Last week we took a look at the beginnings of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, established in March 1902. Legislation was drafted by Franklin L. Riley, professor of history and rhetoric at University of Mississippi, and subsequently passed by the legislature.
The Greenwood Commonwealth (July 22, 1926, p. 1) reported Rowland had practiced law for 14 years prior to becoming the first director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 1902. He completed the LLB (Bachelor of Laws) in 1888 at the University of Mississippi, and practiced in Memphis, Tennessee and Coffeeville, Mississippi.
Dr. Riley contemplated applying for the position as first director of MDAH, but changed his mind. The three original candidates for the position of director were Charles H. Brough, professor of history at Mississippi College, Dunbar Rowland, described as “attorney and amateur historian from Coffeeville” (Speer and Mitchell, 2004, p. 55) and W. F. Hamilton of Carrollton, who later withdrew. Rowland was elected 5-4.
In light of Brough’s professional qualifications, Rowland’s appointment remains an intriguing mystery. ..Brough was clearly the strongest candidate…(Speer, L., & Mitchell, H. 2004. ‘The Mississippi Plan’: Dunbar Rowland and the Creation of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Provenance: Journal of the Society of Georgia Archivists, 22(1), 51-72).
Dr. Brough had an earned doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in history, economics, and jurisprudence, and had been taught by Herbert Baxter Adams, a “proponent of dispassionate and analytical history” (Dougan, 2016, Encylopedia of Arksansas; Arkansas State Archives repository). Adams also previously taught Franklin Riley at Johns Hopkins University (Galloway, 2006). Dr. Brough continued to teach, and relocated to Arkansas where he was elected governor, serving two terms.
Galloway, while also questioning the selection of Rowland over the more qualified Brough, speculated that the board’s choice of Rowland was likely because his status as one of Mississippi’s elite planter class would make him a better ally in carrying out the board’s intent as identified in the Historical Commission’s circular.
Mississippi, in common with the other Southern states, is entering upon a great historical renaissance and the people of the South are beginning to realize as never before that “there is nothing wrong with our history, but in the writing of it.” The purpose of the State Legislature and of the Historical Society in the creation and appointment of this Commission, is to provide the most effective means for the correction of this defect. (Circular letter written by Stephen D. Lee, president of the society; printed in Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, 1902,Volume 5, p.13. Retrieved from https://archive.org)
Mr. Rowland did establish a process of order and classification of documents, among other achievements, such as collecting, writing, and disseminating Mississippi history. The University of Mississippi conferred upon him the honorary LLD (Legum Doctor) in 1906 “in recognition of services to the State” (The Office of Statistical Register of the State of Mississippi, Vol. 2, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1908). Although it is customary that those awarded honorary degrees do not use the term “Dr.” in referring to themselves or in print so as not to mislead the public, Mr. Rowland was thereafter referred to as Dr. Rowland in news media and other publications, throughout the remainder of his life. In writing his own biography for his Encyclopedia of Mississippi history, Mr. Rowland wrote that the degree was conferred and did not indicate that it was an honorary degree. Mrs. Rowland was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee in 1933, in recognition of her historical and other contributions to the south, although she was never referred to by that title in the press.
The MDAH blog A Sense of Place (March 1, 2011), quoting from the 3rd volume of Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, editor’s note by Franklin Riley, (1900):
As a student Mr. Rowland gave as much time to the cultivation of polemics, literature, history, and composition as his other duties would allow, thus laying the foundation for the literary and historical work that has since occupied the time he could spare from his professional duties.
Apparently, the “cultivation of polemics” would serve to fuel his adversarial relationship with the Governor and Legislature over the eventual location of the archives. While Mr. Rowland clearly was instrumental in helping to establish the preservation of historic documents and buildings, he was not without his critics. Contextual issues must always be considered when analyzing history, however, and as Galloway (2006) points out, the Mississippi state archives were created “in the wake of Reconstruction” (p. 81, Archives, power, and history: Dunbar Rowland and the beginning of the state archives of Mississippi (1902-1936), The American Archivist, 69, 79-116).
