The true art of memory is the art of attention*: Recognizing Sharon Byrd

Sharon joined the Davidson College Library as a Cataloger in 1979. Although she quickly realized that the job of cataloging wasn’t for her, she knew right away that Davidson was. Throughout her 42 years here, Sharon worked as a reference librarian, a special collections librarian, the head of public services, and interim library director.

Along the way, she’s seen many changes to the library (card catalogs, anyone?), but the passion for her work has remained constant. It’s rooted in her desire to support students, faculty, staff, and alumni in all their research endeavors. Generations of Davidsonians have been the beneficiaries of “Mrs. Byrd’s” warmth, curiosity, and professional knowledge. Countless research papers, articles, and books couldn’t have been written without her generous assistance!

Just as remarkable is Sharon’s memory for the students, faculty, and staff she worked with and the events she experienced throughout her career. When alumni return to campus, she recognizes them and remembers their major, the name of their roommate, and the sport they played. When a current student comes into the library, it’s not unusual for Sharon to recognize their connection to alums and regale them with stories from their parents’ time at Davidson.  This trait is especially appreciated by her colleagues in the archives who have given her the unofficial title of “Institutional Memory.” 

All of Sharon’s colleagues are so grateful for her enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and positivity. Throughout the years, we have been the fortunate recipients of thoughtful gifts, kind words, and encouragement at just the right moment. Sharon, you are more than a colleague; you are a mentor and a friend. It’s hard to imagine Davidson without you, but we wish you the very best in a well-deserved retirement. You tell us you’ll be travelling, volunteering at your church, walking with your dog Pace, and indulging in your husband John’s cooking and baking. We will miss you, but we look forward to hearing about your adventures when we inevitably run into you in the post office!

*With thanks to Samuel Johnson

Guest Blogger: Cara Evanson, Research and First Year Experience Librarian, “History of Our Library Our Conference”

Cara Evanson is the Research and First Year Experience Librarian and has worked at Davidson since 2011.

From May 13th to 21st, library staff were searching the E.H. Little building. But not for lost books or items students left behind during finals. They were participating in a conference, of sorts, albeit one that had taken a unique form in this pandemic year.

The origins of Our Library Our Conference, an in-house conference for library staff at Davidson, date back to 2015. At the time, I had been having conversations with colleagues about wanting more opportunities to learn about and celebrate staff expertise and work happening across library departments. While catching up on an issue of College & Research Libraries News I came across an article titled A Conference of Our Own: Creating an In-House Professional Development Opportunity. Written by librarians Shellie Jeffries and Christina Radisauskas, the article describes how they planned a day for their colleagues at Aquinas College dedicated to “sharing, teaching, and exploring with each other.” After reading it, I was excited to try out their idea and create a conference by and for library staff at Davidson.

Our Library Our Conference was first held in 2016, and over the years this annual conference has shifted in response to circumstances and feedback from the library staff.

Our Library Our Conference First Year, 2016, Left to Right, Jon Hill, Jean Coates and Joe Gutekanst

It has taken on a more informal vibe, and conference “field trips” to spaces like the music library, rare book room, and mailroom have become an ongoing feature. In 2020 the conference was held on Zoom and included a Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! style trivia contest spotlighting library staff stories and projects. This year, the conference planning committee created a scavenger hunt with each clue showcasing library staff collaborations and accomplishments from the year. The scavenger hunt could be completed individually and socially distanced at any time during the week.

Field Trip to the Music Library, 2019, Jon Hill sharing his expertise and enthusiasm

What hasn’t changed over the years is the purpose of the conference – for library staff to share with each other, learn from each other, and explore with each other. Regardless of the format, the conference is a chance to reflect on and celebrate our roles and the work we do. And it couldn’t happen without the hard work of the planning committee. Alexa Torchynowycz, Joe Gutekanst, and Sharon Byrd have stayed on through two years of pandemic-adapted conference planning. A big thanks to them, and to the whole library staff for making 6 years of this conference possible!

