Fun, Frolics and Homecoming Queens Part 2: Dating at Davidson

Hello, Ellen Huggins, current JEC Archives Fellow here. Welcome back to Fun, Frolics and Homecoming Queens at Davidson! In the last post, we spoke about the cultural significance of Homecoming and the Homecoming Queen ceremony. This week, we’ll be looking at the history of Homecoming at Davidson and the origins of the Homecoming Queen competition, leading up to coeducation in 1972. By looking at Davidson dating culture during Homecoming Weekend, we can hopefully gain more insight into what it was like for women as “guests” visiting campus before they were able to come to Davidson as degree earning students.

Dates on the dance floor of Homecoming 1953. At the center of the floor are three couples, all dressed in formal attire. At the edges of the floor are more couples, facing a stage where a big band is performing.
Dates on the dance floor at the 1953 Homecoming Dance at Davidson College. Image #27-1125.

This blog post primarily looks at Homecoming editions of the Davidsonian, the Davidson College newspaper, through the fifties and sixties. It’s important to acknowledge that the women who are featured below represent a very limited demographic in the history of women at Davidson College, which will be acknowledged further in upcoming Homecoming Queen posts.   

Article entitled "Homecoming Queen Candidates." Depicts portraits of 12 women, with their names followed by the fraternity that nominated them.
“Homecoming Queen Candidates.” The Davidsonian, October 30, 1959

 In 1959, the first Homecoming Queen competition was announced. Before this point, fraternities on campus would nominate female students from neighboring universities at as Homecoming “sponsors,” but this was the first year in which women were expected to compete for a title. In the midcentury, universities across the country began to adopt Homecoming Court as an annual tradition, and Davidson was no exception. The public pageantry of the Homecoming Queen ceremony reflected a trend in post war America towards more conservative gender roles in popular culture; crowning a queen was not only an opportunity to reward the “ideal” woman to represent Davidson College, but also provided a form of wholesome entertainment for the weekend.  

Article entitled "Seven College Girls View "The Davidson Gentlemen." The seven schools listed are Randolph-Macon, Sullins, Salem, W.C.U.N.C, Converse, Hollins, Queens and U. of N.C.
“Seven College Girls View “The Davidson Gentleman.” The Davidsonian, October 30, 1959.

The Homecoming Queen nominees were typically students from a variety of local women’s colleges, including Queens College, Hollins University, Salem College, and others listed in the article above. These colleges were also hotspots for male Davidson students to find weekend dates for events, and in this article, published in the 1959 Homecoming Edition of the Davidsonian, female representatives from these colleges weighed in on what typical “Davidson Gentleman” was like. One student from Sullins College in Bristol, Virginia, wrote, “The spirit of the Davidson Gentleman is high and I can see his true self emerge on those big weekends. He always seems to have a blast, especially when he is traveling here and there without “here” knowing he’s going “there” and vice versa.”

Article entitled "Why Your Date is Gray."
“Why Your Date is Gray.” The Davidsonian, October 21, 1960.

Davidson was known as a “suitcase college” in the years before coeducation. This was because many students would leave campus over the weekend either to go home or to go meet dates at neighboring colleges, leaving the campus a ghost town until classes started again on Monday. Since Davidson students weren’t able to see their dates on a regular basis leading up to the Homecoming Dance, many experienced anxiety over if/when/how their date would show up leading to the big weekend. The above article, “Why Your Date is Gray,” reflects some of those anxieties by parodying the letters male Davidson students hoped not to receive before Homecoming. Some notable examples include their date not being able to find the town, bringing their mother with them, or their date discovering that the “Davidson Gentleman” had been visiting another girl over the weekend (which could be what the Sullins student from the previous article was subtly referencing in her “traveling here and there” comment.)

Cartoon entitled "Homecoming Classic" by Bob Cole, class of 1959. Depicts an illustration of two men standing next to a truck. The caption reads, "Sign here for the blind dates you wanted, pal."
“Homecoming Classic…by Bob Cole, ’59.” The Davidsonian, October 21, 1960.

