Tag Archives: Correspondence Unit

On Land Grant Institutions and Normal Schools: a Companion Blog to “For all useful learning”

[This blog post was written by Josh Hager of the Correspondence Unit, part of the Collection Services Section at the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Through the remainder of 2014, the Correspondence Unit of the State Archives is creating small exhibits in the Search Room to explore the histories of the schools in the University of North Carolina System. The first installation of the exhibit, entitled “For All Useful Learning: The Records of the UNC System Schools,” included records documenting the history of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the first state-sponsored public university in the nation. From September 16 to September 27, the exhibit will feature documents pertaining to North Carolina State University, Fayetteville State University, and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. NC State started life as a land grant university while both Fayetteville State and UNC Pembroke started as normal schools. This blog post is a companion piece to this second installation of the UNC Schools exhibit. It will briefly explain what both “land grant university” and “normal school” meant and how those definitions influenced the schools’ histories.

Gov. Kerr Scott in North Carolina State University's yearbook, the 1917 edition of the Agromeck.

Gov. Kerr Scott in the 1917 edition of North Carolina State University yearbook, Agromeck.

NC State began as a land grant institution, defined by the (federal) Morrill Act of 1857 as a university teaching agriculture, military science, and mechanical arts. Although North Carolina received land from the Morrill Act shortly after the bill’s passage, the state did not attempt to open a Morrill-style school until the 1870s. Initially, the state attempted to alter UNC Chapel Hill’s curriculum to conform to the educational goals of the Morrill Act, but public outcry prevented changing Chapel Hill’s traditional liberal arts focus. Instead, the state opened two land-grant institutions in Raleigh: the North Carolina College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts in 1887 (which became NC State) and the North Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race in 1891 (which became North Carolina Agricultural and Technological University State University, later moving to Greensboro). While NC State’s curriculum has grown significantly since its founding in 1887, it is still renown nationally for its academic programs in engineering, agricultural science, and veterinary medicine—all subjects that the Morrill Act recommended over one hundred years ago.

While “land grant institution” has a specific meaning thanks to the Morrill Act, the term “normal school” has a more general meaning: a school dedicated to training new teachers. Derived from the French phrase école normale and a Parisian school so named in the 1830s, normal schools first became widespread in the United States in the second-half of the 19th century. It is not coincidental that the increase in normal schools correlated with an increase in the degree to which state and local governments became more involved in offering quality public education to growing numbers of students.

University of North Carolina at Pembroke, The Museum of the Native American Resource Center

Photo of the Museum of the Native American Resource Center at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. This photograph is part of the North Carolina ECHO Project available through the NC Digital Collections.

In North Carolina specifically, the General Assembly passed two landmark resolutions that led to the establishment of Fayetteville State and UNC Pembroke. First, the General Assembly passed a resolution in 1877 calling for a normal school for the training of African-American teachers. For the location of the new normal school, state officials selected the Howard School in Fayetteville, which opened in 1869 as a school providing primary education to Fayetteville’s African-American population. Thus, in 1877, the Howard School became the State Colored Normal School, the first state-sponsored institution for educating African-American teachers both in North Carolina and anywhere in the South. The school was renamed as the Fayetteville State Teachers College in 1939, and became Fayetteville State University in 1969. Visitors to the exhibit case can see evidence of Fayetteville State’s commitment to education by having the chance to examine a list of graduates in the 1920s and their placement at schools throughout the Sandhills and further afield.

The second landmark resolution, which is on display in the exhibit case, came to the floor of the North Carolina House in 1887. Robeson County Representative Hamilton McMillan, with the support of a petition of Lumbee Indians from the area, introduced a resolution to found a normal school for the training of American Indian teachers. Croatan Normal School opened in 1887 as a result of this piece of legislation. Croatan Normal School was the first state-sponsored normal school for American Indians in North Carolina. The school underwent several name changes over the years, including Pembroke State College, and became the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in 1996.