Serendipity in the Archives

Some people think that everything that happens in a library is strictly planned and ordered.  That’s what librarians and archivists do.  They gather, organize, arrange, describe…all planned out and orderly.

Not always!  One of the words that often comes up is “serendipity.”   The dictionary definition is:  

noun: serendipity; plural noun: serendipities:   The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. 

That plays out in many ways, and often, several times a week.  Just recently, department members of ASCC (Archives, Special Collections and Community) had prepared a class libguide on 19th century Davidson buildings.  As we looked for photos of the original Chambers building, one of the names which came up was Alexander Jackson Davis, an architect who had worked on the building. The following week as I was looking for something else in our Archives Storage area, I came upon a box with a note taped to the top which read:

Miss Shore, These are Photostats of the original architectural plans for old Chambers building (completed 1860) – the architect was the famous Alexander Jackson Davis of New York & these are his drawings (the Frank Lloyd Wright of his day).  These copies cost us $50 – I hope we can find a tray for them in the map stand.  Many thanks. C.G.D.”  The original is in the vault.

Last week I got a catalogue from a rare book dealer which included a prospectus for two books of poetry by A.R. Ammons, a North Carolina poet from Whiteville.  Thanks to a retired Davidson English professor, Dr. Elizabeth Mills, we have several books of his in the Rare Book Room, including the two described in the prospectus.  How lucky to find this item to add to the Rare Book Room collection.  (Not lucky.  Just serendipity again.)

About two weeks ago, an outside researcher sent a request to Archives for information on Presbyterian religious studies and worship at Davidson.  Luckily, since we are currently unable to have outside visitors, Jessica Cottle had just sent a list of many of our digitized resources to a student researching in the same area.  Click.  Sent the list to the researcher.  Serendipity strikes again.

And, last week, we were talking with Meggie Lasher about a possible “nature walk” through Davidson’s arboretum.  We told her about the resources we had about the arboretum, including a map.  Almost immediately after the meeting we had a request from a professor about the arboretum.  No problem.  The materials were already at hand.

We do have a saying in the department that “things come in threes.”  Wonder which of these things we’ll be asked about again soon?

Justice, Equality, Community Project Archivist: A 3 Year Retrospective

I was hired as the Justice, Equality, Community (JEC) Project Archivist as part of the campus-wide Justice, Equality, Community (JEC) grant initiative at Davidson College in August 2017. The 3.5 year JEC grant aimed to “reimagine humanities curricula through the lens of three ideas that cut across cultures, time, and disciplines: justice, equality, and community…to demonstrate the critical role of humanistic inquiry in public discourse, global problem-solving, engaged citizenship, and democratic leadership.”

To accomplish these lofty goals, the initiative included funding for research partnerships between faculty and students, a series of practitioner-in-residences, community-minded experiential learning projects, and archival collecting and digitization efforts centered on questions about race and religion in the greater-Davidson area. As the JEC Project Archivist, I was responsible for the following tasks in support of the grant’s archival component:

  • Identifying and digitizing JEC collections.
  • Integrating JEC materials into at least 5 new courses.
  • Expanding archival collections related to JEC.
  • Leading public programming about JEC materials, both on campus and in the larger community.
cover the coeducation edition of the davidson journal
Recently digitized special edition of the Davidson Journal celebrating 25 years of coeducation.

Let’s take a look at how we faired with these four goals and the work that remains. In the last three years, we have digitized:

Davidson College Magazine October 1908 page 50 of Volume 25 1908-1909. Quotes include "a store building is being built on Main street, and there is also a new meat market with cold-storage facilities."
Davidson College Magazine October 1908, page 50.

We incorporated these digitized materials into at least two dozen course sessions, outreach programs like “An Evening with…” and multiple presentations to local historical societies. The collections were also used to support some of the research efforts of the Davidson College Commission on Race and Slavery. We then used the student work collections as examples when speaking to student activists and leaders about the importance of saving their records and establishing dialogues to help us learn how to more equitably and respectfully do that work through the JEC Student and Alumni Advisory Council.