The pressure to show up with a date for Homecoming is illustrated in the “truckload” of blind dates cartoon above, which pokes fun at the sometimes superficial ways that students would procure someone to bring with them to the dance. The practice of “busing” in girls from neighboring schools for social events was another dating tradition at Davidson College that would later be challenged by female co-eds.

Posters line the wall of a dorm room, featuring large photos of women. The caption reads, "Playmates with Clothes? - This unlikely situation occurred after two students [...] received a mandate from [...] the supervisor of dormitories to remove any nasty pictures from their bulletin board in 109 Belk before the Homecoming Weekend. They complied, but with some nifty art work rather than the removal thereof."
“Playmates with Clothes?” The Davidsonian, October 21, 1960.

On Homecoming weekends, male underclassmen were moved out of their dorm rooms and into shared living quarters to accommodate the large number of visiting women who needed someplace to stay. Before they left though, some students would plan practical jokes for the arriving dates to find, like leaving behind frogs in trash cans, or in this case, drawing clothes on the Playboy posters that were meant to be (temporarily) taken down before the women’s arrival.  

Dates line up in formal attire in front of a football stadium.
Dates arrive at the Davidson Homecoming Football Game, 1963. Image #27-0320.

As we can see in the articles and comics above, women arriving for the Homecoming weekend marked a loosening of the strict academic standards and Presbyterian morals that ruled over male student’s lives for the rest of the school year. If the Homecoming Queen was once crowned as the ideal for what Davidson’s female guests could be, the meaning of the title completely changed once female co-eds could be nominated at the introduction of coeducation in 1972. This transition brought with it plenty of tension, so stay tuned for Part Three, where we’ll be looking at Homecoming Queens in the aftermath of coeducation and the mixed reactions of female co-eds towards Davidson dating culture.  

A Brief Study of Fun, Frolics and Homecoming Queens

By Ellen Huggins, JEC Archives Fellow

Post 1: Introduction

Crowning of Barbara Kelley, Homecoming Queen 1981, Image #27-1414

In the spirit of the “Fun and Frolics” theme of this year’s Archives Month, I’ve been rifling through our folders of archival photographs from college events (Freshman Orientation, Cake Races, Spring Flings….) to get a sense of what fun has looked like over the years on Davidson campus. The 50th anniversary of coeducation this year has also been sticking in the back of my mind, particularly the question of how women show up in the Davidson Archives before they were officially full time, degree earning students. Surprisingly, one of best places to find pictures of young women pre-1972 in the archives is the “Homecoming Queen” folder, which dates all the way back to 1959. It would be easy to view the title as a relic from a time when women were considered guests at Davidson, but as I dug deeper into the folder, I found it even more intriguing that the Homecoming Queen continued to be crowned far past the beginning of coeducation, and into the present day.  

In 2022 the College’s tradition of crowning a Queen during the Homecoming weekend football game might be all but forgotten, but it remains unexplored as one the longest running institutions for women on the Davidson campus. What can the history of Homecoming Queens tell us about the evolution of women’s roles at Davidson College from before coeducation to the present? I’ll be attempting to answer this question in this series of blog posts, so follow me through the archives as we explore fun, frolics, and Homecoming Queens at Davidson! 

Homecoming Banner, 1983, Image #27-1323

But first, what is Homecoming?

Every school has a different definition of what Homecoming means and how their traditions inform that meaning, but essentially, Homecoming is a weekend early in the school year where the college welcomes both current students and alumni to campus, hosts a football game, and traditionally, a dance. Homecoming weekend exists at the intersection of multiple interests; alumni who want to have a nostalgic time on campus, faculty who wants to show off their campus to those alumni (and maybe get appreciation in the form of money) and students who just want to have a carefree weekend. By extension, the Homecoming Queen represents an equally wide array of parties on campus; unlike a student dance like Prom where the title would be announced and given solely in front of their peers, the Homecoming Queen ceremony takes place on the football field in front of faculty, parents, alumni and students alike.  