Mississippi’s state archives were moved thirteen times between 1798-1903, after the Territory was established in 1798 (Hilliard, 2003), including the following locations:
- First stored at Concord, residence of Spanish provincial governor in Natchez
- Moved 1801 to territorial capital at Washington
- Moved to Jefferson College in Washington in 1803
- 1821, records moved to Columbia, temporary state capital
- Moved to Jackson in 1822 to the state house building on Capitol and President
- 1840, moved to the new capitol building (currently the old capitol)
- During Civil War, archives moved to Meridian, Enterprise, Columbus, and Macon, and returned to Jackson in 1865 to library of third floor of Capitol
- 1896, archives moved to the state penitentiary after the weight was deemed a hazard because the Supreme Court was below the archival records in the library
- Returned to Old Capitol in 1900 while the new Capitol was built on the site of the former penitentiary, apparently, in considerable disarray and haphazard storage, i.e., “strewn and scattered throughout the halls and corridors of the building”
- Relocated to the ground floor of the New Capitol in 1903 (Hilliard, E. 2003. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The Primary Source, 25(2), 1-7)
After the Old Capitol was renovated, Rowland took up the fight to have the archives and history relocated to that building.
It has become necessary to invoke the power of the people to pass laws in order that their will shall not be thwarted by the action of three members of the Capitol Commission in attempting to exclude the Mississippi Department of Archives and History from the Old Capitol which will soon be ready for occupation. This action has been taken by a majority of the Commission consisting of T. G. Bilbo, Governor; J. H. Power, Secretary of State, and S. V. Robertson, Revenue Agent, in the fact of the opinion of the Attorney-General of the State, who ruled that the law for the preservation of the Old Capitol directed that the Department of Archives and History be removed to it, the resolution passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 87 to 27, providing that the second floor of the building be set apart for the use of the Department [sic] the opinions of some of the best lawyers in Mississippi that the Capitol Commission has no authority to assign quarters in the Old Capitol, innumerable requests and petitions from patriotic organizations, and from the people generally, all those have been ignored by a majority of the Commission. (Jackson Daily News, 13 May 1916, p. 7)
Mr. Rowland did not win that round. By October 1917, the Vicksburg Evening Post indicated:
The refusal of the state senate to favorably consider the house resolution which provided for assigning a part of the old Capitol to be used by the Department of Archives and History, after it had passed the house by a vote of 87 to 27 has aroused the Confederate veterans and Sons of veterans to action…The members of these organizations pledged themselves to aid the women on the state in the commendable work they are undertaking to have the historical department moved to the old Capitol, which they maintain was repaired and beautified because of the work of the women and for that purpose.
The Daughters of the American Revolution visited the state legislature February 22, 1918 to urge that the Department of Archives and History be placed in the old capitol, on the second floor. Mrs. A. F. Fox of West Point was the representative speaker who presented a resolution stating that the DAR members had advocated and labored for the preservation of the old capitol for historical purposes, including MDAH, and that it had been “diverted from one of the main purposes for which it was preserved” (Vicksburg Herald, 23 Feb 1918, p. 2).
Meanwhile, January of 1920 rolled around and headlines announced “Dr. Rowland will have a hard fight: Gov. Bilbo has fired first gun in legislative battle” (Jackson Daily News, 9 Jan 1920, p. 6). While a bill was passed to authorize the removal to the second floor of the old capitol building, the governor held it up, and subsequently vetoed it.
By March 3, the front page of the Jackson Daily News noted
Director Dunbar Rowland, of the department of archives and history, has aroused considerable animosity toward his department by reason of his persistent effort to get his quarters moved to the old capitol building…
Finally, March 29, 1920, the Senate Bill for removing the MDAH to the old Capitol building was brought up for the third time, and defeated (Jackson Daily News, p. 1) Grievances die hard, apparently, and the final blow was an effort by some legislators to abolish the Department of Archives and transfer work to the Library Commission (Abolition of Dep’t. of archives asked by representative, Jackson State Tribune, 23 Feb 1934, p. 1). That attempt was quashed two years later:
The senate judiciary committee…turned thumbs down on a bill seeking to abolish the present state board of archives and history. (Greenwood Commonwealth, 24 Jan 1936, p. 1)