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Auburn Through the Years

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In 1859 the East Alabama Male College occupied Main Hall, which served as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War.


February 23, at 4 PM in Special Collections & Archives, Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

Ralph Brown Draughon, Jr., received his Ph.D. degree in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Alabama secessionist William Lowndes Yancey.

In 1856 the state legislature chartered the East Alabama Male College (later Auburn University), but the school did not open until three years later, on the eve of the Civil War. Always called “Auburn,” the college was sponsored by local Methodists. When armed conflict interrupted its promising beginning, the college served as a Confederate hospital, endured a severe tornado, and survived a federal invasion. Struggling to reopen after the Civil War, the college operated for a few years with insufficient funds until the Methodists offered the institution to the state.

In 1887 fire destroyed Main Hall, which was replaced by what became Samford Hall the following year.


March 2, at 4 PM in Special Collections & Archives, Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

J. Wayne Flynt recently retired from his position as Distinguished University Professor at Auburn University and has written numerous books, articles, and reviews on Alabama and Southern history.

Following the Civil War, Alabama took advantage of the provisions of the Morrill Act, which encouraged the establishment of a land grant college in every state. Tuscaloosa, Florence, and Auburn became embroiled in the political struggle to determine the new school’s location. African-Americans, who had a new-found political voice, also entered the fray by advocating that the state set aside a portion of the land grant funds to support agricultural education for blacks. Eventually, the legislature selected Auburn and the new land grant school took over the facilities of the East Alabama Male College.

The class of 1916 included one female graduate, Sarah Evelyn Moore.


March 14, at 4 PM in Special Collections & Archives, Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

Leah Rawls Atkins received her Ph.D. degree from Auburn University, served as founding director of the Center for Arts & Humanities, and has published numerous works on Alabama history, including A Century of Women at Auburn.

In 1892 the land grant college at Auburn admitted its first three women students. The female enrollment rose from 18 in 1920 to 198 ten years later. It almost doubled from 1946 to 1950. The female students who enrolled following World War II were overseen by Dean of Women Katharine Cooper Cater’s firm hand. By the 1970s, however, coed rules at Auburn had been virtually abolished. At the same time, women athletes increasingly competed in intercollegiate sports and female students made inroads into curricula formerly dominated by men.

J.W. Pate, Lamar County farm agent, with car and trailer, September 16, 1925.


April 18, at 4 PM in Special Collections & Archives, Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

Dwayne Cox holds a Ph.D. degree in history, serves as head of Special Collections & Archives at Auburn University, and is author of "Alabama Farm Agents, 1914-1922" and "Luther N. Duncan, the Extension Service, and the Farm Bureau, 1921-1932," both of which appeared in the Alabama Review (October 1994 and July 1998).

In 1914 the Smith-Lever Act created what became today's Cooperative Extension System. In Alabama and other states a corps of county farm and home demonstration agents began to carry information regarding scientific agriculture, sound business practices, and home management from the land grant universities to the nation's rural families. In Alabama and other states extension agents forged a close alliance with the Farm Bureau to provide a vehicle for cooperative purchasing and marketing. Luther N. Duncan, the first full-time extension director in Alabama, provided strong leadership in these endeavors. He eventually served as president of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, later renamed Auburn University.

In 1982 Auburn defeated Alabama when Bo Jackson went “over the top” to score the winning touchdown.


April 19, at 4 PM in Special Collections & Archives, Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

Anthony Donaldson, a doctoral candidate in history at Auburn University, is writing his dissertation on the longstanding political rivalry between Auburn University and the University of Alabama.

The rivalry between Auburn University and the University of Alabama began long before either school fielded an intercollegiate football team. Tuscaloosa and Auburn competed for the distinction of providing a home for the state’s new land grant college. Isaac Taylor Tichenor, who served as president of Auburn from 1872 to 1882, complained that the rivalry between the two schools sapped the resources of both. During the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, the schools competed over state funding formulae and the elimination of duplicate programs, but gradually saw the wisdom of settling their differences behind the scenes. This same pattern appeared in other states, as schools such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University competed on the athletic field and in the halls of the legislature.

Immediately following World War II, Auburn housed returning veterans in surplus tugboat deckhouses.


May 4, , at 4 PM, in Special Collections & Archives, Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

David Alsobrook received his Ph.D. degree in history from Auburn University and currently serves as director of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Following World War II, returning veterans swamped American colleges and universities by taking advantage of the provisions of the GI Bill. Auburn University was no exception. Enrollments swelled, placing demands upon faculty, administration, and facilities that stretched resources to the limit and beyond. Despite some predictions to the contrary, former service personnel became leaders in academic achievement. They also dominated extracurricular activities. Furthermore, returning GI’s possessed a measure of life experiences far exceeding those of the traditional student. Auburn University—and American higher education—would never be the same again.

On January 4, 1964, Harold A. Franklin became the first African-American student to enroll at Auburn University.


September 12, at 4 PM in Special Collections & Archives, Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

Martin T. Olliff received his Ph.D. degree from Auburn University, currently directs the Archives of Wiregrass History and Culture at Troy University, Dothan Campus, and is author of “’Just Another Day on the Plains:’ The Desegregation of Auburn University,” which appeared in the Alabama Review (April 2001).

