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A Special Thanks to the Davidson College Archives

by | Jan 30, 2019 | Davidson History, Top Left Box

Dr. Chalmers Davidson, circa 1986 (photo courtesy of Davidson College Archives)

As a new writer on the history of Davidson and Davidson College, I am reliant on those who came before me and who either wrote about the town and college or collected resources upon which I can base my research.

Wherever I turn, the path almost always leads to Davidson College and its dedicated librarians and archivists. One of the earliest of these was Cornelia Shaw, who was Davidson College’s first professional woman employee when she was hired as librarian and registrar in 1906. In 1921, she was named head librarian and ceased her work as registrar. She remained librarian until 1936, and during her tenure she wrote a 300-page book about the college entitled Davidson College: Intimate Facts (1923). When she retired in 1936, then-president Walter Lingle praised her years of research, and described the book as “one of the monuments of her life.”

Dr. Chalmers G. Davidson also wrote about local and college history, and he can be credited for starting the college archives as they exist today. Dr. Davidson, who received graduate degrees from Harvard and the University of Chicago, was a member of Davidson’s class of 1928, and in 1936 he was hired as Professor of History and Director of the Library. He served in these positions until the mid-1970s, when he was named college archivist, a post which he held until 1994. Among his published histories were Piedmont Partisan: The Life and Times of Brigadier General William Lee Davidson (1968); The Plantation World Around Davidson (1969); The Colonial Scotch-Irish of the Carolina Piedmont (1979); and The Generations of Davidson College (1988).

Dr. Mary M. Beaty was born in Davidson; her father, Ernest A. Beaty, was a professor at Davidson College and served as mayor of the town. After receiving her Ph.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill, and teaching at the University of Richmond, she joined the Davidson College library staff in 1973. There, she served as reference coordinator and assistant director. When she retired from the library, director Leland Park commented: “Perhaps no one short of the person who gathered the first group of books to form a library for Davidson in 1837 has known the library collection as thoroughly as does she.”  Beaty wrote two indispensable books about the town and college: Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937 (1979) and A History of Davidson College (1988).

Jan Blodgett conducting the Archives portion of Freshman Orientation (photo courtesy of Davidson College Archives)

In 1994 Jan Blodgett was hired to replace Dr. Davidson as archivist, and she immediately plunged into the history of the college and the town. In 1997 she decided to write an updated history of the Town of Davidson which included more information on the people of Davidson, including women, African Americans, and mill families. In 2006 history professor Ralph Levering joined her in this effort. The result was the most recent history of the town, One Town, Many Voices: A History of Davidson, North Carolina, published in 2012. She was also instrumental in collecting a number of oral histories from many town residents, which provide first-hand information about life in Davidson.

If you are a budding historian and are interested in the history of Davidson and its surroundings, I strongly suggest you visit the archives on the top floor of the E.H. Little Library. There you will find college publications, local newspapers, minutes of the town board, photographs, and a plethora of other items, as well as the ever-cheerful, extremely knowledgeable Sharon Byrd who will guide you through them. And be sure to meet Davidson’s wonderful new archivist, DebbiLee Landi, who replaced Jan last year.

Nancy Griffith

Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989.  She is the author of numerous books and articles on Arkansas and South Carolina history.  She is the author of "Ada Jenkins: The Heart of the Matter," a history of the Ada Jenkins school and center.

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