Tag Archives: dukehistory

Eleanor C. Pressly: A Duke Alumna at NASA

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.

President John F. Kennedy with the recipients of the 1963 Federal Woman’s Award for outstanding contributions to government. Eleanor Pressly is second from the right. Photo from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
The recipients of the 1963 Federal Woman’s Award for outstanding contributions to government with President John F. Kennedy. Eleanor Pressly is second from the right. Photo from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

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.”

Text of letter from J. Deryl Hart: "Dear Miss Pressly: In this morning's mail I received a letter from Mr. Mike Harloff, of the Office of Public Information, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, informing me that you are soon to receive a Federal Woman's Award for your pioneering work in the field of rocketry. I was pleased to have this information and wish to extend to you my sincere congratulations. You have brought distinction not only to yourself but to Duke University. More and more women are assuming roles of leadership in scientific endeavors and your accomplishments will serve as an incentive to others. My best wishes for your continued success and happiness. Sincerely yours, Deryl Hart"
Letter from Duke President J. Deryl Hart to Eleanor Pressly, April 22, 1963. From the J. Deryl Hart records. The text of this letter is readable in the image’s alt text.
Text of letter: "Dear President Hart, Thank you for your congratulatory letter of April 22. 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. Sincerely, Eleanor Pressly"
Letter from Eleanor Pressly to Duke President J. Deryl Hart, May 12, 1963. From the J. Deryl Hart records. The text of this letter is readable in the image’s alt text.

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.

What Alumnae Remembered About Duke

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.

Article title “Many Alumnae Remember: A Survey Overview by Women’s Studies Staff”

Article title “Many Alumnae Remember: A Survey Overview by Women’s Studies Staff”
The Women’s Studies Program Friends Newsletter article on the survey results

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!)

Question 9: “In the last 25 years what would you list as the three issues that have effected the most change in women’s lives?” Answer: “1. The financial need (whether real or only perceived) for wives/mothers to contribute a second income – which usually means working outside the home. 2. Improved birth control and legalized abortion. 3. No-fault divorce.”
From a 1941 graduate.

 

Question 9: “In the last 25 years what would you list as the three issues that have effected the most change in women’s lives?” Answer: “The opportunities for a much larger percentage of women to be trained for the professions than women of my generation enjoyed. Reliable control of one’s reproductive capacity. Civil rights and equal opportunities legislation.”
From a 1942 graduate.

 

Question 9: “In the last 25 years what would you list as the three issues that have effected the most change in women’s lives?” Answer: “The Women’s Movement in general. The development of new birth control techniques. The AIDS problem. All of this has brought on such radical change in social mores.”
From a 1952 graduate.

 

Question 7: “If you were able to speak to Duke women on campus today, what would you like most to discuss with them?” Answer: “The pressures society places on women now to ‘have it all’: outstanding executive job, good marriage, and family life. People/women who have not ‘achieved’ notable recognition are not less valuable or less respected or less ‘successful’ than the achievers.”
From a 1967 graduate.

 

Question 9: “In the last 25 years what would you list as the three issues that have effected the most change in women’s lives?” Answer: “- the rights to choose birth control and abortion – the continuing fight for equal pay – the change in education (though slow) to try to avoid stereotyping of women’s and men’s roles”
From a 1978 graduate.

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.

Question 5: “Thinking about your years as a woman at Duke, do any particular experiences stand out for you? What do you think you gained from these experiences? What might Duke have done better for you as a young woman?” Answer: “The only thing I can think of is that I received no counseling or advice concerning a means of making a living. I was a French major and was trained to do nothing on graduation.”
From a 1937 graduate.

 

Question 5: “Thinking about your years as a woman at Duke, do any particular experiences stand out for you? What do you think you gained from these experiences? What might Duke have done better for you as a young woman?” Answer: “One time I dropped a favorite little purse from Algers as I got out of a car coming back from a church young peoples meeting. It was at dorm closing time and I was not allowed to go out and hunt for it where I had gotten out of the car. Someone found it the next day or so squashed and dirty where cars had run over it. It did not seem fair – A fellow would have been allowed to go out and look for it. I was a girl. This just added fuel to the fire of dislike of discrimination. I fought it before and since. Rules should be reasonable and different circumstances considered fairly. Fairness I think is the essential ingredient (both ways) with education – also true caring.”
From a 1940 graduate.

