Tag Archives: dukehistory

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

Oct. 11th: Looking Forward: Duke History Revisited 2017

Date: Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Time: 5:00 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library Room 153
Contact: Valerie Gillispie, valerie.gillispie@duke.edu

This summer, our second class of Duke History Revisited students dug into the University’s history, developing individual research projects that tell the stories of people and events that are not widely known.

On October 11th at 5 PM, five of the program’s students will come together to recap their projects. During this public event, each student will briefly introduce their topic, highlight their research discoveries, and offer their own insight into Duke’s history. The presentations will be followed by refreshments and an opportunity to talk with the students in more detail.

The students’ research projects are also available on the Duke History Revisited website.

University Mace & Chain Now on Display in Perkins Library

Post contributed by Valerie Gillispie, University Archivist

Have you ever wondered about the fancy chain that the president wears during commencement? Or about that big scepter that the chair of Academic Council carries during convocation? For the next month, get an up close look at the official Duke University chain of office and mace, on display near the service desk in Perkins Library.

Photo of mace and chain on display in Perkins Library exhibit case.

Created in 1970, the mace and chain of office were formally debuted at Terry Sanford’s presidential inauguration on October 18, 1970. Both items are traditional symbols of leadership, and Duke’s versions feature distinctly Duke and North Carolinian decorations: pinecones, tobacco leaves, the school motto “Eruditio et Religio,” and the Duke family coat of arms.

Photo of mace and chain at Terry Sanford's inauguration
The mace and chain in action at Terry Sanford’s inauguration, October 18, 1970

The chain of office and mace will be on display until October 5, when they will be used during the inauguration of President Vincent Price, the University’s tenth president.