Other normal schools followed, including the North Carolina State Normal and Industrial School (1891, later renamed as the University of North Carolina at Greensboro), the Normal and Industrial School in Elizabeth City (1891, later renamed as Elizabeth City State University), and East Carolina Teachers Training School (1907, later renamed East Carolina University). Later exhibit cases will showcase these institutions, but Fayetteville State and UNC Pembroke have a special significance in North Carolina history as the first two normal schools and the first two education schools for minorities.


Staff Profile — Alex Christopher (Chris) Meekins

Continuing our staff profile series, we present Alex Christopher (Chris) Meekins, correspondence archivist in the Collection Services Section.

Describe your current job at the State Archives.

The main aspect of my job is managing the correspondence unit and answering patron inquiries from across North Carolina, the United States and internationally.  From genealogical queries to questions from history students and professors, the correspondence unit handles the bulk of connecting off-site patrons with the collection.  Correspondence is part of Public Services in the Collection Services Section and as a member of that team I also work the main reference desk assisting on-site patrons in connecting to the collection.

What project(s) are currently working on?

I have a number of projects that are ongoing – most recently I am completing a research project and subject finding aid for US Joint Resolutions (sent as amendments to the Constitution) in the Archives holdings – there have been 27 amendments and 6 additional proposed Joint Resolutions.  It’s been interesting tracking those down and learning more about the amendment process.

How long have you worked at the State Archives?

I started work on January 1, 2001 – a holiday!  I will have a dozen years in at the Archives in December which will also mark the end of my 25th year as a State employee. Prior to being the Correspondence archivist I was in the Public Services reference staff and was the person who managed the microfilm room.

Are you involved in any committees, special projects, DCR-wide programs, or professional organizations?

I am the symposium chairperson for the DCR Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee and am currently planning the Freedom Symposium which will be held in October 2013 at our co-host’s facilities in Winston-Salem. I am also on the State Archives Civil War Sesquicentennial committee contributing blog posts and speaking at some of our 2nd Mondays quarterly talks.  I am also part of a DCR team working on a publication with a working title of “Witness to War” – concept architecture/Civil War cross-over.

Describe your educational or career background prior to working here.

I finished my undergraduate degree as a returning student at North Carolina State University.  Originally an engineering major I transferred to History as a means to an end – a four year degree.  Luckily I ran into a few professors who made me understand that History could be more than a means to end – it could be an end unto itself.  After successfully completing my undergraduate degree I went to graduate school at NCSU in History and minored in Public History with an archives concentration.  I finished classwork in December 2000 and wrote my thesis that summer and defended that fall.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?

Working with the public is always the most rewarding part of my job – whether it is helping an historian track down a particular letter or diary or helping a genealogist find their ancestor’s will or other record.  Connecting people with information is just a rush!  I also enjoy speaking to groups about the Archives’ collections.

What skills or traits do you think are needed to be successful at your job?

Adaptability is a key skill when working reference either in person or through correspondence.  As a staff member you must be able to switch gears seamlessly from working in Proprietary era documents to 20th century materials.  One moment you are discussing the War of Jenkins Ear with a researcher and the next you are trying to find a World War II service record.  A good dose of humility never hurts either.

Is there an aspect of your job that you never thought you would end up doing?

They never mentioned photocopying in grad school!

What work-related accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am proud of my work with the Archives Civil War 150th committee.  I am also proud of my correspondence team – they do a bang up job day in and day out and always with a smile on their faces.

Have you received any specialized training, certifications, awards, or recognitions?

I have completed several supervisory workshop training classes and have recently completed the three year supervisor section of the DCR initiative to train future leaders in DCR (Leadership Development Program).  My LDP group is the third group to complete the training.  I have also had some advanced history training beyond my master’s degree.

What’s the most interesting or unusual thing you’ve come across in a collection?

