The Origins of Journalism Education at UNC-Chapel
Dr. Thomas A. Bowers, Professor Emeritus
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
2009 Gladys Hall Coates University History Lecture
Thank you. I’m deeply honored to have been asked to deliver
this Gladys Coates University History Lecture for 2009. I am humbled
as I look at the scholars in the audience who have studied UNC history
for much longer than I have.
I want to recognize and thank a special person today. My wife, Mary
Ellen Bowers, has been my inspiration and a critical reader of the
book manuscript. I also want to recognize and thank Jean Folkerts,
dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, for asking
me to write the school’s history as part of the commemoration
of the one hundredth anniversary of the first journalism course at
To write that history, I read every issue of the Tar Heel
from 1893 to 1924. I examined the correspondence and archives of presidents,
chancellors, deans, former faculty members and alumni. I interviewed
more than 40 former students and faculty members. Today, instead of
skimming across one hundred years of that history, I will focus on
the origins of journalism instruction at Carolina—up to the
creation of the Department of Journalism in 1924.
My research was guided by an effort to learn what led to the creation
of the first journalism course in 1909, and I assumed it happened
because of three factors. One, there had to be students who were interested
in learning about journalism. Two, there needed to be a faculty member
who was interested in journalism and who was qualified to teach the
course. Three, the university had to see enough value in a journalism
course to divert resources from other courses. I found all three factors.
The existence of a campus newspaper in 1909 was prima facie evidence
of student interest in journalism at the time, and a weekly student
newspaper had been published for sixteen years before the first journalism
course. The University Athletic Association published the first issue
of the Tar Heel on February 23, 1893, in part to build support
for athletic activities.
In the 1890s, students in the Athletic Association exercised considerable
control over both intercollegiate and intramural athletic activities
on campus. Stories in the Tar Heel indicated that the association
hired coaches, purchased equipment, scheduled games and secured facilities.
Illustrating how athletics and journalism were co-mingled at the time,
the first editor of the Tar Heel, Charles Baskerville, was
also the star halfback and manager of the football team—and
a chemistry teacher.
Although it was published by the Athletic Association, the four-page
newspaper that appeared every Thursday devoted itself to the larger
interests of the university. It was also a business venture, and it
promoted itself as the “best, quickest and surest” way
for advertisers to reach students.
The Tar Heel was not the first student publication, however.
A literary magazine, the North Carolina University Magazine,
was first published in 1844 and was followed sporadically by other
publications with the same or similar names. Louis Round Wilson said
the magazine’s first issue was criticized because it included
news items that were deemed suitable for a weekly newspaper but not
a literary magazine. Kemp Battle reported that a newspaper called
the Chapel Hillian was published around 1889 but disappeared
before the Tar Heel came on the scene. In 1894, a group of
students who were opposed to the influence of fraternities in the
Athletic Association started a rival newspaper—the White
and Blue—but it was absorbed by the Tar Heel in
Sports coverage dominated the Tar Heel in its early decades.
The front page was devoted primarily to sports stories, and editorials
were often about athletics. Intercollegiate football got the most
attention, along with baseball, tennis, and track and field. An 1898
editorial asked why basketball had not been introduced at the university.
Ten years later—in 1908—a news story reported that 20
students who had played basketball in high school had formed a basketball
association and collected 18 dollars to support their effort. That
was the beginning of basketball at Carolina, which is also celebrating
its centennial this year.
The interest in journalism was not just an extracurricular activity,
and many former Tar Heel staffers became journalists after
they graduated—without formal journalism education or training.
Three members of the class of 1897 worked for major newspapers. Ralph
Graves was Sunday editor of the New York Times, Robert Follin
was city editor of the Charlotte Observer, and William Bost
was Raleigh correspondent for the Greensboro Daily News.
Charles Phillips Russell of the class of 1903 was the city editor
of the New York Call and later became a journalism faculty
member. Victor Stephenson of the class of 1905 worked for the New
York Evening Post and the Charlotte Observer. Quincy
Sharpe Mills of the class of 1906 was an editorial writer for the
New York Evening Sun.
