Awards and Honors, Collections and Resources, Special Collections

Alumna Florence Fearrington Gives $5 Million to Wilson Special Collections Library

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UNC alumna Florence Fearrington, class of 1958, has given $5 million to the Wilson Special Collections Library. It is the largest gift made to date to the UNC Libraries. (Photo by Mark B. Perry, Jr.)

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alumna Florence Fearrington has given $5 million to the University Library in support of the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library.

The gift is the largest ever made to Carolina’s libraries. In recognition, the grand reading room in Wilson Library will be renamed the Fearrington Reading Room.

Fearrington, a 1958 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, was honored as a Distinguished Alumna at this year’s University Day convocation, on Oct. 11, for her pioneering career in finance and her achievements as a collector of rare books.

“Louis Round Wilson himself once wrote, ‘the library is not a side issue, but rather the pulsing heart of the University’,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “What Wilson envisioned, Florence’s generosity and foresight will help to secure for generations to come. It is a joy to know that this cherished heart of Carolina will beat on for future Tar Heels.”

Fearrington has earmarked $1 million of her gift to help update the Fearrington Reading Room and adjacent exhibition areas.

The remaining $4 million will create the Fearrington Special Collections Library Fund. The University Librarian and the director of the Louis Round Wilson Library will use income from this endowment to meet emerging needs and pursue opportunities that will benefit Carolina students and enhance the work of researchers.

“Florence’s gift goes beyond merely sustaining the collections,” said University Librarian Sarah Michalak. “We use the word transformative quite a lot these days. Having the Fearrington Special Collections Library Fund will lead to transformative new directions in special collections and in the research they inspire. The director of Wilson Library will be able to fund new collections, drive their use, and innovate so that students and scholars well into the future can make new discoveries and build new understanding.”

Fearrington grew up in Winston-Salem and graduated from Carolina with a degree in mathematics. Unable to attend business school at the University, as the program did not yet admit women, she earned a certificate from the Harvard-Radcliffe Program in Business in 1961 and made her name in the male-dominated world of New York finance. In 1979, she established and ran Florence Fearrington Inc., a highly successful money management firm.

In 1997, Fearrington sold the company to U.S. Trust and, inspired by her husband’s passion for collecting rare books, she began collecting them, as well. In 2012, she curated an exhibition of her books about “Wunderkammer” (cabinets of curiosity) at The Grolier Club in New York City. She later developed a version of the exhibition for Wilson Library in 2014.

Fearrington has made previous gifts to the UNC Library’s Rare Book Collection and she established the Joseph Peyton Fearrington and James Cornelius Pass Fearrington Fund at the Health Sciences Library to honor her grandfather and father. Both received certificate of medicine degrees from Carolina (in 1885 and 1927), and her father also received a bachelor’s degree in 1921.

The Fearrington Reading Room in Wilson Library

The grand reading room in Wilson Library is being renamed the Fearrington Reading Room, honoring a $5 million gift from UNC alumna Florence Fearrington, class of 1958. (Photo by Mark B. Perry, Jr.)

The Fearrington gift will help lay the groundwork for the first major refurbishment of the Fearrington Reading Room since a three-year renovation to Wilson Library in 1984-1987.

The Wilson Special Collections Library is home to the University Library’s five special collections: the North Carolina Collection, the Rare Book Collection, the Southern Folklife Collection, the Southern Historical Collection, and the University Archives and Records Management Services.

The building opened in 1929 as the primary library on Carolina’s campus. Dedicated as the University Library, it was renamed in 1959 for Wilson, the University Librarian who had championed and planned its construction.

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