Exam Spoilers…for Fall 1885

Could you pass finals in 1885?

While looking through the University Papers this week, I found these exams administered at the end of the fall semester in 1885. There is one for Chemistry, Astronomy, Physics and English. Some of the questions would be familiar to a student today, but others, not so much. Can you tell us “what are the defects of our Alphabet?”

Exams administered December 1885 (from the University Papers, #40005, University Archives).

“Throwing the Sand from the Spit-box”: More Student Misconduct, 1841-1847

Last month, we shared a selection of student infractions from the misconduct ledger for the 1840 academic year, found in the Office of the Registrar Records (#40131). Today we’re breaking out the ledger for 1841-1847 for a fresh batch of unusual misbehavior.


“Watson – whittling a stick at Evening prayers”

ruffin“Tos. Ruffin – calling a Dog into Rec[itation] Room”

lucas“Lucas – throwing the sand from the spit-box”

larcy“Larcy [?]- Throwing acorns, or other missiles in the chapel on Sunday”

hooker“Hooker – taking seat by the fire and stubbornly refusing to leave upon repeated commands to do so”

holmes“L. Holmes, Shepherd – Playing at chess during study-hours”

brevard“E.J Brevard, Murphy, Wilson, Donohs., Thomas – Engaged in very unbecoming amusement on Tuesday afternoon”

caldwell“Caldwell – crying like a sheep as he passed the Fresh[man] R[ecitiation] Room”

johnson“Johnson, Hines?, Rogers? – sleigh riding in study hours”

scales“Scales – Crowing like a Rooster before Prof. Hooper’s Recitation room door”

Disorder in Old West: the Student Riot of August, 1850

Charles Phillips
Charles Phillips

On the night of August 13, 1850, Charles Phillips, then a tutor of mathematics, heard “loud vociferations, high words, as of persons quarrelling, and other noises” coming from Old West (then known as West Building). As he went to investigate the disturbance, he could not have anticipated that the evening would end with him and a colleague cornered in a dorm room, fending off rioting students.

In his first sweep of West Building, Phillips found most of the students quiet in their rooms, but heard and saw students yelling and throwing stones at each other outside. He ran into his colleague Dr. Elisha Mitchell in the hallway, and they continued the investigation. In one room, the professors found “great disorder—the beds rumbled, the chairs in confusion, the floor very wet, and the remains of a stone vessel scattered up on it.” They found a nearly empty jug of whisky under the bed.

Elisha Mitchell
Elisha Mitchell

Upon leaving West, the professors encountered Manuel Fetter, professor of Greek language and literature, and retreated to the Laboratory to discuss the situation. However, as they left the Laboratory, they were immediately attacked. Phillips recalled:

Because of the vollies of stones which swept the passage I kept close to its northern wall, and looking through the opening that leads to the front door of the building I noticed a group of persons standing before the door. Immediately a volley of stones (or bats) entered, and a person passed me quickly accompanied by another volley. On speaking to him, I recognized Prof. Fetter who told me that he had been violently struck on the hand and leg. So violent was one of the blows that his cane was knocked to a distance from his hand.

Manuel Fetter
Manuel Fetter

When they eventually made their way back to West Building, they were met by more rowdy students, some disguised with blankets or fencing masks. As some students escaped through the windows, others began lobbing stones and sticks at the professors. The professors barricaded themselves in a student’s room, but the rioters continued their attack, knocking out a panel of the door. Phillips explained:

Discovering our exact position [in the room], those outside endeavoured to hit us by throwing obliquely into the room through the door and windows, and by introducing their hands so as to throw sideways directly at us. One individual introduced through a window, a stick two or three feet long and of the size of one’s wrist, evidently intending to swing it around and so strike us. As missiles were still entering the room, and our present was the only safe position, I immediately seized a chair and as an act of self defence urgently necessary, threw it in the direction of the concealed assailant. This act rendered the students outside much more excited, and threats of great violence, even to the getting our heart’s blood, were uttered for our striking a student.

After about an hour, a student, J.J. Slade, was able to reason with the rioters and escort the professors out on the condition that they leave campus immediately. The professors left and reported the night’s events to the president. They returned later that night with several other faculty members and searched the residence halls, but the disorder had subsided and most students were asleep in their beds.

The student who had come through the window with a club (and subsequently been hit by a chair) was expelled, but most students involved in the riot were not identified.


Charles Phillips’ testimony on the events of August 13, 1850. From the University Papers (#40005), University Archives, Wilson Library.


A “Revel” in South Building

Minutes of the faculty, 27 January 1855. From the General Faculty and Faculty Council Records (#401406), University Archives.
Minutes of the faculty, 27 January 1855. From the General Faculty and Faculty Council Records (#401406), University Archives.

One hundred and sixty years ago today, eight UNC students were having a rough Saturday morning. The night before, the young men participated in a “revel” in South Building, which was then a residence hall. The party was thrown by friends of candidates for the coveted positions of commencement Chief Marshal and ball manager. According to Kemp Plummer Battle’s History of the University of North Carolina, candidates for these positions sometimes sought to curry the votes of their classmates with alcohol. The party was broken up by members of the faculty charged with maintaining order on campus overnight, and the students were ordered to appear before the faculty at 10 AM to answer to charges of intoxication.

At that time, it was illegal to operate a bar within two miles of the University or to sell alcohol to students within two miles of the University without the permission of the faculty. Drinking on campus was strictly prohibited. As President David Lowry Swain explained in an 1853 letter to parents:

Any student who may be seen publicly intoxicated, or in whose room ardent spirits may be found, shall be forthwith suspended or dismissed, as the circumstances of the case may seem to require. This ordinance has been and will be faithfully carried into execution in every instance of its violation.

Letter from UNC President David Lowry Swain to parents, Feburary 1855. From the University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), University Archives.
Letter from UNC President David Lowry Swain to parents, Feburary 1855. From the University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), University Archives.

The morning after the party, the guilty students gathered before the faculty to testify. The Faculty minutes explain that three students were “found to have participated in the drinking of spirits but were not convicted of intoxication,” and letters were sent to their parents. Four others, including President Swain’s son Richard Caswell Swain, were “according to their own statements and the testimony of the profs who saw them [found] guilty of intoxication and suspended three weeks.” Another student from the party had been called before the faculty but was “found by Prof. C. Phillips to be too much intoxicated this morning to come and answer the charge of being intoxicated last night.”

A few weeks later, perhaps in response to incidents like this one, President Swain issued a notice to parents asking for their support of a new regulation. Its aims were twofold–to further limit students’ ability to purchase alcohol and to curb student debt. Under the new rule, students would not be able to accrue debts in their parents or guardians’ names without their written permission, or, in the case of purchases made within two miles of the University, the permission of a faculty member. The revised statue was approved by the following spring.