 

Question 5: “Thinking about your years as a woman at Duke, do any particular experiences stand out for you? What do you think you gained from these experiences? What might Duke have done better for you as a young woman?” Answer: “I took a Naval History class and the professor humiliated the women into dropping. He was known to not like them – and I loved history. Spring of 53 American Airlines came to interview for stewardesses. Lined us up and 2 men walked around grading our bodies and looks. From both of these I learned men don’t really like women they just want to use them. Duke gave me a wonderful education I’ve only just come to appreciate the last ten years.” Question 6: “When you recall your years at Duke, do you remember any women who were important to you as role models? What do you remember?” Answer: “As I recall almost 100% of my professors were men. Only 3 teaching women I remember Psychology, Spanish, and Zoology. These were freshman courses. I must have taken 40-45 courses. So where were the women?”
From a 1953 graduate.

 

Question 5: “Thinking about your years as a woman at Duke, do any particular experiences stand out for you? What do you think you gained from these experiences? What might Duke have done better for you as a young woman?” Answer: “A Duke psychologist inadvertently launched my scientific career. In 1958, when I came to Duke as a freshman, I took a battery of career-counseling-type tests. When I met the assigned advisor for interpretation of my test results, he said, ‘You show approximately equal aptitude and interest in both science and music. BUT BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN, you had better go into music, so you can have a career and a family.’ I was so angry at this analysis that I immediately left his office and signed up for a zoology major! I’ve been in science ever since.”
From a 1962 graduate.

 

Question 5: “Thinking about your years as a woman at Duke, do any particular experiences stand out for you? What do you think you gained from these experiences? What might Duke have done better for you as a young woman?” Answer: “I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Duke just the way it was and I still do. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
From a different 1962 graduate.

 

Question 5: “Thinking about your years as a woman at Duke, do any particular experiences stand out for you? What do you think you gained from these experiences? What might Duke have done better for you as a young woman?” Answer: “I would have benefited from career guidance. I was a French major and never learned to speak the language! Also could have used alcohol education (not available anywhere at that time that I know of) – My father was alcoholic, and I am now aware of a pattern in my life to become involved with men who are emotionally unavailable.”
From yet a different 1962 graduate.

 

Question 5: “Thinking about your years as a woman at Duke, do any particular experiences stand out for you? What do you think you gained from these experiences? What might Duke have done better for you as a young woman?” Answer: “I was lucky to have lived in Epworth for two years where many strong-willed, energetic, creative women students served as role models and challenged me. (I was VP one semester and Pres. another.) They gave me courage. I dropped my math major my sophomore year – was told by my math prof. (a young-ish male – [name redacted]) that women usually don’t make it as mathematicians because they are not aggressive enough. By the end of my soph. year, there was only one other woman besides myself in my math class. I get angry every time I think about the chilling effect this prof. had on my – I sincerely hope that he’s no longer teaching at Duke.”
From a 1977 graduate.
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.

Question 7: “If you were able to speak to Duke women on campus today, what would you like most to discuss with them?” Answer: “Keep up the fight for the rights of women.”
A response from a 1933 graduate.

 

Add it Up: Duke and the Putnam Mathematics Competition

Post contributed by Hillary Gatlin, Records Manager

The inside front cover of the Putnam scrapbook. The right-hand page reads "Duke 1993 Putnam Champs in blue capital letters.
William Lowell Putnam scrapbook, inside front cover

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.

A scrapbook page with two photos relating to the 1993 Putnam competition team. The top photo shows a display in the mathematics department about the competition. The bottom photo shows the winning team of three students and a faculty member.
Photos of the Putnam Competition team from 1993

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.

SLGs Have Their Roots in Woman’s College Experiment

Post contributed by Gia Cummings, University Archives student assistant

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 GroupsProspective 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”:

From the “Proposal for an Experimental Dormitory,” 1961. Woman’s College Records, box 35.

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.

Color photo of the front of Wilson Residence Hall. The three-story brick building is Georgian in style.
Wilson Residence Hall. The Experimental Dorm was housed on Wilson’s 3rd floor.

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.

Typewritten page describing the government and organization of the Experimental Dorm.
Page from “Structures and Functions of the 1961-62 Experimental Dorm.” Woman’s College Records, box 35.

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.

Blue Devils’ Blue Light

Post contributed by Josh Larkin Rowley, Reference Archivist for the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History

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.

Sam’s Quik Shop ad from the July 12, 1976 Chronicle. The ad shows an illustration of Uncle Sam driving a car and text about the Quik Stop's hours, products, and address.
Sam’s Quik Shop ad from July 12, 1976 Chronicle

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!).

Sam’s Quik Shop ad from the November 11, 1988 Chronicle. Ad shows a map of Sam's location and information about the products they carry.
Sam’s Quik Shop ad from the November 11, 1988 Chronicle

“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.

