward the fun facts you learned in this blog post and then you can all bond over your love of jellied turkey feet.
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.
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.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University