Front page of the January 26, 1996 Black Student Coalition newsletter, "The Rainbow Revue."
Front page of the January 26, 1996 Black Student Coalition newsletter, “The Rainbow Revue.”

These class sessions and outreach initiatives led to several multi-year course collaborations that resulted in donations to the archives in some cases and high-profile projects in others. For example, the hard work of Dr. Jane Mangan’s HIS 259: Latinos in the United States course resulted in nearly two dozen oral history interviews documenting the Latinx experience of Davidson (now viewable, here). Another oft cited project is Disorienting Davidson, a multi-year student-led project that informed the senior thesis work of H.D. Mellin ’20.  Mellin utilized many of the collections later made digitally available by JEC grant funds over the course of several semesters for this groundbreaking student project. Their work also helped archivists identify highly sought-after collections that informed the digitization selection process.

While collaborations within the department and across teams have led to significant strides in terms of access to archival collections and course collaborations, much work remains in terms of community outreach and collections development around the issues of justice, equality, and community. In recognition of that need, the Justice, Equality, Community Archivist position was made permanent at Davidson College in March 2021.

To access the digitized collections mentioned in this blog post, please email archives@davidson.edu.

Related Posts:

Guest Blogger: Alice Sloop, Sr. Staff Assistant, E.H. Little Library, “Handling a health care crisis—Now versus Then”

Over this past year, much of our collective attention has been drawn to the health care crisis brought on by the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic.  We have all struggled, personally and collectively, with decisions made to keep ourselves and our communities safe from this deadly virus.  This all-consuming struggle has gotten me to thinking about how health crises were handled in the past here in North Carolina by our ancestors.  One of my ancestors and distinguished Davidson College Alumnus, Dr. Eustace Henry Sloop, gives us a glimpse into medical issues facing our forebearers in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

Eustace Henry Sloop (1877-1961) came to Davidson in 1893; he was the youngest Freshman in his class (only 16 years old). (p.146, Alumni Catalogue of Davidson College)  Early that year, he met the woman he would later marry, Mary T. Martin. Mary’s father, William Joseph Martin, was a member of the faculty at Davidson and hosted a party for incoming Freshman.  Mary describes Sloop as “a tall, slender, shy youngster with light brown hair and the nicest smile”.  (p.17, Miracle in the Hills)  Mary writes in her book Miracle in the Hills that her father came to Davidson “after the war”  to “teach geology and chemistry and serve also as bursar” and that he was “greatly needed.” (p.12, Miracle in the Hills)  William Joseph Martin taught from 1869-1887, became Vice President in 1884, and acting President 1887-88. (p.25, Alumni Catalogue of Davidson College

Sloop graduated from Davidson College in 1897. He continued his education at Jefferson Medical College, earning his M.D., and became a physician to the mountainous community around Crossnore, NC. (p.146, Alumni Catalogue of Davidson College) He married Mary Martin in 1908. (p.21, Miracle in the Hills)  Mary Martin Sloop (1873-1962) had also earned her M.D. and together they served in what was then a very rural, underserved community.  The nearest hospital was in Asheville, NC, “a long ride on a springless wagon over a rough road.” (p.224, Miracle in the Hills)    

The Doctors Sloop traveled to homes on horseback, treating and sometimes operating on patients in their cabins. The image below is from 1917.

Their safest operating space for years was outside under an apple tree.

black and white image of operation under an apple tree

They fought to bring electricity to the community, and Dr. Eustace Sloop constructed a powerhouse (shown below) to bring electricity to Crossnore.

They also sewed cuts shut with hair from the horse’s tail, and grieved for children in pigtails as young as 13 years old starting families of their own in poor conditions.

