Caroliniana Columns
Newsletter of the University South Caroliniana Society
Autumn 1998

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Metamorphosis: From College to
University to South Caroliniana,
But Always - A Library

by Robin Copp

The South Caroliniana Library, its collections and the University South Caroliniana Society did not always exist as they are today. Over several decades and with far-sighted leadership from numerous University Presidents and faculty, the South Carolina College Library was transformed into the South Caroliniana Library and the Library's collecting policy became more focused during those years under the guidance of Caroliniana Committee, the forerunner to today's University South Caroliniana Society.

The mid-nineteenth century realization that good history comes only from primary sources began a metamorphosis of a library. Lyman C. Draper and others, driven to collect original source material, had already taken from South Carolina many Revolutionary War documents. In January 1906, in an effort to prevent further loss of South Caroliniana materials History Professor, Dr. Yates Snowden announced that the History and Political Science Department intended to establish "a depository for manuscripts" which would become the world's richest depository illustrating all of South Carolina. Four months later, the USC Board of Trustees responded by appointing a committee to perfect as much as possible the "South Caroliniana holdings of the University Library."
Realizing that good history comes only from primary sources, the USC Board of Trustees appointed a committee to perfect "South Caroliniana holdings of the University Library" in January 1906.

In October 1906, the University Bulletin contained articles by Snowden and English Professor and historian Edwin L. Green which stressed that need for a larger facility to house South Caroliniana material, which included the acquisition by gift of three manuscript collections. Twenty years after Snowden's and Green's appeal for a larger library, the Board of Trustees approved funding for two fireproof wings to be added to the then University Library. This addition included five levels of book stacks on the east side and seminar rooms, a reception room, and a workroom on the west. Completed in 1927, the workroom on the third floor of the new west wing housed the Caroliniana Collection of South Carolina manuscripts and published materials, as well as numerous artifacts that accompanied the gift collections.

The search for library funding continued in the early 1930s with the efforts of University President D.M. Douglas. Mentioning the valuable books and prints in the Caroliniana Collection, he requested funding to remodel the first floor as the wooden floors were rotting and the resultant ant population was eating the books! He added to his appeal by stressing the need for a lavatory and toilet, neither of which the building had. The Trustees finally approved funding for roof repairs and the replacement of the wood floors with tiletex.

Although the Depression created financial hardships on the library and collections, President Douglas refused to be deterred and consistently made appeals for more funding. Even President Douglas' untimely death in 1932 did not slow the momentum of his movement to promote better housing for and continued growth of the collection.

An editorial in
The State newspaper

"Keep It In South Carolina"


"South Carolina
historical material
should remain in South Carolina."

In defense against what Professor of Journalism J. Rion McKissick dubbed "literary bootleggers from outlandish parts," President Douglas in 1932 appointed the Caroliniana Committee. The Committee was to work on ways to stem the tide of rich South Carolina historical materials being taken to out of state repositories like the Southern Historical Collection at UNC, Chapel Hill. The Trustees named History Professor Robert L. Meriwether chair of the Committee whose other members were Yates Snowden, Edwin L. Green, Librarian Robert M. Kennedy, and J. Rion McKissick. In February 1937, the University South Caroliniana Society was formed to extend and support the work of the Caroliniana Committee.

President Douglas argued that the Caroliniana Collection, hampered by both inadequate appropriations and space, needed an annual purchase budget. All twenty academic departments showed their support by transferring all their library funds for the sole purpose of Caroliniana purchases. These moves received an even greater boost in 1933. A State editorial headlined "Keep It In South Carolina" stressed "South Carolina historical material should remain in South Carolina" while outlining the University's notable recent acquisitions - the Yates Snowden and James Henry Hammond collections.
South Caroliniana Library
South Caroliniana Library after the addition of the two fireproof wings. Note size of tea olive shrubs, which reach to the window sills of the second floor.
Photo from the collections of University Archives.
Douglas' successor, Leonard T. Barker, an ardent supporter of the Collection and advocate for a bigger library building, actively solicited support for the Caroliniana Committee. He pursued a lengthy correspondence with Barnard Baruch, eventually securing from Baruch the funds to purchase Judge Thomas E. Richardson's collection.

When J. Rion McKissick assumed the Presidency in June 1936, he too supported the moves for a bigger library and more Caroliniana acquisitions. One of his first proposals to the Board of Trustees was to secure WPA funds to erect a new library building. At the Board of Trustees meeting in June 1937, President McKissick, citing the Society's growing membership and substantial contributions as justifications, proposed the "old" University Library be used as a special South Caroliniana Library. The Society President, Judge M. L. Bonham, put forth a formal request that the Trustees allow the "old" library to house the Caroliniana Collection. The board voted favorably on this proposal at their December 1939 meeting. The announcement that the "old" library would become the permanent home of the Caroliniana Collection was made at the Society banquet on the building's Centennial Anniversary, April 17, 1940. "will be stored in safety the hard won accumulation of our own people..."
In his welcoming remarks at the gala dinner, Dr. McKissick described the Society as "the most representative, the most distinguished that meets in South Carolina each year." The main speaker, Dr. Francis Pendleton Gaines, President of Washington and Lee University, praised the "notable advance made by my native state" when he referred to the dedication of the library to its new use. He went on to say that here "will be stored in safety the hard won accumulation of our own people, their legacies of courage and enterprise, achieved wisdom bequeathed to us in our enjoyment and our enriching utilization."

While the University was to provide regular appropriations for staff, development, and other operational expenses, the Society would provide vital support through gifts and donations to allow for the collection's preservation and growth.

Today the Collection of South Caroliniana is the finest in the state. With it books, pamphlets, serial, documents, personal papers, newspapers, institutional and private business records, engravings, photographs and other visual materials it is a true treasure trove for researchers.

Most significantly, however, is that the first free standing academic library became the first and only separate university library wholly devoted to the history and literature of its supporting state. All of this thanks to the earnest endeavors of the Caroliniana Committee and its successor, the University South Caroliniana Society.

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