In the fall of 1875, Charles Askew and 68 other male students arrived at the newly reopened University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, forming its first class since the university closed its doors in 1871. Chartered by the state in 1789, the first commencement at the university took place in 1798, making it the first public university to graduate students. Before the start of the Civil War, the university boasted an enrollment of 456 students. It had established itself as the second largest institution of higher learning in the South. During the war enrollments declined drastically. Financial troubles and political changes forced the university to shut down.
Charles’ name is entered in the first roster of students in this new era:
Students at UNC today might be surprised and amused by campus life in 1875. At the first faculty meeting held after the university reopened, it was decided that:
- Breakfast will be at 7 am, prayers at 7:45 am, dinner at 2 pm and supper at 6:30pm.
- All students must attend religious worship in one of the churches every Sunday.
- Students must furnish their rooms with slop buckets.
Absences from daily prayers and Bible recitations were to be reported to parents.
Tuition was $60 and a dorm room rented for $10 per year.
The courses required for the Bachelor of Arts degree included: math, Latin, Greek, French, German, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, Logic and Rhetoric, Astronomy, Mineralogy and Geology, Mental and Moral Science, International and Constitutional Law, Political Economy, and English Literature. Charles may have been working towards a Bachelor of Agriculture degree, because his coursework included Botany and Zoology. Here is his grade report for the Fall term of 1876.
Students were also required to join either the Dialectic Society or the Philanthropic Society. Charles signed up to be a “Phil” and served as Secretary for a time. Minutes of each meeting were kept in books like this one:
In his essay “Student Life and Learning,” UNC Professor of History James L. Leloudis discusses the role these societies played in a UNC student’s education:
Students depended on the societies to cultivate the personal style and “polish of manners” that won little recognition in the classroom, but which they considered essential to manly character. Chapel Hill was a tiny village where hogs wandered mud-choked streets and cows grazed on campus lawns; yet, when the societies were in session, the place took on an air of self-conscious refinement. The principals in the weekly debates “studied their subjects well,” often more thoroughly than their lessons, while official critics filled the society minute books with sharp commentary that revealed how seriously students approached the contests. College men valued the lessons of the society halls because they would stake their fortunes on verbal persuasiveness and outward bearing.
In one of the Philanthropic Society debates, Charles argued on the affirmative side of the question, “Ought the right of suffrage be granted to women?” Wouldn’t that have been an interesting debate to hear?
The societies often bestowed honorary memberships on non-students. Charles’ father, William F. Askew, received such an honor from the Philanthropic Society during commencement week in June of 1877. According to the society minutes, Mr. Askew was not present at the ceremony due to illness.
Unfortunately, Charles never graduated. He returned home to Raleigh presumably to help his father with the business of running his paper mill. Charles’ resignation from the Philanthropic Society was recorded in its minutes:
At the end of the minutes on this day, under Charles’ last signature as Secretary of the Philanthropic Society is faintly written, “C T Askew has left us. Goodbye, Charles.”
Sources for this post included:
1) The UNC digital collection called Documenting the American South, “The First Century of the First State University,” http://docsouth.unc.edu/unc/browse/creation.html
2) History of the University of North Carolina, Volume I and II, by Kemp Plummer Battle, which can be read online at http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/battle1/battle1.html and http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/battle2/battle2.html
3) Photographs taken by me of records from the archives in Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.