Changes in the Gothic Reading Room

Post contributed by Val Gillispie, University Archivist.

Color photo showing four men hanging the portrait of President A. Hollis Edens in the Gothic Reading Room.
Hanging portraits in the Gothic Reading Room following the Rubenstein Library renovation, 2015

The air is finally crisp in Durham, and we are all enjoying the cool weather and colorful leaves. We are changing inside the library, too, with a major shift for the portraits in the Gothic Reading Room. That’s right, the beloved and historic Gothic is getting an art update!

So what’s moving?

  • The three men responsible for the initial construction of Duke’s campus, Horace Trumbauer, Julian Abele, and Arthur C. Lee, will be moving across the room, next to the John Hope Franklin portrait.
  • The presidents will all be moved down to make room for future presidential portraits, including a portrait of past president Richard Brodhead, which will be hung in early November.
  • Founding Duke Endowment trustees will be moving in to archival storage, providing more room for additional portraits.

What’s not moving? James, Washington, and Ben Duke will remain where they are, as will Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans and John Hope Franklin.

The change means that the room now has space for new portraits to be added. So we ask you, dear reader: who would you honor with a portrait in the Gothic Reading Room?

Here’s a Few Ways to Learn Duke’s History!

We’re starting the school year off w/ lots of interest in Duke’s complex history, which warms (and engages) our archivist hearts. So here’s a handy compilation of ways to learn more about Duke history at the University Archives!

Travel through 178 years of Duke history with this nifty timeline.

Or grab your coffee & head to the permanent Duke University history exhibit outside the Gothic Reading Room. Color photo of the Duke history exhibit wall located outside the Gothic Reading Room.

Learn more about the workers who built the Duke campuses & their working conditions on the website created by this past summer’s Story+ project, “Stone by Stone: Who Built the Duke Chapel?”

Our research guides will point you to key resources on popular topics, like athletics & student activism.

Our website has tons of historical information, like historical articles written by UA staff (including one about the Robert E. Lee statue removed from Duke Chapel).

Or you can browse our online exhibits! Integration, Duke during World War II, Duke’s queer history—find them here!

The Duke Chronicle, Duke’s student-run newspaper, is a fantastic historical resource. We’ve digitized the very first issue (December 19, 1905) through Feb 1989 and you can read/search through them here. 1990s issues will be available this fall!

103 years of the Chanticleer (Duke’s yearbook) are also browsable online. So many retro hairstyles!

Or see what the Pratt School of Engineering was like with digitized issues of DukEngineer.

Want to see Duke history rather than read about it? Our Flickr site has 3,000+ photos!

Black and white photo of man working with a 1980s computer. The screen reads "Chanticleer."
This 1982 photo is on Flickr. Might not be the best set up for looking at Flickr, though.

And the easiest way to learn about Duke history? Stop by the University Archives and talk to your friendly university archivists!

Terry Sanford’s Varmint Dinner

Post contributed by Tracy Jackson, Technical Services Archivist for University Archives

Terry Sanford was a fixture of North Carolina life and politics for decades, and from 1970 to 1985 he was “Uncle Terry,” the President of Duke University. As a North Carolina State Senator, Governor, and United States Senator, he was known for his tireless support of and advocacy for education, especially public education, as well as his support of civil rights causes, including desegregation. He has left a lasting legacy here at Duke (the Sanford School of Public Policy is named for him), in North Carolina, and across the South.

While he may be well-known at Duke and across the country for his progressive ideals, he is slightly less well-known for a particularly fascinating tradition known as the Varmint Dinner. We’re here today to rectify this oversight and share with you all the story of this peculiar party.

According to an article in the Atlanta Constitution in 1980, the Varmint Dinner, also sometimes called the Critter Dinner, started in the mid-1970s when then-President Sanford and a friend, Jake Phelps, had “a lot of game” and thought “a Varmint Dinner in a formal setting would be a fun way to get rid of it.” The dinner continued because it was a way “to get family and friends together every once in a while.” Hard to argue with that!

Copy of the April 4, 1980 Atlanta Constitution article about the Varmint Dinner
click image to enlarge

So what was served at the Varmint Dinner? Over the years, courses included raccoon (universally shortened to “ ’coon”), venison, catfish, wild pig, squirrel, rabbit, goat, bear, turtle, possum, and snake. The theme demanded the idea that “these entrees should have been recently lumbering around the words somewhere or at least hiding in tall grass beside a winding asphalt highway bracing for a brave challenge to oncoming cars.” Highly romantic description that allowed for basically anything not raised on a farm for the sole purpose of being eaten. In keeping with the down-home feel, the dinner was limited to mostly family and some friends, and the recipes based on instinct, rumor, and trial and error. With help from, according to the article, copious amounts of moonshine.