Crowning of Sara Porter, Homecoming Queen 1963, Image #27-0357

So, who (or what) does the Homecoming Queen represent?

For more than a decade before women could be degree earning students on the Davidson campus, the original Homecoming Queen candidates were female students from different colleges in the area. Initially, it confused me to see how far back in time the Homecoming queen folder extended. I had always assumed a school’s Homecoming Queen was elected based on their great grades, their involvement on campus (and yes, more often than not they just so happen to be conventionally attractive as well); that they represent, at least subjectively, the best that the student body had to offer. But this is a fairly modern interpretation of what the Homecoming Queen competition was originally conceived to be. At least at Davidson, Homecoming Queens were initially crowned not as student representatives, but as feminine figure heads of the wholesome, nostalgic heart of Homecoming itself. In the next blog post, we’ll discuss more about how women were tied into the “wholesomeness” of Davidson Homecoming celebrations starting with the introduction of the Homecoming Queen competition in the midcentury, and what this reveals about the connection between fun, frolics and understandings of gender at Davidson.  

Thank you for tuning in, and come back soon for Part 2!

Works Cited: 

Welcome to the Library, Ellen!

Head shot of Ellen Huggins, JEC Archives Fellow. She is wearing a blue button up shirt and smiling at the camera.
Ellen Huggins

Ellen Huggins is the current Justice, Equality and Community Archives Fellow. She graduated from University of Iowa in 2021, majoring in Creative Writing with minors in American Studies and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies. Ellen is originally from Colorado and still getting to know Davidson College!

You’re just beginning to get to know the E.H. Little Library—what’s your background and how has it contributed to your work at the library?

In terms of my background, I’ve always been interested in non-fiction creative writing, which is what I ended up majoring in in college. But over time I became more and more interested in history, which led to me working as a transcription editor at some different oral history projects. I think it’s contributed to my work at the library because I place a lot of value in storytelling and thinking of new ways to make archival material into something that an audience wants to engage with because they find it compelling or can relate it to their own experiences.  

What about the position of the JEC Archives Fellow position interested you?

What really stood out to me about the JEC Archives Fellow position was that there were so many sides to the job; not only would I get the chance to look at oral histories, but I’d also get the chance to learn more about Davidson history, work on the social media for the Archives and Special Collections and share my research with a cohort of other fellows working under the Duke Endowment. It’s a really unique opportunity that has so much possibility to it, and I’m excited to keep discovering what I can do in the position!  

Are there any projects that you’re particularly passionate about introducing to Davidson?

I’m interested in doing projects related to the 50th anniversary of coeducation and the less spoken about perspectives within the history of women at Davidson College. I’m currently working on an exhibit on the second floor all about Title IX (which also has its 50th anniversary this year!). It’s going to feature some oral histories collected from members of the women’s athletic program in 1999 that have been sealed and unavailable to listen to until now, so look out for that, and come check it out once it goes up!  

You haven’t been here long yet, but what has been your most memorable or surprising experience at Davidson thus far?

I have to agree with everyone that mentioned the great first day “Hello Dolly” serenade; I was especially honored that they took the time to rhyme my name in the lyrics! More generally, I’ve been surprised by just how welcoming everyone at the E.H. Little Library has been and how comfortable the campus feels to be on every day. The traffic in Davidson has also surprised me, without fail, every day that I drive to work.   

What are three things you want Davidson’s Community to know about you?

My favorite movie fluctuates between Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Rosemary’s Baby.  

I have two brothers, one older and one younger! 

The best day for me weather wise is probably 50 degrees, foggy in the morning and drizzling in the afternoon, with not too much wind.   

My dog, Piper!