It really is hard to say as there are many fascinating things in the Archives records.  I guess tops would be the thing I found while processing in some Pasquotank County miscellaneous records.  In the court material I found a packet of documents about a murder case.  The packet was sealed in 1866 and had not been opened.  Opening the packet, removing the string and paper, I came across a piece of cloth.  Turned out that the piece of cloth was a mask with eye holes and a tie-string found near the murder victim.  Wow, just wow!

Do you have a favorite collection or set of records?

I find the coroner’s inquest materials and the slave and free person of color papers to be interesting.  Inquests can have all manner of interviews of people who were in the area of the dead body, etc.  Often they give details of the social events of the period and so can be a window for social historians to use.  The same for the series of papers that deal with slaves and free persons of color – the material is rich with social information.

What’s the most challenging reference question you’ve been asked?

Without a doubt it was a question associated with North Carolina’s declaration of secession – the Secession Ordinance.  The document is not in the collection – I had to try and determine if it ever existed.  I matched newspaper accounts with materials in the collection about the special convention held to secede.  It was a difficult assignment but it taught me any number of good lessons.  Although other resolutions from that convention are in the Archives holdings, the original Session Ordinance is not (although a record copy is).

What would you want people to know about our collections or services that may not be widely known?

We have a new online portal that allows out-of-state patrons to request materials and pay invoices electronically.  It is still new but people are getting used to the service and taking advantage of it more and more.  It saves the Archives postage and shaves time off the response time for inquiries – a win-win if ever there was one.

Do you have any special memories or anecdotes about working here?

When I first started working here in 2001 there were a group of dedicated temporary employees who worked on Saturdays.  One of those told me, in response to my asking her to turn on the stacks lights, that she would be glad to do the first two levels but that she did not go on the third level by herself.  She was sure one or more haints lived on that floor.  Every now and then, when I am opening or closing the stacks and get to the third level  the hair on my arms will stand straight up and goose-bumps pop-up all over.  I think back to what that temporary employee told me and I just say – “it’s just me” and “goodnight” or “good morning,” as the case may be.


North Carolina Correspondence for 2012

In 2012 the State Archives of North Carolina received requests by correspondence from all over the state.  From Murphy in the west to Frisco in the east and from Bald Head Island in the south to Moyock in the north, Tar Heels have contacted the State Archives of North Carolina with questions about the records held there.  Two hundred and six (206) cities from ninety (90) North Carolina counties wrote in or emailed the State Archives with a question.

See the map showing all the cities that corresponded with the State Archives.

New Categories Now Open for Research by Correspondence

Today’s blog post comes from the Correspondence Unit:

The North Carolina State Archives is pleased to announce that three new record categories are now open for research by correspondence: World War I service cards (1917-1919); N.C. Selective Service registration cards (1940-1953); and marriage registers and or licenses post-1868.

From the records of the Adjutant General’s office, the North Carolina State Archives is now able to research via correspondence the World War I service cards (1917-1919). These cards prove record of service for officers, enlisted men, and nurses in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. These cards were prepared by the United States War Department for use by the North Carolina Adjutant General. Restrictions previously closed these important records of service to researchers, but now the records are open for research.

North Carolina, following federal guidelines, registered men of military service age during the period from 1940 to1953. These records were microfilmed from the originals in the U.S. Selective Service System and are now available as a research category from the Archives. A few North Carolina counties lost records due to fires in the county Selective Service office, but even in those cases there may still be minimal information available on a registrant. These cards do not indicate military service but may include valuable vital information about the registrant (date of birth, place of birth, next of kin, for example).

North Carolina does not have a statewide index to marriage records created after the constitutional change of 1868. However, county records do include a marriage register. Though not a true index, these registers can often function as an index. Typically arranged in a loose alphabetical order by name of the groom and then chronologically, marriage registers do provide the date of marriage. In order for the Archives to assist you by researching this category you must at least provide the county where the marriage occurred, the name of the groom, and a date of marriage (within a ten-year time frame).

The Correspondence Unit of the Archives is excited about offering these new categories for our patrons. See our web page for the revised request forms. Good luck in your research!