The Tar Heel’s editorial offices were in a storeroom
near the Methodist Church on Franklin Street. The newspaper was printed
in a separate location by a private company called the University
Press—which has its own interesting story.
Five faculty members incorporated the University Press in February
1893. John Manning was professor of law; Francis Venable was professor
of chemistry; Joshua Gore was professor of physics and natural philosophy;
Richard Whitehead was professor of anatomy, physiology, and materia
medica; and Collier Cobb, who was manager of the company, was professor
of geology and mineralogy. The shop foreman was Zachary Broughton,
who may have had a connection with Broughton and Edwards Printing
Company in Raleigh. The printing operation occupied three rooms on
the north side of the first floor of New West.
In addition to commercial printing, the company printed scientific
journals, university catalogs, the University Magazine, and
the Tar Heel. The company started with a press capable of
printing a tabloid-sized newspaper, and the fact that the first issue
of Tar Heel on February 23 immediately followed the formation
of the University Press was no coincidence.
Wilson said the university accommodated the University Press as a
private enterprise in a campus building because it provided a convenient
and inexpensive service. It also provided employment and training
for students who were interested in the production aspects of newspaper
Among those students was Oscar Coffin of Asheboro, who earned 15 cents
an hour as a typesetter. A member of the class of 1909, he had been
editor of the Tar Heel and later was editor of the Raleigh
Times, chairman of the Department of Journalism and first dean
of the School of Journalism. The quotation that Coffin chose for his
half-page in the 1909 Yackety Yack foretold his philosophy
when he headed the journalism program from 1926 to 1953: “Here’s
to those who love us well; all the rest can go to hell.”
He recalled that the printing shop had two cases of 11-point type
for the Tar Heel, German and French fonts for scholarly journals,
and a Greek font for course examinations. Coffin particularly remembered
two cases of 10-point italic type he used to set the names of bones
in a course outline for Professor Charles Magnum.
The university purchased the company’s assets for $2,000 on
December 31, 1899, and moved it out of New West. The expanding Department
of Pharmacy needed the space, and university officials were concerned
about the fire danger associated with having the printing operations
in the building. Printing processes of that era involved the melting
of lead at high temperatures, and the interior of New West was made
almost entirely of wood.
In 1901 the university built a one-story, brick building for the University
Press near the current site of the Phillips Annex next to Carroll
Hall. The building was called the Engine House or Printery. That makes
for an interesting coincidence—the current School of Journalism
and Mass Communication is near the site of some of the earliest journalistic
activities on campus. It also suggests an image of Oscar Coffin gazing
out the window at the future site of a school of journalism that he
could not begin to comprehend.
The print shop included an old Babcock cylinder press that was powered
by an unreliable steam engine connected to the nearby power plant—which
stood where Carroll Hall now stands. The antiquated press was so loud
that people on nearby Cameron Avenue could tell when the Tar Heel
was being printed.
I discovered the story of another journalistic activity on campus
that has not been chronicled in other histories of the university.
The Tar Heel’s first issue in 1893 included a directory
of campus organizations—probably to fill space. The directory
listed what one would expect—the Dialectic and Philanthropic
Societies and the University Athletic Association. It also included
the University Press Association, an organization of students who
wrote stories about the university and sent them to their hometown
newspapers. University administrators supported the Press Association
because the students’ stories publicized the university in the
absence of a news bureau, which was not created until later. Students
met regularly on Fridays to receive news reports from William Cunningham
Smith, an assistant in the university library, who conferred with
President Edwin Alderman to assemble news for the students.
I’ve accounted for two of the factors leading to the first journalism
course. One, student interest was evident in the weekly student newspaper
and the University Press Association, and several graduates worked
for major state and national newspapers. Two, the university was favorable
to the idea of journalism courses because student journalists provided
valuable publicity through the student press association. The third
element was a faculty member who was interested in journalism, who
had some newspaper experience, and who clearly understood the importance
of journalism to the university. It is easy to visualize how the three
factors came together.
