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Student Life

Scholarly Essay:
"Student Life and Learning" by James L. Leloudis

Primary Documents Arranged by Subtopic:
Discipline and Disorder
Letters Home
Religion and Politics
Housing and Everyday Life
Rules and Regulations
Sickness and Death
The Societies
Student Writings and Publications

Student life at the University of North Carolina prior to 1875 bears little resemblance to the Carolina student's experience of today, as this section of "The First Century of the First State University" amply documents. Drawn from journal entries, letters home, records of the literary societies, official minutes of the university's faculty and Board of Trustees, and other early university records, this fascinating section examines both the public and the private lives of our early students.

Bored by a method of instruction that consisted primarily of memorization of authoritative texts and placed no emphasis on creative thought or exploration, students, sometimes armed with pistols and dirks, sought entertainment in strong drink, card playing, pranks, and misdemeanors — often to the detriment of college property and sometimes resulting in injury to faculty, tutors, servants, villagers, and themselves. Stories of misconduct and disorder abound in this section, but considering that students were admitted as young as thirteen or fourteen years of age and with only the faculty and their fellow students to keep them in check, the lack of discipline is perhaps not surprising. In the words of James Johnston Pettigrew writing to his father 21 February 1842, "a sojourn of two years and a half in a place like this, is enough to ruin a saint much more a mortal."

Abundant details are transmitted in letters to parents, siblings, cousins, and friends. Here we learn of student riots and rebellions, sickness and death, the influence of the debating societies, life in the dormitories and boarding houses, sports and entertainments, duels and other debacles — and yet, we often catch glimpses of young minds at work on very weighty issues. In a letter from William Sidney Mullins to Patrick Henry Winston dated 23 September 1840, Mullins tells of students attacking the faculty, who were attempting to repress the Ugly Club: "They were pelted with rocks and compelled to retire, whereupon Prof. Mitchell procured a sword cane and sallied forth but was again driven back." After relating this event and its consequences in some detail, Mullins then turns to the subject of whether or not a child is "possessed of Soul before it is born" and says that he debated the question with a friend and "argued it a week."

From "blacking the freshmen" to burning the belfry, from Cicero and Horace to a description of the food served up in Steward's Hall in 1807, this section provides rich detail on student life prior to 1875, and often in the words of those who lived it.

The documents in this section are arranged chronologically within the subtopics.

Academics | Top of Page
Catalogues | Top of Page
Discipline and Disorder | Top of Page
Entertainments | Top of Page
Letters Home | Top of Page
Religion and Politics | Top of Page
Housing and Everyday Life | Top of Page
Rules and Regulations | Top of Page
Sickness and Death | Top of Page
The Societies | Top of Page
Student Writings and Publications | Top of Page