The article appearing in the Atlanta Constitution does an excellent job of trying to convey the sense of Southern country ingenuity combined with refined charm and grace that the whole idea of this dinner given by Terry Sanford evokes. The Terry Sanford Records and Papers, the collection of materials from President Sanford held in the University Archives, also includes some humorous correspondence that details the attendance of the article’s author at the Varmint Dinner in 1980.

Included in the collection is a note written to President Sanford by Bill Green, a journalist and the then-Director of University Relations, conveying the wish of David Morrison of the Atlanta Constitution to attend that year’s dinner, if there was to be one, and offering to bring snake. President Sanford jotted a reply on the letter that reads: “We’ll have one if we can gather in enough varmints. Seems we have been eating them as fast as they come by –“.

Letter to President Terry Sanford from Bill Green about the 1980 Varmint Dinner

Later correspondence shows that David Morrison, in attempting to deliver his promise of snake, contacted Georgia State Senator Franklin Sutton, apparently a known source of “rattlesnake steak,” who wrote a lengthy and detailed account of how he might trap a snake and why he was unable to procure one. The letter was a fun reminder to me that politicians and executives rarely typed their own correspondence, since it also includes a sharply hilarious postscript from Senator Sutton’s secretary Benita to David Morrison.

Page one of letter from Georgia State Senator Franklin Sutton to David Morrison

Page two of letter from Georgia State Senator Franklin Sutton to David Morrison, with postscript

We don’t know exactly how long the Varmint Dinner tradition carried on, since this correspondence and the photocopied article from the Atlanta Constitution, as well as half of a photocopied article from an unknown paper, are the only mentions of it in the collection (that I know of, please note this collection has more than 300 feet of material). But if you are looking for a new holiday tradition, and you can lay your hands on some (legally and ethically acquired) varmints, consider what Uncle Terry would do.

These materials came to light during recent reprocessing of portions of Terry Sanford’s collections related to his campaigns for President of the United States in 1972 and 1976. There is a wealth of interesting material in this collection – check it out for yourself!

Correction: After this was posted, a helpful friend of Terry Sanford called to let us know what happened to the Varmint Dinners. The dinners continued while Sanford was President of Duke University and lived at Knight House on Pinecrest Road, but once he stepped down as President and moved to a different residence, the dinner ended. The dinner written about above was one of the last Varmint Dinners held. Paul Vick, our source of information, attended and assures us it was a good one.

The Allen Building Study-In

Post contributed by Valerie Gillispie, University Archivist

Most Dukies know about the Allen Building Takeover of February 13, 1969. It proved to be a watershed moment for Duke, and led to real change in the curriculum and in social and academic support for students of color. What many don’t know, however, is that there was a protest in the Allen Building just 15 months earlier, the Allen Building Study-In. Although less dramatic than the Allen Building Takeover, it was also organized by African-American students, and it also had real impact on Duke.

The Allen Building Study-In took place on November 13, 1967. The purpose was to protest the use of segregated facilities by Duke student organizations. One year earlier, the local chapter of the Duke Alumni Association had held a banquet honoring the football team at the all-white Hope Valley Country Club—thereby excluding the black players. Two hundred picketers protested the event. The Duke administration took no immediate action, and no prohibition was in place around the use of such facilities.

In September 1967, President Douglas Knight agreed to a policy that banned the use of such facilities by faculty and administrative groups, but did not require student groups to comply. In early November of that same year, the Associated Students of Duke University (ASDU, precursor to today’s DSG) conducted a student-wide referendum on a proposed ban on such facilities, but this motion was defeated. Frustrated with the lack of action by the student body and the administration, the students issued a statement and demands on November 10. They demanded that action be taken on the policy immediately.

With no immediate response from the administration, three days later a group of around 30 students entered the president’s office, staying for seven hours and blocking the entrance to Knight’s office. Reporters from radio stations and newspapers were also present to cover the event. Shortly after the conclusion of the protest, two major university committees recommended the passage of a complete ban on the use of segregated facilities. On November 17, just four days after the Study-In, Knight issued a statement in which he extended the existing policy to cover all student groups, in addition to faculty and staff groups.

Monday, November 13, 2017, will mark the fiftieth anniversary of this peaceful but powerful action by a small group of students. A small exhibit commemorating the Study-In is currently installed near the service desk of Perkins Library.

Photo of students participating in the Allen Building Study-In, November 13, 1967
Students participate in the Allen Building Study-In, November 13, 1967