Tag Archives: Trinity College

The Anne Roney Fountain: Revising the Record

Sometimes you set out to write a pleasant blog post about a turn-of-the-last-century Trinity College student’s short stories and end up correcting a moment of Duke University history you didn’t even realize needed correcting.

Lifelong Durham resident Lizzie F. Burch was a member of Trinity College’s Class of 1900. The Rubenstein Library has a collection of papers from Burch’s school days, so I took a look through them, hoping to learn more about life at Trinity College a few years after its relocation to Durham. Burch died in 1945, and it’s lovely to know that she took such good care of the essays she wrote and the notes she took in her Trinity College classes for over forty years.

Browsing through the papers and short stories written for her English classes, I came across an essay from her 1898 sophomore English class titled “The Anne Roney Plot.” This plot was a small garden at the end of Trinity College’s entrance drive, just in front of the Washington Duke Building (the college’s main building, which burned down in 1911; it sat roughly where East Duke Building is now).

The Anne Roney Fountain, with the Washington Duke Building in the background. Photo undated, but between 1897-1911.
The Anne Roney Fountain, with the Washington Duke Building in the background. Photo undated, but between 1897-1911.

The plot contained a tiered fountain, given to Trinity College by Anne Roney, aunt to Mary, Benjamin, and James Buchanan Duke. If you’ve visited the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in the past few years, you may have seen the fountain at the center of the Gardens’ Mary Duke Biddle Rose Garden; it was moved from East Campus in 2011.

Here’s Lizzie Burch’s essay on the plot and its fountain.

The Anne Roney Plot by Lizzie Burch, page 1

The Anne Roney Plot by Lizzie Burch, page 2

Funny thing is, the University Archives is on record as stating that the fountain was donated and placed in front of the Washington Duke Building in 1901.

There’s a good reason we made our initial claim. Back then, Trinity College included information about major gifts given to the college in the annual academic bulletins. The bulletin released in Spring 1901 includes the first mention of Anne Roney’s gift to the campus:

Reference to Anne Roney Plot in 1901-1902 Annual Catalogue

But this doesn’t quite jibe with our friend Lizzie’s essay, so we turned to the Office of University Development’s records, which contain accounts—in several very detailed and very heavy ledgers—of long-ago gifts to the college.

The ledgers directed us to the May 1897 issue of the Trinity Archive (yep, the ancestor of the current Archive), where we found the following paragraph in an article titled “Growth of the College during the Year”:

Excerpt about Anne Roney Fountain from the Trinity Archive

So, 1897 it is. We very humbly stand corrected. Sometimes our sources are unclear, incomplete, or just plain wrong, and we are always glad to be able to revise and clarify, even if it means admitting our own mistakes!

A Family Affair

In the University Archives, it is not unusual to interact with students and alumni who have familial ties to Duke. It is not often, however, that we obtain collections with such steep ties to the university like the Dorothy Newsom Rankin Papers. Rankin has the distinction of being the daughter of a Trinity College graduate (Class of 1899), an alumna herself (Class of 1933), a faculty wife, and the mother and grandmother of Dukies.

As I processed the collection, it quickly became obvious that Rankin was an archivist at heart. There were handwritten notes throughout which said “give to the Archives.” She understood and realized the value of what she had accumulated and its significance to preserving and sharing pieces of Duke’s history. The bulk of her collection centers on her father’s time at Trinity and her life as an active and engaged alum.

Her father, D. W. (Dallas Walton) Newsom, edited The Trinity Archive, was elected Phi Beta Kappa, and was a member of 9019, Kappa Alpha, and Sigma Upsilon. He was also a successful orator. Prior to entering Trinity College, he learned a form of shorthand, a skill which provided him the opportunity to work as personal secretary to President John C. Kilgo. Newsom kept a student diary, written in shorthand, which describes his daily activities and provides insight into the life of a Trinity student during the last years of the 19th century. The diary and its typescript translation are part of his papers within this collection, in addition to several of his Trinity College textbooks.

Newsom's diary, in bottom left, with Trinity textbooks from the 1890s.
Newsom’s diary, in bottom left, with Trinity textbooks from the 1890s.

Rankin was elected Phi Beta Kappa, served as senior class president of the Woman’s College as well as May Day Queen her senior year, and was a member of Kappa Delta and the White Duchy.  After graduation, she married Professor Robert Rankin. She was actively involved in university life until her death in 2002. The Woman’s College Class of 1933 gift to the university was the tower which holds “Marse Jack,” the bell on East Campus given by Ben Duke in honor of President Kilgo in 1911. In the early 1980s, some faculty and students lobbied to have the bell moved to West Campus. Rankin argued against this and led an effort to keep the bell at its original location because of its relationship to the history of Trinity College. She was successful in this endeavor. The bell is now housed in Bell Tower Residence Hall on East Campus.

Dorothy Rankin underneath the Marse Jack belltower on East Campus.
Dorothy Rankin underneath the Marse Jack bell tower on East Campus.

We also received as part of the Rankin papers, the Kappa Delta sorority rush jumper, worn by Rankin’s daughter Battle Rankin Robinson (Class of 1959), in circa 1956.

Technical Services Archivist Kim Sims poses with a Kappa Delta sorority jumper from the 1950s.

The Dorothy Newsom Rankin papers are available for use in the University Archives within the Rubenstein Library.  For more information, visit the finding aid.

Post contributed by Kimberly Sims, Technical Services Archivist for University Archives.