R.D.W. Connor: Professor, Historian, Archivist

Photograph of Connor, 1899. From the NCC Photographic Archives, Harry LeGare Watson Photographic Collection, P0023.

Robert Digges Wimberly Connor, class of 1899, served as the first Archivist of the United States. He was born in Wilson on September 26, 1878. After graduating from UNC, Connor took teaching and administrative positions at several public schools in North Carolina before becoming head of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Educational Campaign Committee. Around this time, he began his archival work as secretary of the North Carolina Historical Committee. In the late 1910s, Connor served on the UNC Board of Trustess and as president of the General Alumni Association. In 1921, Connor accepted the Kenan Professorship in History and Government. Connor was a well-liked professor and a prolific and respected scholar of North Carolina History.

Connor remained in Chapel Hill until 1934, when he was chosen by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to be the country’s first archivist. He served as head of the newly established National Archives for six years, successfully laying the groundwork for the monumental task of managing the records of the United States government.

Letter from Connor, 1941. From the Records of the Dept. of History, 40028, University Archives.

But Connor could not stay away from Chapel Hill—or teaching. So in 1941, he returned to the university, where he remained until his retirement in 1949. In a letter dated September 1941, Connor jokes with a colleague, “It must have been a rather severe shock to our good Dean, upon his return from his earthly heaven, to find that a hard-boiled administration, without his knowledge or consent, had dumped a decrepit ex-professor in his lap.”

For more information about Robert Digges Wimberly Connor, see his papers in the Southern Historical Collection (#2427). Also visit the Documenting the American South website for a complete biography.