 Some issues that the Doctors Sloop faced are still part of our COVID-19 story today.  Mary writes of food insecurity, lack of needed medicines, fear of vaccinations, workers making little wages in unsecure jobs, and lack of adequate school facilities. “Simple things… for instance, that people with contagious diseases shouldn’t have visitors…were hard to get across”, Mary writes. (p.224, Miracle in the Hills).  One of Mary’s patients states a typical fear of vaccinations as follows: “I a’int no fool and you can’t tell me that stickin’ a hole in a young’un with a needle can cure diphtheria or keep off typhoid fever”. (p.223, Miracle in the Hills).

 Despite the ongoing health issues described in the story of Doctors Eustice and Mary Martin Sloop that we still face today, their story is also one of great accomplishments. During their service to the Crossnore, NC community, they established the Crossnore School and Hospital.  Their two children also sought higher education.  Daughter Emma became a physician like her parents and ran the Crossnore Hospital for many years, serving people from miles around.  Son, Will, became a dentist.  Today, the school is a boarding school for orphans and children unable to live with their biological parents.  It also includes an active handloom weaving facility that both supports the school economically and employs locals.  Both roads and access to health care are greatly improved. Although the Crossnore Hospital is no longer in operation, the fear of a loved one dying before reaching a hospital is also gone.  This small, mountain community is no longer as isolated, fearful, and uninformed.  As we, too, look forward to healthier days ahead, may we be less fearful, less isolated, and better educated.

Footnotes

  1. Alumni Catalogue of Davidson College 1837-1924. Ed. By Thomas Wilson Lingle. The Presbyterian Standard Pub. Co. 1924.
  2. Miracle in the Hills by Mary Martin Sloop, M.D. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. 1953.

Guest Blogger: Anna Avinger, Davidson Senior Biology Major, “Growing Community”

Anna Avinger is a senior biology major on the pre-medicine track. This article stems from her independent study on community gardens. Fellow senior Ethan Landen and Anna became interested in this topic after their semester abroad in Australia, where they studied sustainable agriculture and ecology.

As the global pandemic rages on, community gardens in Charlotte continue to thrive. Here is a list of three community gardens that each have a different strategy for success. While they all have their own objectives and strategies, they share similar ideas: provide more access to food, increase sustainable efforts, and build community. 

Wilmore Garden

Wilmore Garden

The earliest community garden in Charlotte – Wilmore Garden – is one of many gardens within the organization, Charlotte Green. This organization has started several small gardens in urban neighborhoods all over Charlotte. Within each of them, community members can claim a small plot of land to plant and harvest their own crops. The gardeners learn from each other and grow in relationship with each other as they work. Board member, Cissy Shull, says that people are always at the Wilmore Garden working. When I went to Wilmore Garden, it was raining, but there were still people there, cleaning up the communal shed and organizing tools. The gardens provide people with something to do, something to be proud of, and something that brings the community together.

Davidson Community Garden

Davidson Community Garden

Davidson Community Garden was founded in 2010 by Eddie and Connie Beach as a part of the Davidson United Methodist Church. This garden is communally managed and harvested. Volunteers from all over Davidson come together on Saturday mornings to help out. Most crops are delivered to the food pantry at Ada Jenkins, a local non-profit. Eddie Beach emphasizes the impact of the garden on Davidson’s strong sense of community. “A story that I really like is that there was a grandmother who had the responsibility of getting her grandson to Davidson Elementary School, and he didn’t want to go. But he did like the scarecrows in the community garden, so she would get him out of the house by saying, ‘we’re going to the community garden to see the scarecrows.’ So, he’d get over here and look and be happy, and it was just a way to get him to go to school,” Beach said. “That is the kind of thing that really adds another dimension to the garden.”

Smithville Community Garden

Smithville Community Garden

Built on her grandparents’ land, Smithville Community Garden holds a special place in Natalie Mayhew’s heart. She explains that the garden was founded to bring people into the community. The founders wanted people to know about Smithville. Mayhew described the history of Smithville: Her great great grandmother worked for the Smith family picking cotton as a slave, and the family gave her and many other black slaves land to call their own. That’s how the community was born. Recently, as one of the remaining historically black communities, Smithville has been trying to fight gentrification efforts. In doing this, the Smithville Community Coalition, which runs the garden, works to emphasize the sense of pride and historical influence of the community. The garden has been a success. It gives people a place to come together and learn about Smithville, and it provides a wonderful place for rest and relaxation.

