Archival Photo Mystery: Buncombe County Military Recruits, 1916-1917

During a recent renovation project at Wilson Library, we came across a couple of photographic postcards that had been set aside.  Based on a note left with the photographs, it appeared that the items had probably been separated from the University Papers; however, when we tried to find corresponding folders or items in the collection, we were unsuccessful.  Thus began our most recent processing mystery.

The backs of the postcards are blank, which leads us to believe that they were enclosed with a letter, likely sent to President Edward Kidder Graham in 1917.  The photos are dated in 1916 and 1917 and show how two men have gained weight over the course of several months, before-and-after style.

We were of course curious about who these two men were and why their photos were sent to President Graham.  Based on UNC records, it doesn’t look like either White or Bryson were ever students here, but after some searching, we did learn a few things.

After looking through census and military records, we found a little information about the first man — Jobe White. He was from Weaverville, N.C., born in February 1897 to Malissa White, and he had two brothers — Bradshaw and Hardy.  We were less successful in discovering the identity of the second man.  The writing on the postcard appears to show just initials and surname — W.C. Bryson  — and we can guess that he was also from Buncombe County.  While we did find records that gave us pause and made us wonder whether this was the same man, none contained enough information for us to make a confident match.

What we can say is this: both men were part of the First North Carolina Infantry in 1916 and 1917. They were both from Buncombe County.  And they both gained a significant amount of weight over the course of five months of military training. (White gained 30 lbs. and Bryson gained 50.)

Based on the years and regiment, they were probably sent to Texas as part of the Mexican Border Campaign, also known as Pershing’s Punitive Expedition or the Pancho Villa Expedition. The First Regiment mustered at Camp Glenn, in Morehead City, during the first week of August 1916, arrived in El Paso in September 1916, and returned to North Carolina in early February 1917.

While we were able to find out all this just using the captions on both photographs, where they came from is still a mystery.  Were they sent to President Graham enclosed with a letter? Why were they sent to him? Who sent them?  If these men were never UNC students, how were they connected to the University? If you have any ideas, please let us know in the comments on this post or get in touch at archives@unc.edu.

 

For further reading:

State Archives of North Carolina, First North Carolina Infantry Regiment Panoramic Photograph. http://ead.archives.ncdcr.gov/AV_7005_First_North_Carolina_In_.html

National Archives, The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition: Part 1. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1997/fall/mexican-punitive-expedition-1.html

German Language during World War I

Everything gets more stressful when parents get involved, especially choosing courses. In 1918, Llewellyn French signed up for a chemical engineering course that required 2 years of German.  At the time, the U.S was fighting Germany in World War I.  The war sparked a backlash against German culture and language.  Llewellyn’s father, William, protested his son’s enrollment in German language in a letter to University President Edward Kidder Graham, “I thought every true American institution had discarded everything pretaining [sic] to the cursed German nation, and I assure you I for one am just red blooded enough not to allow it in my family.  German cannot be spoken in my presence.”

President Graham responded the next day, explaining that the chemistry faculty found that students who didn’t read German had difficulty in that particular course. While it might seem like chemistry has nothing to do with foreign language,  in the early 20th century many scientific texts were written in German.  He further presented his own position on the language debate, arguing that educated men should continue learning German.   After all, he said, “I do not think we should cease to study cancer simply because the cancer preys upon the healthy body.”  However, Graham conceded that elementary schools should teach French, the language of America’s ally, rather than German.

This is not the only time that President Graham was asked to weigh in on the debate over German language. Other university presidents and the United States Commissioner of Education sent letters requesting that Graham make a public statement on his position.  These letters, including the elder French’s incendiary missives, are preserved in the University of North Carolina Papers at the University Archives.  You can see part of the exchange below:

Edward Kidder Graham’s 1915 Inaugural Address

Edward Kidder Graham (left) with Kemp Plummer Battle on the UNC campus, ca. 1910s. NCC Photo Archives.
Edward Kidder Graham (left) with Kemp Plummer Battle on the UNC campus, ca. 1910s. NCC Photo Archives.

In her University Day address earlier this week, Chancellor Carol Folt looked to the past, marking several turning points in the history of the University, including the inauguration of President Edward Kidder Graham in 1915.

Chancellor Folt pointed to Graham’s presidency as the beginning of the rise of UNC toward becoming a major research institution. Graham also pushed UNC to look beyond Chapel Hill, fulfilling the university’s fundamental responsibility to serve the entire state of North Carolina.

