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Caroline Dick McKissick Belser Dial Papers, 1913-1994

"Don't say anything about the University unless it is good. It is such a wonderful University." These words spoken by Caroline Dick McKissick Belser Dial in a 1990 interview for Columbia Metropolitan magazine characterize her devotion to the University of South Carolina-a devotion that made "Miss Caroline" one of the most beloved of Carolina's first ladies. The papers of Caroline Dick McKissick Belser Dial consist of approximately five and a quarter linear feet of correspondence, photographs, newspaper clippings, publications, and miscellaneous printed items documenting the life and interests of this former school teacher, USC first lady, and lifelong Gamecock supporter.

Caroline Virginia Dick was born in Sumter on 15 July 1900, the daughter of Caroline Hutchinson and R. George Dick. After graduating from Winthrop College in 1921, Miss Caroline taught in several schools in North and South Carolina before marrying J. Rion McKissick in 1927. She first came to the University of South Carolina that same year, when her husband was named Dean of the School of Journalism.

When McKissick became the president of USC in 1936, Miss Caroline stepped into the role of Carolina's first lady and filled it with her own unique sense of style, warmth, and graciousness. She was the first president's wife to open the president's house and make it a place for entertaining, welcoming all Carolina students, faculty, alumni, and friends. She also added the president's rose garden to the Horseshoe grounds and began an extensive collection of gamecock memorabilia which ranged from gamecocks of fine European porcelain to those of papier-maché made by her grandchildren. Even her car's hood ornament was a silver gamecock. After the death of Dr. McKissick in 1944, Miss Caroline continued her role as a tireless advocate of USC. She is credited with revitalizing support of the Alumni Association and the University South Caroliniana Society during the 1940s and served on many University boards throughout the remainder of her life. Upon her marriage to Irvine F. Belser in 1947, she became stepmother to two sons and six daughters. Belser died in 1969, and Miss Caroline married George Dial in 1976.

The papers are arranged in three series: general correspondence, topical files, and photographs. The general correspondence series is arranged chronologically and is the primary location for correspondence and materials regarding family matters and other social and University-related obligations and activities. The topical files consist of correspondence organized according to individuals and organizations, as well as various programs, invitations, certificates, and publications. Photographs are arranged by family: Dick, McKissick, Belser, Dial, and miscellaneous. While the majority of the photographs are of Caroline's childhood, her years at Winthrop College, and her life with J. Rion McKissick, the later photographs document her activities with the Junior League, Garden Club, the University South Caroliniana Society, the University of South Carolina, and as State Mother of the Year. Images of interest include an ambrotype of J. Rion McKissick's grandfather, Barham Bobo Foster; a photograph signed by Lieutenant Governor John C. West; and Caroline with Mrs. Anwar Sadat of Egypt during her visit to the University. There are two albums relating to her family and friends from Hampton School for Girls in Sumter.

The bulk of the correspondence dates from 1930 to 1960 and includes love letters from J. Rion McKissick. In 1927 he wrote to her from Furman University-"Goodnight, my lovely sweetheart. I love you, adore you. I always will. No one else ever had as sweet and fine a sweetheart, as charming and admirable a wife as I have. Over the distance I send you a thousand kisses and all my love." One of the more interesting personal items is a poem written about Caroline after her third marriage, to George Dial. It begins-"With an angel on her shoulder / And a Gamecock by her side / Our Miss Caroline surprised us / As our three time bride" and concludes-"Is it vitamins or tonic / Men or majic-tell us do / While we bask in all your sunshine / and send forth our love to you." Miss Caroline loved to attend social functions, particularly those related to the University, as evidenced by the many programs and invitations included among her papers. Her support of the University was not limited to social appearances, however, for her generous financial support of Carolina's programs is amply documented throughout the papers.

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