Through my research, I learned that the overwhelming emphasis of these gardens is to build community, which means different things for different gardens – whether its individuals working side-by-side on their own plots, families coming together for a common service project, or bringing in people from outside the community to raise awareness. There’s always more to it than planting seeds and harvesting produce.

Guest Blogger: Alice Sloop, Sr. Staff Assistant, E.H. Little Library, “Davidson From Day One – The Sloop Family”

Alice Sloop has been employed in the E.H. Little Library since 2000.

What does a gentleman born in 1771, a table circa 1834, an 1860 Davidson graduate, dozens of Alumni, a Davidson College Trustee, and a current Davidson employee have in common?  Answer:  a single family heritage.  The Sloops have been an integral part of Davidson College since the very beginning of the idea to start our beloved school.

Our family historian, Dr. Robert Felts Sloop, Jr. (b.1934-) documents the beginnings of the Sloop family interest in education in North Carolina with his 3rd great grandfather “Colonel” James Jamison (b.1771-d.1846).  Back in 1834 when the Concord Presbytery met in James Jamison’s home near Prospect Presbyterian Church (located near Mooresville, NC), resolutions were drawn up on his table to “establish a school for young men to educate them for the ministry and other occupations”.  This school would become Davidson College. This table on which these resolutions were signed now sits in the Smith Rare Book Room at E.H. Little Library.

Sloop Family Table, Alcove, Smith Rare Book Room

The story of the family’s donation of this table to Davidson College is a funny one according to Dr. Sloop. Colonel James Jamison died in 1846 and is buried in the Prospect Presbyterian Church cemetery. His son, Franklin (Frank) Jamison inherited the table and when he died, it was purchased “for a dear price” by Mrs. Agnus C. Jamison Bailey, our 2nd great aunt.  Subsequently, at another Presbytery meeting in Mrs. Bailey’s home in Back Creek, a Dr. Monroe learned about the history of the table and suggested that it be given to Davidson College.  Mrs. Bailey stated that she paid too much for it and was unwilling to give it away! Some time later John Jamison (another son of Colonel Jamison) had a daughter named Sally Kerr Jamison who banded together with sisters Minnie and Eugenia and bought the table from their sister Agnus.  So then, Sally, Minnie, and Eugenia donated the table to Davidson College.  Dr. Walter Lingle, President Emeritus, would later write a thank you letter to the family.

Letter October 8, 1947 Walter Lingle, President-Emeritus Davidson College to Mrs. J.W. Johnson

This story is only one of many fascinating Sloop family stories related to Davidson College. 

Guest Blogger: Alice Garner, “A Lady in the Shadow: The Elusive Truth Masked in the Bourgeois Society” (Part Three)

This post was written by Alice Garner, a member of the Class of 2024, for an assignment in Dr. Devyn Spence Benson’s AFR 101: Introduction to Africana Studies class. For the past five years, the Africana Studies Department has collaborated with Davidson College Archives, Special Collections and Community to uncover the experiences of Black individuals at the college. Garner is an intended Psychology Major and possible Latin American Studies minor from Norwich, Vermont. Her interests include the intersection between the African diaspora and Latin American history and childhood developmental psychology.