Early Davidson and a few intricate Familial Connections

Hello everyone! Andrés Paz ‘21, current JEC Fellow here. As the days get colder and we switch our attires to warmer ones, I figured it would not be a bad idea to talk about some of the early days of Davidson. Why not grab a warm drink and let me tell you a bit about how it looks to research about Davidson as part of the Archives, Special Collections and Community team? 

Before anything, it is relevant to say that some of the sources I touch upon depict racist, discriminatory, or violent language and/or actions. This content can be distressing. It is also helpful to acknowledge that the life of individuals and communities in the past was as complex as we can feel ours to be now. For this reason, much of what I share will be incomplete, but hopefully encourages at least someone to keep reflecting on the meaning of living, working, studying, and just being around Davidson.

As we become increasingly interested in certain aspects of Davidson’s past, figuring out how to present a somewhat complete narrative of anything tends to be a hard task, particularly because official records and archives can, in subtle and overt ways, silence the lives and actions of certain groups: enslaved people, women, and children are important examples. As we grapple with such circumstances, it is too easy to write yet another narrative about powerful, influential white men. More important, however, is simply to abstain from grandiose stories of great men who had virtually no flaws. As I just said, we know life is more complex than that!

So, how can it look to do research about Davidson as part of the ASCC team? Let me answer that by (re)telling fragments of a story, which is perhaps more a compendium of facts and half-facts difficult to corroborate that can begin in many places… in the same way that your own research about a person, place, or event could do! 

In its early days, Davidson College opened its doors to young men that came mostly from North and South Carolina. Many of them, as in the case of Dr. James Hiram Houston, Jr. (class of 1845), often came from nearby plantations and the prominent families that ran them.  Only one mile north of campus, Houston came from Capt. James Houston’s “Mt. Mourne.” The Houston house (today known as the George Houston House) is also close to Rufus Reid’s own “Mt. Mourne Plantation” and George W. Stinson’s (Davidson trustee 1842-47) “Woodlawn.” These three 19th century buildings are all in the National Register of Historic Places.* Incidentally, they are also located in an area that was once the land-grant property of Alexander Osborne and later his son Adlai Osborne, an area or plantation that was known as “Belmont.” 

“George Houston House” – Preservation North Carolina Historic Architecture Slide Collection, 1965-2005 (PNC slides), Preservation North Carolina

According to the 1800 Iredell Tax List, “Bellmont” was then valued at $1,800, the Houston’s place at $700, and Ephraim Davidson’s at $550. These were the highest valued properties in lower Iredell. Many decades later, the 1860 Iredell County Slave Schedule still recorded these families among the most prominent slaveholders: Isabella Reid (Rufus Reid’s widow) registered the possession of 62 enslaved persons; James Smith Byers (George W. Stinson’s twice father-in-law) registered 54; George W. Stinson himself reportedly had 43 enslaved people at “Woodlawn”; George F. Davidson (Ephraim Davidson’s son, and you guessed correctly: also J. H. Houston’s guardian while a student at Davidson College) registered 50; William Lee Davidson II also appeared in the records with 26. 

J. H. Houston’s familial connections did not only grant him much economic and social power in the area, but were in fact, fundamental to the history of Davidson College in one way or another.  He was part of Davidson’s Board of Trustees from 1850 to 1856. Observing important sessions as secretary to the board, his name appears, for example, in the minutes of meetings held to accept and manage Maxwell Chamber’s donations to the College. His mother was Sarah Davidson Kerr, whose second husband (they married in 1850) happened to be her cousin William Lee Davidson II, a Davidson trustee from 1836 to 1853. According to the Presbytery Minutes, he sold the initial 469 acres for $1,521 to the institution that would bear his father’s name. Additionally, you might find it interesting that this sale consisted of two tracts, a 269 acre tract referred to as the “Jetton” tract, and a 200 acre tract known as the “Kerr” or “Lynn” tract. Before belonging to W. L. Davidson II, the latter piece of land was in the hands of Alfred D. Kerr, Houston’s uncle. 

