Mississippi Department of Archives & History: Part I

William Winter Archives and History Building, Jackson

William Winter Archives and History Building, Jackson

Malvaney’s post last week about historic newspapers and their interesting content made me think about searching the newspaper archives for the history of MDAH, since I so often rely on the department’s resources for details on historic sites in Mississippi.

Did you know that Mississippi was the second state to establish a Department of Archives and History?  Yep, that’s right, Mississippi who is often last was at the top of the list when Dunbar Rowland established the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 1902.  What is more, Rowland was not satisfied just to stop with Mississippi. In 1905, he made an “admirable address” to the Tennessee Legislature on the benefits of archives and history to urge Tennessee to do the same.  Although Rowland’s speech encompassed almost the entire page 3 of the Jackson Daily News, January 10, 1905, I have selected a few excerpts.

Dunbar Rowland, first director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH)

Dunbar Rowland, first director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH)

The southern states have paid but little attention to the preservation of official archives.  In fact we seem to have been so indifferent to its importance as to create the impression that we are failing to transmit to succeeding generations a knowledge of the true greatness of our commonwealths.

Is southern history worthy of preservation?…The very rapid accumulation of valuable and accurate historical material in the capitols of the southern states has been going on for a century without adequate provisions being made to preserve, or make the collection accessible…The condition in which I found the official archives of Mississippi gave me an object lesson of conditions elsewhere.

The state of Mississippi has adopted this plan, and has had in operation, since March 15, 1902, a department of archives, and history, with a governing board of nine trustees, and a director, who has management of the work.

The Mississippi department of archives and history has been actively engaged in its work for nearly three years.  The legislature of 1902 made for its maintenance and annual appropriation of $2,700, with the understanding that if the undertaking proved to be a success a larger support fund should be provided by the legislature of 1904.

The appropriation bill for 1904 carries an annual fund of $4,600 for the support of historical work, which was a generous endorsement of what has already been done and which commits the state to a policy of liberal support in the future.

By 1914, a word one rarely hears in connection with Mississippi–liberal–appears in the Gossip of Legislative Halls column of the Jackson Daily News.

There is a strong sentiment in the legislature for more liberal appropriations for the department of archives and history.  Praise of the very excellent work which has been done by the department since its organization twelve  years ago is heard on all sides, and there is a firm conviction in the minds of the lawmakers that the historical work of the state should be placed on a more liberal financial basis…It has taken first rank in historical circles everywhere, and its achievements are known and honored not only in the United States but in England, France, Germany, Spain and Holland.  (23 Jan 1914, p. 5)

By 1914, Mississippi, while alleged to rank first in historical circles, ranked  last in expenditures for historic preservation.  Even Alabama at $14,000 was far above Mississippi’s $5,500.  Coming up, Part II will provide historical perspectives on the continuing issues faced by the new Archives & History department.

Categories: Historic Preservation, MDAH


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