Trapped in a subordinate position within society, Mary Lacy took pride in controlling the slaves within her household, using it as a way to forge her own identity. Women, such as Mary Lacy, were merely viewed “as a unit of production and reproduction under men’s dominance,” as they were denied the ability to form their own opinions or ideals as a whole.[1] The normative for women in society was to succumb to coverture: a concept that a “married woman had neither independent minds nor independent power.”[2] In an attempt to distinguish her place in the patriarchal realm, “[to] encompass [a] feeling of identification,” Lacy derived “principle and practicality” by believing herself to be an “owner” and “manager” of the slaves. In her letter to Bess on January 2 of 1857, she writes: “I had set my mind upon a little girl” to buy as a slave.[3] Disregarding the objectification set upon the child, Lacy’s use of “set my mind upon” infers that she finally felt like she was in control of something and had the “upper hand” to a decision made in the household—a rare find in a world where women’s traditional role operated completely separate from one of “work and politics.”[4] Lacy turned a trivial pursuit for a new worker in their household into an “almost universal dilemma,”[5] as ‘ordering’ these slaves served to be the one way in which she, as a slave-holder’s wife could exert her power where typically she would be “alienated from [her] own society,” trapped in a bubble within their household.[6] This dehumanizing treatment to those “racial[ly] inferior” of the white bourgeois class revealed in the language of Lacy’s writing served as a “feminine guise” to mask the desperation a woman felt to hold a place in society as a slave-holder’s wife.[7]

Screenshot of text from January 2, 1857 letter from Mary Lacy
Text from January 2, 1857 letter where Mary Lacy expresses her interest in acquiring a young girl as a slave. View the whole letter here.

Mary Lacy’s letters not only reveal the atrocious behavior of the slave-holding women at the time towards the slaves which occurred nearly every day in the 1860s in North Carolina, but they also have a strong tie to Davidson College which are unbreakable. As wife to a previous President at Davidson, her baneful acts are coincidentally elusive, as they are not actively publicized by the college. This contradicts the slogan embodied by the college, “#DAVIDSONTRUE”, one which according to the college marketing website is defined by “deep sincerity, unquestioned integrity, and fundamental decency.”[8] If truth at the college is such an “elusive” concept, then why must students excavate to uncover the racist actions committed by the former President’s family?[9] Mary Lacy’s letters serve as an important reminder that we, as Davidson students, bound by the Honor Code which serves as one of the defining principles at the college, are entitled to this information and that it is imperative, that no matter which class we are enrolled in, we learn the truth about the college’s history.


[1] Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, “Black and White Women of the Old South.” Within the Plantation Household (The University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 46.

[2] Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Williamsburg, Virginia: University of North Carolina Press, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1980), 152-153.

[3] Carlina Green et. al, “January 2, 1857.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[4] Jacqueline Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 113; Laura F. Edwards, “At the Threshold of the Plantation Household: Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Southern Women’s History.” The Mississippi Quarterly 65, no. 4 (2012): 578.

[5] Jones, 115

[6] Fox-Genovese, 53.

[7] Fox-Genovese, 50; Fox-Genovese, 51.

[8] Davidson College, “#DAVIDSONTRUE” (Davidson: Davidson College, 2020), https://www.davidson.edu/about/davidsontrue.

[9] Ibid.


This is the third post in a three-part series about Mary Lacy, the wife of Drury Lacy, the third President of Davidson College. In our collection, we are fortunate to retain a collection of Lacy Family Papers, which includes correspondence from Mary Lacy to her step-daughter Bess. In Spring 2017, Dr. Rose Stremlau’s History 306: “Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” class transcribed, annotated, and analyzed these letters. Their work can be found on this website. To view digitized items from the Lacy Family Papers, please explore Digital Davidson, our platform to view born-digital and digitized versions of archival materials, special collections, and college scholarship.

Guest Blogger: Alice Garner, “A Lady in the Shadow: The Elusive Truth Masked in the Bourgeois Society” (Part Two)

This post was written by Alice Garner, a member of the Class of 2024, for an assignment in Dr. Devyn Spence Benson’s AFR 101: Introduction to Africana Studies class. For the past five years, the Africana Studies Department has collaborated with Davidson College Archives, Special Collections and Community to uncover the experiences of Black individuals at the college. Garner is an intended Psychology Major and possible Latin American Studies minor from Norwich, Vermont. Her interests include the intersection between the African diaspora and Latin American history and childhood developmental psychology.