Both W. L. Davidson II and A. D. Kerr appear prominently as “grantors” and “grantees” in the Iredell County “Slave Deeds,” which are property deeds such as bills of sale, deeds of trust, divisions of property that are registered with county courts and that contain information about enslaved individuals (see: People Not Property project).  In 1847, for instance, 5 adults named Jim, Mary, John, Amelia, and Caroline, as well as an unnamed child, were bought for $2,375 by W. L. Davidson II, A. D. Kerr, and George F. Davidson (who was also a UNC trustee 1838-1868).[i] In comparison to the great majority of other records, this one stands out for the relatively high amount it represented and the fact that there were 3 different grantees. Could the amount be a hint of the types of skills these 6 people had or the work they would be forced to do? It is also possible that they travelled with W. L. Davidson and Sarah Kerr when they moved to Alabama before 1850. 

Iredell County, North Carolina Register of Deeds – Book X, p. 463.

In 1826, when J. H. Houston’s father died, and with A. D. Kerr as executor, 8 children with the names of Sarah, Betty, Lucy, Phebe, Simon, Debby, Bill, and Molly were all granted to W. L. Davidson II for $10.[ii] Similarly, in 1835, Dick, Mary, Jackson, Jane, Isaac and Ibby, appear in the records as a gift from Alfred Kerr to his sister Sarah and George F. Davidson.[iii] These records tell us almost nothing but the names of these children, who surely had descendants of their own.

Despite the fact that our little fragmented story begins with Dr. J. H. Houston Jr., he fails to be the center of it. On the other hand, what appears to be central from this are the questions it raises about the connections between groups such as early trustees, students, nearby plantations, and the communities within and near Davidson. How was the geography of what we know as “Davidson” different? What type of connections did it foster?  Who was able to attend Davidson and in what capacity? Why was it overwhelmingly supported by wealthy slave owners? As our interest and knowledge about the early days of Davidson College increases, maybe similar questions can continue to be our best guide. 

Notes and References:

[i] Iredell County, North Carolina, Deed Book X: 463.
[ii] Iredell County, North Carolina, Deed Book M: 314.
[iii] Iredell County, North Carolina, Deed Book R: 150.

*Many thanks to Andy Poore of Mooresville Public Library for access to relevant documents and his extensive knowledge of the area.

More resources:

JEC Fellow in the Archives!

Hello, everyone! I’m Andrés Paz, Davidson College class of 2021 and current Justice, Equality, and Community (JEC) Fellow in the Archives, Special Collections and Community (ASCC) department. This year I will be working with the Archives team (and many others!) to explore and advance our understanding of the racial history of Davidson College and its surroundings. This is the first of what I hope will be many posts.

Part of a cohort of researchers also at Duke, Furman, and Johnson C. Smith, the JEC Archives Fellow position is funded partially by the Duke Endowment. At Davidson, I have and will collaborate with the ASCC team to identify and process relevant collections, research materials, and create digital scholarship and learning resources to promote dialogue across the community.  Working with cohort, campus, and community partners, including the Davidson College Commission on Race and Slavery, my efforts focus on researching and documenting Davidson’s complicated history with topics such as enslavement, race relations, and civil rights.

Andrés Paz

In the past two months, while acclimating to a new role, I’ve started to work on a few long term projects. Prioritizing accessibility and involvement with the community beyond college grounds, we have identified digital resources related to local history that could be improved. Currently, I am working on rebuilding ASCC’s Shared Stories site as an exhibit. This means going through many documents, photos, and oral histories, and even transcribing some. Another project which represents the bulk of my efforts is a genealogical and land ownership research project. looking at plantations that were located near campus in an attempt to uncover Davidson’s interactions with enslavers and enslavement. For this project, new and worthwhile research in the Local History and Archives of Mooresville Public Library is possible thanks to Andy Poore’s generosity and knowledge of local history. 