Graham’s inaugural address, delivered on 21 April 1915, has been digitized by the UNC Library and is available for viewing online. It is a lengthy and lofty piece, but worth reading for anyone interested in the history of UNC and of higher education in general. Graham begins by examining the founding vision of the state university as expressed by Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia in the 18th century. But he argues that the internal conflict that led to the Civil War and the long period of recovery, especially in the South, prevented UNC and other state universities from reaching their true potential.

Edward Kidder Graham inaugural address, 12 April 1915.
Edward Kidder Graham inaugural address, 12 April 1915.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, an era of rapid change and development, Graham looks to the university as a vital component of the “productive democratic state.”  The University, he argues, must look beyond what at the time was a standard curriculum of strictly classical education and emphasize that “no knowledge is worth while that is not related to the present life of man.” This University’s extension program, serving people around the state, was a direct expression of this belief.

However, Graham argues that the University can be most useful to the state of North Carolina, and most effective in educating future leaders, by continuing its focus on the liberal arts. His strong defense of liberal arts education echoes many arguments we still hear today:

“[T]he college of liberal arts and sciences, has as its mission now as always the revelation of the full meaning of life in its broad and general relations, and to fix in the heart of its youth a point of outlook on the field of human endeavor from which to see it clearly and to see it whole.  It fears no criticism of an interpretation of its mission as ‘impractical’ ; but it does regard as fatal any failure to evoke the best powers of its own student body.”

Graham supported the development of professional schools, but was quite clear in his commitment to providing more than just job training at UNC, saying, “It is not the function of the university to make a man clever in his profession merely. That is a comparatively easy and negligible university task. It is also to make vivid to him through his profession–not merely proficiency in making a good living, but productivity in living a whole life.”

Like Edward Kidder Graham, Chancellor Folt is leading the University at a time of dramatic change and in the middle of a lively debate about the purpose of higher education, especially at state universities. Her call for a need to embrace innovation and change in order to better serve the community, the state, and the world, build upon the words and actions of Edward Kidder Graham 100 years ago.

 

The Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919 at UNC

Letter from parent J.L. Nelson
A parent asks to be notified by telegram if his son catches the flu (University of North Carolina Papers, #40005, University Archives).

In the fall of 1918, students were preparing for battle. In August, Congress had lowered the draft age from 21 to 18, and as part of the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), students  drilled daily, anticipating the day that their numbers would be called. However, before they could be sent to fight in Europe, they found themselves fighting a deadly enemy on their own campus—influenza.

The first wave of the global “Spanish Flu” pandemic began in the spring, followed by a much deadlier second wave in the early fall. By September 1918, it had spread to North Carolina. Concerned parents wrote to university president Edward Kidder Graham, fearful for their children’s health.

Graham's response to a concerned parent
Graham’s response to a concerned parent (University of North Carolina Papers, #40005, University Archives).

The campus was quarantined in October, and second-year medical students and local nurses were recruited to work in the overflowing infirmary. Three students died in a span of less than two weeks, and on University Day, 1918, no public gathering was held. After a few weeks, the situation seemed to be improving. In an October 19th letter to a parent, President Graham noted that there were 30 students in the infirmary and 20 convalescing—significantly fewer than the nearly 130 hospitalized a week before.

However, just two days later President Graham himself fell ill. Within days, he developed pneumonia as a complication of influenza. As the campus grew concerned about his condition and hoped for his recovery, the SATC commander asked that students not disturb Graham by marching or performing drills near his house. After less than a week’s illness, Graham died.

Portrait of Edward Kidder Graham
A memorial to President Graham printed as a frontispiece to the Dec. 25, 1918 High School Journal(Edward Kidder Graham Papers, #00282, Southern Historical Collection).

The next day, all classes and military drills were cancelled, and students were asked to “demean themselves in a quiet manner” in respect for the president. On October 31, Dean Marvin Stacy was appointed chairman of the faculty and assumed leadership of the university. Over the next two months, the war ended, the SATC disbanded, and the health crisis began to wane. However, influenza remained a serious threat. In January, 1919, Stacy also died of pneumonia as a complication of influenza, just less than three months after the death of his predecessor by the same illness.

By the spring, the global pandemic was ending. Over the course of the epidemic on campus, over 500 were treated for influenza in the infirmary and seven died—students William Bunting, Larry Templeton, and Kenneth Scott; nurse Bessie Roper; President Graham; Mrs. W.J. Hannah, a mother who caught the disease while caring for her son; and Dean Stacy.