Mary Lacy’s letters demonstrate her extreme ignorance as well towards blacks as a whole. Lacy reveals her husband’s utter exhaustion to “living in this country,” as he must complete tasks, such as making fires and feeding the animals, unsuitable to his high ranking position as President of the college.[1] She expresses that they “must conform to the ways of the people and buy [their] own servants,” a job that proves to be much harder than it appears to the Lacy family, despite serving as a ‘necessity’ in their privileged eyes.[2] On August 6, 1856, Lacy’s referral to her family friend’s plantation as a “favorite resort of Davidson professors and Davidson students” further establishes her dehumanizing angle towards those who work for her and her ignorance of the atrocious acts on the plantation.[3] In February of 1859, Lacy described an ‘incident’ in which a Davidson student’s belongings were stolen. A black man was whipped for this, despite “confess[ing] nothing” and another for merely “having a pistol.”[4] Lacy flits by this fallible case, stopping only to highlight how “poor Barry never got back his things.”[5] Lacy’s lack of acknowledgement towards the central issue of blatant racism shows her utter disrespect towards black people. The way in which Mary Lacy, wife to the former President at Davidson, glossed over such events raises a critical issue of the absence of general education and respect at the college towards human beings as a whole.

The vast difference in Lacy’s treatment towards her own children in comparison to those enslaved serves as evidence towards her sole focus on being the quintessential wife of a slave-holder. In her letter on August 6, 1856, she expressed desperation as one of her slaves fell ill: “Aunt Maria must needs make herself sick….she is a hard old case.”[6] In choosing the word “must needs,” Lacy called Maria out, turning the slave into the one culpable for being sick, making the bourgeois life even harder. Lacy even went to question if her slaves were actually ill, denying them right to a doctor, claiming that her “black baby” was “getting well without any doctor.”[7] In reality, it was common for slaves to suffer “internal conflict and stress” due to long hours they were subjected to in the household.[8] Lacy’s interactions with her own children described as “fractious” vastly differed to those with the slaves who were chastised for no valid reason.[9] Lacy paid no mind to her young kids who would “keep [her] busy [trying] to keep them from killing each other.”[10] Lacy’s differences in reaction to when her slaves fell ill, compared to when her own children acted out, highlights her dependence upon slaves to provide her a path to be a proper slave-holding wife.


[1] Carlina Green et. al, “January 2, 1857.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Carlina Green et. al, “August 6, 1856.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[4] Carlina Green et. al, “February, 1859.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[5] Carlina Green et. al, “February, 1859.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[6] Carlina Green et. al, “August 6, 1856.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[7] Carlina Green et. al, “July 15, 1859.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[8] Jacqueline Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 111.

[9] Carlina Green et. al, “July 2, 1856.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[10] Ibid.


This is the second post in a three-part series about Mary Lacy, the wife of Drury Lacy, the third President of Davidson College. In our collection, we are fortunate to retain a collection of Lacy Family Papers, which includes correspondence from Mary Lacy to her step-daughter Bess. In Spring 2017, Dr. Rose Stremlau’s History 306: “Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” class transcribed, annotated, and analyzed these letters. Their work can be found on this website. To view digitized items from the Lacy Family Papers, please explore Digital Davidson, our platform to view born-digital and digitized versions of archival materials, special collections, and college scholarship.

Guest Blogger: Alice Garner, “A Lady in the Shadow: The Elusive Truth Masked in the Bourgeois Society” (Part One)

This post was written by Alice Garner, a member of the Class of 2024, for an assignment in Dr. Devyn Spence Benson’s AFR 101: Introduction to Africana Studies class. For the past five years, the Africana Studies Department has collaborated with Davidson College Archives, Special Collections and Community to uncover the experiences of Black individuals at the college. Garner is an intended Psychology Major and possible Latin American Studies minor from Norwich, Vermont. Her interests include the intersection between the African diaspora and Latin American history and childhood developmental psychology.