There is much else that happens in our department on a daily basis: reference requests, guest lectures, birthday cakes (had to mention it, thanks Sara!), and collaborations with other colleagues in the library (for example: take a look at our new International Student HIstory LibGuide), to mention a few things. As part of the Archives, Special Collections, and Community team, I am happy to connect with anyone interested in using or exploring our college’s archival resources! And more than anything, excited to work around kind and cool people!  

Andrés Paz


Office: E.H. Little Library, Room 235

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

Related Posts:

Guest Blogger: Amaya Bradford, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Primary Source Analysis”

written by Amaya Bradford

During the 1930s and 40s, the Federal Writers Project completed interviews with men and women who were formerly enslaved to tell their stories. This collection is called Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves. These interviews took place after slavery had been abolished, with many of these people being at young ages when they were set free. One particular woman was named Fannie Moore and was from Asheville, North Carolina. In her interview, she gives much insight into how enslaved women’s gender interacted with slavery in North Carolina, specifically around the Charlotte/Asheville area.

Moore mentions her mother frequently in her interview. It is revealed that her mother was fiercely protective over children as Moore states, “She stan’ up fo’ her chillun tho’. De ol’ overseeah he hate my mammy, case she fight him for beatin’ her chillun. Why she git more whuppins for dat den anythin’ else” (pg. 131). This depiction of Moore’s mother gives her the heroine title of Moore’s story, since she protects her children from physical punishment with her own body.

Similarly, a contract is created in 1867 that binds an enslaved woman, Vina, and her four to Margaret Torrance at Cedar Grove Plantation for two years of labor, in exchange for food and clothing. This is another example of enslaved women putting their children above themselves and using different methods to protect them. In this example, Vina is protecting her children from starvation and the weather, instead of explicit physical punishment, even though they were more than likely at risk for such.

Image of two pages of text from "Plantation World Around Davidson." The right page features a two story brick home, also known as "Cedar Grove."
Image of pages 70 and 71 from former College Archivist’s, Dr. Chalmers Davidson, “Plantation World Around Davidson.” Cedar Grove Plantation is pictured, here.

The interview with Fannie Moore and Vina’s contract reveals that enslaved women in North Carolina commonly used their bodies to protect their children. They ensued their roles as mothers, during a time when enslaved women were stripped of their maternity, with is also an act of resistance against the institution of slavery.

Since their bodies were constantly used as shields, they were the most subject to abuse. Going back to Moore’s interview, she also describes a woman named Aunt Cheney, who had light skinned children by the sexual assault of a white man, get sold separate from her children since she was a “breed woman”, and was frequently whipped by her abuser. While Aunt Cheney did not explicitly receive punishment to protect her children, her body was still used as an area of violence.  All these women were subject to physical violence by their enslavers, with the connection to their reproductive rights and maternity. Enslaved women in North Carolina had a lack of control over their reproductive choices because of sexual violence and lack of agency, but commonly, the children they had were fiercely protected with the continual use of their bodies.


Work Projects Administration. “SLAVE NARRATIVES.” The Project Gutenberg EBook of Slave Narratives, North Carolina, Part 2, (A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves), by Work Projects Administration.,

“Vina’s Contract.” Torrance and Banks Family Papers,

Guest Blogger: Ashley Ip, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“The Other Perspective”

written by Ashley Ip

History is made up of various stories told from different aspects and in some cases, said stories get distorted over time. It is the duty of historians to analyze who is telling these stories and who is left out in order to paint a full picture. Black women are often left out of the discussion when discussing slavery in the South. This can be attributed to the lack of sources and primary documents that focus on the role that Black women played during slavery. Archival research is important because it gives voice to those who are often left out in the retelling of history. These documents are vital to the research of Black women because it provides historians with a perspective that is often overlooked.

