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A Nursery of Patriotism: the University at War, 1861-1945

"The University's prosperity is well-nigh destroyed by the hand of misrule and treason. Instead of being, as she is accused of late years, a nursery of narrow-minded, bigoted, and sectional ideas she may become the nursery of patriotism, loyalty, love of country, and devotion to this great Union." - Judge D. A. Starbuck of Forsyth County, N.C., on his election to the first Board of Trustees under the Constitution of 1868

The Civil War took a particularly harsh toll on the University of North Carolina. Student enrollment dropped from an 1859 pre-war high of 456 to just sixty students as the war ended in 1865. The university remained open during the war but was clearly struggling to survive by 1868 when a new state constitution changed the way in which the university's trustees were selected. Though the majority of its members were political appointees, Judge Starbuck was one of three trustees elected by the board. He clearly felt bitter over the political process by which the university's board was formed; nevertheless, his words inspired us to create an exhibit about this university's long connection to the wars in which the United States has been involved.

The idea of the university as a "nursery of patriotism" had a certain appeal to us. After all, the university had been founded by patriots who fought in the Revolutionary War. We wondered how the students and faculty were impacted by war. Were they eager or reluctant to enlist in the armed forces? Did they believe the university should be involved in military training, or were they more likely to believe that military training was an abandonment of the university's educational ideals? How did war directly affect the university in carrying out its primary educational mission, and how did the community of Chapel Hill react?

The Nursery of Patriotism exhibit focuses on the Civil War, World War I, and World War II and is organized according to the major topics that emerged as we completed research. Previous work on the Documenting the American South collection "The First Century of the First State University" had already given us a strong background on the Civil War and Reconstruction era of the university's history. Researching World War I and World War II turned out to be full of surprises. There was a wealth of information about the university's involvement in both wars in the administrative records in University Archives, private papers in the Southern Historical Collection, and published material in the North Carolina Collection. As is always the case when doing research for an exhibit, we reached a point where we simply had to conclude our research and move on with the business of selection. We hope you will enjoy the result.


Janis Holder, University Archivist Susan Ballinger, Assistant University Archivist Barbara Ilie, Research and Instructional Services Assistant and exhibit web designer