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Nov 05 2018

Elon College and the First World War, part 1: On the eve of The Great War

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By Randall Bowman, Archivist and Assistant Librarian

Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the “War to End all Wars?” What was Elon like in the early years of the Twentieth Century, before the First World War?  When William Allen Harper became Elon College’s fourth president in 1911, the school was very different than the university it is today.  In the fall of 1911, total enrollment for the college was only 234, although that was the largest enrollment since the school opened its doors in 1890.  Dr. Harper, then thirty-one years old, was an 1899 alumnus of Elon College, and the first graduate to serve as president.  He set out on an ambitious program to expand the school’s physical size, allowing for an increase in enrollment.  He was also determined to standardize and expand the curriculum.  In addition, Harper aimed to get the college out of debt and increase the endowment.

The task of raising the necessary funds for a construction program was made easier by the fact that Harper’s predecessor, Emmett L. Moffitt, had left the college stable financially.  Dr. Harper immediately undertook fundraising to complete Dr. Moffitt’s “Special Fund of $50,000”; by January 1912, the funds had been raised, and the debt from the 1907-1908 building program had been retired.  With that accomplished, Elon College now had financial capital to work with, and a new building program was begun.

One of the biggest needs the campus faced was a new dorm for male students.  Most female students lived in West Dormitory and had access to its dining facilities.  But most male Elon students boarded with local families, or rented rooms in town, and the number of local rooms were limited.  These men also “clubbed” together for their meals, which was a widespread practice on college campuses at the time.  These “dining clubs” were organized by the students themselves; each club would hire a cook to prepare their meals, and then rented houses where the food was prepared and eaten.

Therefore, the very first new building completed in 1913 was North Dormitory, a three-story building with a gym and basketball court located on the first floor, along with new biology and chemistry laboratories.  Forty-four new dorm rooms for men occupied the upper two floors.  Funds raised by the Alumni Association helped pay the expenses of construction.  This was the first time the Association aided the College in such a way; as a result, North Dormitory was officially named the Alumni Building.  The dorm was located approximately where Powell Building is now; it stood until 1958.

In addition to the Alumni Building, two other building were constructed.  One was the Club House, a cottage located on the north side of Haggard Avenue, across from the Main Building.  It provided a venue for the men’s dining clubs to have their meals prepared and eaten.  A matron was employed by the college to oversees the preparation of meals; the clubs continued to operate as they had previously, but the new facility helped to make expenses for the clubs more economical.  The Club House also stood until 1958.

The other new building was the Ladies’ Hall.  Also known as the Young Ladies’ Cooperative Extension, this building opened on the site now occupied by Sloan Hall, near West Hall.  This two-story building was a cooperative dormitory and dining hall that allowed female students to assume responsibility for cleaning, washing, and cooking, all under the supervision of a matron.  Room and board rates for living in the cooperative were lower than in the traditional arrangement in West, making college more affordable for some female students.  This proved a popular arrangement with many girls and their families.  The Ladies’ Hall stood until 1960.

These new facilities allowed the college to increase enrollment, beginning in 1913.  The Main Administration Building was renovated, allowing for an expansion of the library and music programs.  A College Dairy was set up, a new water tank was built to supply fresh water to the campus, and new lighting was installed.  These additions helped ease the demands on the overburdened college facilities and make the school more attractive and livable.

Also beginning in 1913, the faculty made several curricular changes, including the addition of a Bachelor of Science degree.  Requirements for the degree were standardized along with the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Philosophy degrees.  Dr. Harper was successful in expanding the curriculum; students could pay additional tuition to take courses in special departments of music, fine arts, expression, and commerce.  Some students took courses in these departments in addition to their regular degree requirements; other students enrolled in one or more of these departments without doing coursework towards a regular four-year degree.  Elon College had also set up a Teacher’s Institute that helped students get state certification for teaching.

Being a church-affiliated college, the atmosphere at Elon around the time World War I began in 1914 was a strictly religious one; students were required to attend daily chapel services, as well as Sunday School and Sunday Worship.  Many students were members of the Christian Church that had founded Elon, and quite a few went on to become ministers, missionaries, or lay workers.  Since there was religious instruction at Elon, an effort was made to establish a Department of Theology, but this effort fell victim to the World War.  Once the United States entered the conflict, funds couldn’t be spared for a new department.