The article “More Slavery at the South” is a transcribed interview with an anonymous African American woman. This source was actually written by a reporter for The Independent. This African American woman is a nurse and goes into detail about the hardships she encounters as a Negro nurse in the South. Although this source was published after slavery was abolished in the United States, this document gives a first-hand look into Jim Crow laws and the way it affected daily life for Black women in the south.

This nurse goes into detail about the demands of her job by describing herself as the “slave, body and soul of [the] family.” She backs up this claim by explaining that she works “sunrise to sunrise, every day in the week” and thus, “[doesn’t] know what it is to go to church; [doesn’t] know what it is to go to a lecture or entertainment of anything of the kind.” She lives a life that is controlled by the family who she works for. From “watering the lawn with the garden house, sweeping the sidewalk, mopping the porch and halls, helping the cook, darning stockings of putting the three children to bed, she must “tamely submit and answer when called.”

Snapshot of the landing page A Negro Nurse More Slavery at the South. Source: Documenting the American South, UNC Chapel Hill.
Landing page for A Negro Nurse More Slavery at the South. Source: Documenting the American South, UNC Chapel Hill.

Not only were the work conditions horrendous, the wage is a “pitiful sum of ten dollars a month.” She explains how she struggles to get by because she has to pay house rent, feed and clothe not only herself but for her three children. She understands that nothing will be done to increase her wage because she means to the white family she works for, she is easily replaceable. If she were to quit, she understands “there would be hundreds of other negros right on the spot ready to take their places and do the same work, or more for the low wages that had been refused.” Thus, she must settle to work for less than nothing.

She also very eloquently explains how she must always present herself within the relationship of master and servant as she recalls her experiences on railroad trains and street cars. As long as she is with the white children and explains to white men when they ask that she is their servant, she will not be questioned when she sits in the white man’s coach. However, as soon as she doesn’t present within this relationship, she is subjected to the “colored people’s coach” section of the railroad.

Lastly, this nurse touches on something that is often very overlooked within the Black women experience – the sexual mistreatment and abuse they were forced to endure from their male employers. She adamantly claims that this is by far the worst part of her experience and that white men are always able to get away with their misconduct. When she reported to her husband that her madam’s husband tried to kiss her, her husband confronted him and was slapped and arrested. The police judge fined her husband $25 and the white man denied the charge. The judge looked up and said “The court will never take the word of a nigger against the word of a white man.” All white men are able to take their “undue liberties with their colored female servants.” This nurse emphasizes the need of research on Black women. By ignoring Black women’s experiences, historians unintentionally excuse white mens sexual abuse.

Archival research into Black women is vital to understanding the impact of slavery in the United States. By failing to incorporate Black women in scholarly discussions and conversations, a full picture cannot be painted.


A Negro Nurse, More Slavery at the South. From The Independent, 72 (Jan. 25, 1912): 196-200. New York: Published for the proprietors, 1912.

Guest Blogger: Kaitlin Barkley, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Primary Source Analysis”

written by Kaitlin Barkley

Archives tell a story through its pictures, diary entries, posters, and assortment of documents. Each curated source, like a puzzle piece, placed together to create a portrait of the past… but often the picture is incomplete. Like a puzzle with missing pieces, the archives often miss important narratives from voices that were marginalized or oppressed at the time. Therefore, although the archives tell a story, the story comes full of biases and half-truths. As an audience knowing this, what do you do with these stories? How do you look at them without falling into its inevitable trap?


Saidiya Hartman in her article “Venus in Two Acts” suggests that the archives, especially those that curate materials on slavery, are inherently violent because of the ways they continue systems of power and oppression. The biggest example of this is the lack, and quite frankly erasure, of enslaved and free women’s voices in the archives. More times than not, there are endless piles of diaries, documents, and pictures of men of varying statuses, occupations and ages. And is compared to the few token materials archives have about women. This stark difference shows the importance placed of the lives and voices of men. Regardless, Hartman suggest that one solution to this inevitable trap is narratives found outside of the archives because they often help supplement the gaps within its archival stories especially about women. Additionally, simply understanding the gaps and limitation of the archives.