Forced to uphold an innumerable set of standards, an ideal Southern lady was sculpted by the patriarchal society that surrounded her. In the 1860s, almost one in three North Carolinians were white slaveholders.[1] Although labor-intensive cash crops still played a staple role in the economy, many slaves served in white households. Mary Lacy, born in 1816 to a family of higher education, married Drury Lacy at age 33.[2] In 1855, her husband became President at Davidson College for five years. To pass free time and communicate with her close family, Lacy sent letters to her step-daughter, ‘Bess,’ from 1856 until 1859. Mary Lacy dedicated her time “garner[ing] respect in the private and public sphere” at her husband’s plantation who owned a family of slaves.[3] Cast in their husband’s shadow, women of this time were expected to be “gracious, fragile, and deferential to men whose protection [they were] dependent [upon].”[4]  Southern housewives relied on slaves to uphold their bourgeoisie status in society during the 1860s. The objectifying treatment to the slaves, revealed in Lacy’s writing, attests to the ignorance and disrespect of these upper-class white women, the gender normalities of the time, and the role religion played in society. Although held to a high regard in the public sphere, the disrespect of the Lacy family to their slaves highlighted within this document, questions Davidson’s commitment to transparency through the honor code.

Portrait of Mary Lacy (Photo found on HIS 306’s “The Mary Lacy Letters” website, linked at the end of this post.)

Lacy’s complete disregard to treat her slaves with basic respect is showcased in her letters by the pejorative language she used towards them. Enslaved peoples who worked within the household were commonly assigned jobs such as growing, preparing, and storing food and sewing.[5] “Little value [was] placed on [job] specialization,” yet this did not stop the slave-holding wives to label their servants—”maid,” “cook,” “nurse”—to categorize them.[6] Throughout Lacy’s letters, she refers to one of her servants as “Aunt,” a term for those of older age commonly used by white slave-holder wives.[7] These disrespectful names assigned to the slaves, implicate Lacy’s view—“incompetent, worthless, untidy, indolent, wasteful”—towards those who worked for her and the way in which she used these to make herself feel more competent.[8] In her letter on July 2, 1856, Lacy expresses her desire for Bess to “send round & get [her Zack]” (another slave).[9] Her phrasing dehumanizes the man, objectifying him as a form of transportation. Lacy writes to Bess about the process of finding a child they “could have bound” for “more reasonable terms,” referencing them as if they were products for sale, devaluing them as people.[10] When disappointed with the little girl they “expected to get,” Lacy brushed it off claiming that they would just have to “hunt for [another]” as there were a “great many to hire.”[11] “Hunt” is a term primarily used for animals and “great many to hire” makes it seem like those in the slave market are ‘desperate’ to be “hire[d].” Lacy creates a false reality for herself by stripping the slaves of their identity, allowing her to rise above and claim her wealthy status.


[1] Jeffery J. Crow, “Slavery” (University of North Carolina Press, 2006).

[2] Carlina Green et. al, “Introduction.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[3] Carlina Green et. al, “Slave Owning Women.” Mary Lacy Letters: (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[4] Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, “Black and White Women of the Old South.” Within the Plantation Household (The University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 104.

[5] Jacqueline Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 29.

[6] Jones, 112.

[7] Carlina Green et. al, “August 6, 1856.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[8] Jones, 113.

[9] Carlina Green et. al, “July 2, 1856.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[10] Carlina Green et. al, “January 2, 1857.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).

[11] Carlina Green et. al, “December 12, 1858.”, “January 2, 1857.” Mary Lacy Letters (Davidson: WordPress, 2017).


This is the first post in a three-part series about Mary Lacy, the wife of Drury Lacy, the third President of Davidson College. In our collection, we are fortunate to retain a collection of Lacy Family Papers, which includes correspondence from Mary Lacy to her step-daughter Bess. In Spring 2017, Dr. Rose Stremlau’s History 306: “Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” class transcribed, annotated, and analyzed these letters. Their work can be found on this website. To view digitized items from the Lacy Family Papers, please explore Digital Davidson, our platform to view born-digital and digitized versions of archival materials, special collections, and college scholarship.