Founders' Day Reference collection, 1902-ongoing

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Duke University. University Archives
3 Linear Feet
Material in English
Collection ID:
University Archives Record Group:
01 -- General Information and University History
01 -- General Information and University History > 11 -- Reference Collections


Scope and content:

This collection was compiled from a variety of sources by the University Archives for use in reference and research. It includes the general history of Founders' Day, lists of speakers (1926-2006), recipient lists for various honoraries including: the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service at Duke; Distinguished Alumni Award; distinguished Teaching Awards; University Teacher/Scholar Award; Trinity College Distinguished Teaching Award; Howard Johnson Distinguished Teaching Award; and Humanitarian Service Award. The collection also has speeches/remarks/sermons/ programs for the Founders' Day celebrations throughout the years (1901; 1916; 1930-2006), as well, as a scrapbook of the 1956 Founders' Day celebration that commemorated the 100th anniversary of James Buchanan Duke's birth.

Biographical / historical:

One of the long-standing traditions of Trinity College and Duke University is the observance of honoring the benefactors of the institution. The practice was formalized by the Board of Trustees on June 4, 1901, when October 3 was designated as Benefactors' Day in honor of Washington Duke.

The original intent "to honor Washington Duke forever" has been kept in spirit but through the years the name and even date of the annual observance has changed. It has been called Benefactors' Day (1901-1924), Duke University Day (1926-1947), and since 1948, Founders' Day. The most common forms of recognition have been an address on campus, the laying of a wreath at the tombs of the Dukes, and for many years the planting of trees by the senior class presidents to beautify the campus. The day has been the occasion for the presentation of special donations and awards, the dedication of buildings or gifts such as the Flentrop Organ in 1976, and the awarding of honorary degrees.

After the creation of Duke University, the date shifted to December 11 in honor of the signing of the Indenture of The Duke Endowment. The new Duke University Day was largely a product of the Office of Alumni Affairs. Local alumni chapters were encouraged to meet on December 11 to elect officers and to hear what could be characterized as a "state of the university" report. These meetings grew from ten in North Carolina and Virginia in 1926 to a high of over sixty nationwide in 1936. In 1927 the first meeting was held in New York City, and in 1930 the first Alumni chapter was organized in Los Angeles. In 1931 there also were observances in China and Japan. These meetings were greatly curtailed from 1939 to 1945.

After 1948 primary attention returned to campus where prominent speakers were featured along with significant announcements to the University community. In 1967 the annual event was shifted to the Sunday nearest December 11 with the primary focus on the morning worship service in the Chapel. In 1986 that observance was extended to a long weekend beginning with a formal campus-wide Convocation on Thursday immediately following an annual meeting of the faculty.

With the 1997 celebration, the ceremonies were again moved, back to a date in the early Fall. The events of the weekend include a memorial for members of the community deceased during the year passed, recognition of outstanding students, faculty, and staff, and the presentations of awards for teaching, the Distinguished Alumni Award, and the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service at Duke.

Acquisition information:
The Founders' Day Reference Collection was compiled from various sources by University Archives staff for reference and research.
Processing information:

Processed by Archives Staff, February 2008

Encoded by Sherrie Bowser, February 2008

Updated by Molly Bragg, July 2011

Accessions were merged into one collection, described in this finding aid.

Accession UA2017.0022 added and collection notes updated by Tracy M. Jackson, July 2021.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.

Trinity College (Durham, N.C.) -- History -- 20th century
Duke University -- History -- 20th century
Duke University. Founders' Day Committee


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Collection is open for research.

Terms of access:

Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Founders' Day Reference Collection, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.