Hartman’s words stuck with me as I searched through the archives on slavery in North Carolina, curated by different institutions around the country. To be frank, I wasn’t surprised by how difficult it was even to find materials about the home lives of women. Even when using words that stereotypically denoted occupations and social position for women, I only found materials written or about men. Nevertheless, I found two sources that I thought paired well together because of their contrasting content.


The first source was a poster advertising the start of the Mecklenburg Female College. The poster was created by the college in 1867 illustrating the college’s main building, the cost per semester for amenities, and a short paragraph about the purpose and benefits of the college. In the paragraph, the college boasted about being a qualified and “devoted to female education”. This advertisement is contrasted by a correspondence I found between Mary Gibson and her brother Robert Gibson, a Davidson College Board of Trustee. In the letter, she writes to her brother asking him to make a confederate bond so that she can have access to her money in order to purchase two enslaved women.


Scanned page of handwritten text by Mary Gibson to her brother, Robert, on November 2, 1863. In the document, Mary complains about how the Civil War has made it difficult to find slave labor.

First of two pages written by Mary Gibson to her brother, Robert, on November 2, 1863.


Both documents are connected to the lives of white women in North Carolina during slavery. The first, about Mecklenburg Female College, is implicitly connected to slavery. It causes us, as an audience, to consider how these young women’s education is being paid for. The latter source, is explicitly connected to enslavement. Yet, both sources help establishes a fuller narrative about the impact of slavery on womanhood in North Carolina.


These two materials are only three years apart…I am left wondering in those three years how many other stories, tied to archival sources, remain undiscovered.

Guest Blogger: Bry Reed, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Examining The Politics of The Archive”

written by Bry Reed

There are a few things you prepare for when going on a Spring Break trip: the lines at the airport, the long flight, the sunshine. When going on a Spring Trip to Barbados, however, to study the legacies of women and slavery on the island, you prepare yourself for a few additional things. Beyond the sunshine, I prepared myself to delve deeply into the brilliance of Bajan archival history. Before leaving Barbados, I would start to question the politics of archives themselves as institutions for their role in accessing information.

Several students gather around a plaque in a large field marking the cemetery of enslaved persons in Barbados.
Students in the AFR 329 course visit the largest known cemetery of enslaved persons in Barbados. The enslaved woman at Newton Plantation who practiced “obeah” is buried, here.

In visiting The Barbados Museum and Historical Society, I quickly realized that archival work is not a small feat. It is an expansive task of displaying the depth, wealth, and expansiveness of history. All the while connecting materials to an abundance of lived experiences, lineages, and legacies. While detailing the religious history of enslaved Black communities alongside white enslavers, the museum featured a red and orange gemstone recovered from Newton Plantation. The museum’s description of this stone explains that it allegedly belonged to a powerful enslaved woman at Newton who practiced “obeah” (a word synonymous with hoodoo).

The large stone intrigued me for its archival value and religious significance. I admired the choice by the Barbados Museum and Historical Society to acquire and display the object in the core exhibit. It is important that we as scholars recognize that the choices on acquiring materials and displaying them happen intentionally. It takes money, work, and dedication to shape history.

The presence of the stone in the Bajan national archive adds a mark of institutional legitimacy often not afforded to African and Caribbean religious practices. These modes of religious expressions suffer severe demonization across the African Diaspora that renders them “illegitimate”. The choice to display the obeah stone publicly combats silencing in the archive that stems from anti-Blackness and ongoing colonization of academic spaces. More broadly, making space to explore the role of obeah via the archives creates avenues for Black feminist scholars, like myself, to draw broader connections across disciplines and borders.

It is my hope that scholars interrogate the politics of the archives they explore. Who is represented within them? Who is silenced? Who is put on display? In answering these questions, we reconcile with the larger questions about access, silence, and colonization within the institution of archives themselves.