Overall, Elon College was thriving in these years prior to America’s entry into the war.  In 1913, the college yearbook was founded, dubbed The PhiPsiCli.  The name was derived from the three literary societies at Elon: Philologian, Psiphelian, and Clio.  Literary societies were a mainstay of college life at the time, and Elon’s were no exception.  However, once the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, everything changed.  The new yearbook would not be published in 1918 and 1919; the money and material required to produce a yearbook were needed for the war effort.  All plans for growing and expanding Elon College, including all new construction, would be put on hold for the duration of the war.

Jun 25 2013

Summer 2013 in Belk Library

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Belk Library is busy this summer. Our biggest project is related to the Writing Excellence Initiative. To create room for expanded writing, research and technology collaboration, we are removing print reference books that are duplicated electronically as well as reference items that are no longer relevant to the teaching and scholarship of the University. The view when you walk in the front door will be quite different by the end of the summer. We’re excited about the changes and the new ways we will be able to use the space.


Reference Collection changes in process

The Archives and Special Collections staff is researching and organizing facts about Elon’s history to get ready for the University’s 125th Anniversary celebration. Stay tuned for exhibits, Facebook posts, tweets, and more.

Looking for something to read? Check out the Summer Reading display now through July 6. During the second half of the summer, we’ll highlight our audiobook collection.


Summer Reading display

Belk Library is open all summer, with a short break for the July 4th holiday. Our hours are posted at:

The Writing Center is also open this summer from June 4-July 2 and July 11-July 31. The Writing Center schedule is at:

Jan 02 2012

Archives to host 3 interns

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The Belk Library Archives and Special Collections Department will host three interns during the Spring 2012 semester. One intern is an Elon student and the other two are graduate students in the Library and Information Studies program at UNC-Greensboro. They will be working on a variety of projects throughout the semester. See below for more information about each intern and the interesting projects they will be working on.

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Oct 01 2010

Service Learning Collection podcast

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A new podcast is available from Belk Library.  Ingrid Ruffin, Belk Library’s intern, interviews Katie Nash, Archivist and Special Collections

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Sep 07 2009

Thomas Jefferson essays now online!

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The winning essays from the 2009 Thomas Jefferson essay competition are now online!  This year’s question was “Does commerce contribute to the happiness of mankind?” Follow the link to view current and previous year’s winning essays.

Jul 13 2009

Digitized postcards preserve the past

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postcard_image.jpegThe Archives and Special Collections has completed its first digital project which involved digitizing historical postcards that feature Elon University’s campus during the 19th and 20th centuries. The postcard collection highlights Elon’s campus history with postcards showing the first campus buildings, and the development and progression of Elon College.

Read the feature article about the project on E-Net by following this link:

Check out the postcard collection online:

May 30 2009

Service-learning collection

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servicelearning1.JPGIn May 2009, the Archives and Special Collections received seven boxes of materials from Robert L. “Bob” Sigmon relating to service-learning.  The Bob Sigmon manuscript collection contains materials pertaining to the National Service for Experiential Education, the North Carolina Internship Office, the Council of Independent Colleges, the Society for Field Experience Education, the Southern Regional Education Board, and many other newsletters, pamphlets, research notes, and unpublished manuscripts about service-learning. 

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Jan 28 2009

O’Kelly Chapel Record Books

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O’Kelly monumentDo you ever wonder who the O’Kelly monument on Elon’s campus was named after?  James O’Kelly was the founder of the Christian Church, and a prominent figure in Elon’s history.  We have original record books from the O’Kelly Chapel (located in Chatham County, NC), and now these books have been digitized and are available online.  To learn more about James O’Kelly, the O’Kelly monument, and the O’Kelly Chapel–click on the link at the bottom of this page.

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Jan 28 2009

Online guides to archival collections

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If you are researching a particular person or family associated with Elon University or are just interested in learning more about individuals who have passed through Elon’s doors–we might have a manuscript collection that suits your needs.  Many of our manuscript collections have finding aids (or guides) to accompany them in order to make your research a bit easier.  Now these finding aids are available online!

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Jan 27 2009

About the Archives and Special Collections

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Reading RoomEver wonder what is located behind the door next to the computer lab on the 2nd floor of Belk Library? No, it is not a closet–but a part of the library that holds documents and artifacts relating to the 120 years of Elon’s history!


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