Harold A. Franklin received a bachelor’s degree in history from Alabama State University, enrolled as Auburn University’s first African-American student two years later, and in 1974 earned his master’s degree from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

On January 4, 1964, Harold A. Franklin became the first African-American to enroll at Auburn University. His action was a defining moment in the confrontations between pro- and anti-segregation sentiments within the university community, among the citizens of Alabama, between black applicants and the university, and between the federal courts and state government. It also represented a signal event in the life of the young man who broke the color barrier at Auburn.

September 21
, at 4 PM in Foy Union Gallery.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System will host an exhibit of Works Progress Administration paintings depicting the history of agriculture in Alabama. The paintings by John Augustus Walker, a Mobile native, were first displayed at the 1939 Alabama State Fair in Birmingham in an exhibit entitled “Historical Panorama of Alabama Agriculture.” The WPA, the largest and most comprehensive “New Deal” agency, provided jobs and income opportunities to the unemployed during the great depression.

The lecture will be given by Extension art specialist Bruce Dupree, who has recently done research on the paintings. Extension Interim Director Gaines Smith invites you to the exhibition lecture and reception on Thursday, when Dupree will talk about the murals and WPA art.

Return on Saturday, Sept. 23, before the Buffalo game to meet the artist’s son, a Baldwin County resident.

For more information, contact Carol Whatley, Extension Communications co-leader, at (334) 844-5690 or cwhatley@aces.edu.

Auburn’s 1934 polo team won two matches and lost one under Coach Tom Gunby, an Army ROTC instructor.


October 12, at 4 PM in Special Collections & Archives, Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

David Housel graduated from Auburn University in 1969 with a degree in journalism, taught in the AU Department of Journalism from 1972 to 1980, subsequently served the university as Sports Information Director and Athletic Director, and is the author of Saturdays to Remember (1973) and From the Desk of David Housel: A Collection of Auburn Stories (1991).

Intercollegiate athletics has long been part of campus life at Auburn. In 1892 the school instituted intercollegiate football, which has consistently held the highest profile, but sports from women’s basketball to polo have been part of the Auburn experience for decades. Successful athletic teams have generated boundless enthusiasm, while unsuccessful ones have had the opposite effect. The story of Auburn University cannot be told without a chapter on intercollegiate athletics.

A unit of the Army Air Corps based at Maxwell Field provided this 1930 aerial view of the Auburn campus.


October 24, at 4 PM in Special Collections & Archives, Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

Jack Simms received a B.S. degree in journalism and English from Auburn University in 1949, earned his master’s degree in journalism from Louisiana State University two years later, held various positions with the Associated Press for the next 23 years, headed the Department of Journalism at Auburn from its founding in 1974 until 1992, and collaborated with Mickey Logue to produce Auburn: A Pictorial History of the Loveliest Village (1981, revised 1996).

Photographers have documented the history of Auburn University from Old Main Hall through the latest still pictures that appear in electronic publications. These images illuminate the university’s past in a way that textual documents cannot, but require careful selection and analysis to convey an accurate perspective. This slide-illustrated program draws upon decades of experience in the selection and description of images that best depict the history of Auburn University through photography.


On February 4, 1926, home demonstration agent Thalia Bell organized this radio listening party in Tallapoosa County.


November 9, at 4 PM in Special Collections & Archives, Ralph Brown Draughon Library.

J. Wayne Flynt recently retired from his position as Distinguished University Professor at Auburn University and has written numerous book, articles, and reviews on Alabama and Southern history.

Congress established the land grant college system in part to provide academic training in disciplines that served the larger community. Isaac Taylor Tichenor, the first president of Alabama’s new land grant college, supported this with the missionary zeal of New South proponents. In 1914 Congress furthered this mission by creating a network of farm extension agents, and later home demonstration agents, linked to the land grant schools in every state. This sense of community service has been exemplified by Auburn University faculty in every academic discipline. These individuals have carried the benefits of academic research to homes, families, and business across the state from the earliest days of the school.

The Auburn University Sesquicentennial Lecture Series is sponsored by the Center for Arts and Humanities, the Auburn University Libraries, Auburn University Outreach, and the Auburn University Sesquicentennial Committee.

Previous AU First Ladies, Mrs. Harry M. Philpott, Mrs. James E. Martin and Mrs. Wilford S. Bailey, on the lawn at the President's Home.

December 7
, at 2 PM in the Special Collections and Archives Department of the Ralph B. Draughon Library. A reception will follow at the President’s Home, and a shuttle will be available to transport guests from the library.

Auburn University First Lady Nell Richardson earned a bachelor’s degree from AU in 1983 and taught English and French at Tuskegee Institute High School, Opelika High School and Jeff Davis High School in Montgomery. She also taught English at Southern Union and Alex City Community College. While working on a master’s degree, she taught in AU’s Department of English. She earned an M.S. degree in English Education in 1988. She retired from Montgomery Public Schools in 2004 to join her husband in Auburn when he was named the university's president.

Mrs. Richardson’s lecture will be drawn from research on the nine families who have lived in the president’s home since it was built by Luther Duncan in 1939.

She will also address details of the house, including its setting, garden, and furnishings. A special feature of the program will be the unveiling of one or more portraits of former AU first ladies.