The Press Association held annual banquets—often at the old
Eagle Hotel—that were attended by university leaders who wanted
to support the students’ publicity efforts. At the banquet on
February 14, 1907, the guest of honor was Edward Kidder Graham, who
was a charismatic 31-year-old faculty member in the Department of
English and dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
Graham spoke to the students that night in glowing terms about college
journalism, saying, “The man who sees every side of life in
this country, and the man who has the most power in the nation today
is the newspaperman.” It was especially true in North Carolina,
he said, and for rapid advancement and attainment of power and fame,
no calling offered as much opportunity as journalism. He said the
number of students interested in journalism had been growing steadily,
and students saw the opportunity that journalism offered for a good
At the end of the banquet, members of the Press Association surrounded
Graham and beseeched him to teach a journalism course. (Do I know
for a fact that such a thing happened? No. The report in the Tar
Heel did not say it happened, but it is easy to imagine that
Less than two years later, on September 9, 1909, Graham greeted students
in the first journalism course, English 16. The class was probably
held in Smith Hall—now known as Playmakers Theater—because
I found a letter stating that journalism classes in 1916 were taught
in “the old library,” which is what Smith Hall was called
at the time. I believe Smith Hall was used for English Department
classes after the library was moved to Hill Hall in 1908 and that
it was the location of Graham’s first journalism course.
The fact that it was taught in the English Department was not unusual.
The earliest college journalism courses were about writing, and journalism
programs at other universities had similar origins in English departments.
College-level journalism instruction in the United States began in
1869 at Washington College—later known as Washington and Lee—in
Virginia. The program, which was championed by the president of Washington
College, General Robert E. Lee, included scholarships and internships.
It lasted only one year, however, probably because of Lee’s
death in 1870 and opposition from leading newspapers. The nation’s
first school of journalism was founded at the University of Missouri
Graham taught the two-credit journalism course in addition to English
3, “Advanced Composition,” which was a prerequisite for
the journalism course. The catalog described English 16 as “the
history of journalism; the technique of style; the structure of the
news story; and the study of modern journals, including discussions
and practical exercises.”
Graham was a logical person to teach the journalism course. Before
graduating in 1898, he had been president of the Athletic Association,
associate editor of the Tar Heel in 1896 and editor-in-chief
in November and December of 1897. As dean of the College of Liberal
Arts, Graham was in a position to respond to students’ desires
to create a journalism course, especially because he was so well-liked
by students. A Tar Heel story in 1908 about his impending
marriage said he was “one of the strongest men in the faculty
and universally respected by the students, who recognize him as a
friend, a gentleman, who will give a square deal under all circumstances,
and a teacher of rare ability.”
Graham also had ties to a family of journalists in Chapel Hill. In
1900, he was a boarder with Mrs. Julia Graves in her boarding house
at the present site of the Carolina Inn. One of her sons, Ralph, had
graduated from UNC in 1897, had worked on the Tar Heel at
the same time as Graham, and later became Sunday editor of the New
York Times. A younger son, Louis, lived in the home while Graham
boarded there. Louis graduated in 1902 and also worked at the New
York Times, was manager of the Parker and Bridge public relations
firm, and worked for the New York City government. In 1921, he would
return to UNC to teach journalism, run the News Bureau and start the
Chapel Hill Weekly.
There was another connection between the Graham and Graves families.
Edward Kidder Graham married Susan Moses in 1908, and their son, Edward
Kidder Graham Jr., was born in 1911. Louis Graves married Susan Moses’
sister, Mildred Moses, and they raised the younger Edward Graham after
his parents died. He later became chancellor of the North Carolina
College for Women in Greensboro.
Little is known about students in the early courses, but an editorial
note in 1911 said the editors had given responsibility for one issue
of the Tar Heel to students in the journalism course, who
were Frank Hough, John Halliburton, Thomas Nash Jr., and Levi Brown.
Brown probably took the course as a graduate student—because
he wrote his undergraduate thesis in 1910 about journalism at Carolina.
After receiving a master’s degree from the university in 1911,
Brown was a Washington, D.C., correspondent for the Raleigh News
and Observer, White House correspondent for the Philadelphia
Record, and director of publicity for the U.S. Committee on Public
Information in World War I. He later wrote for several publications,
was president of Lord, Thomas, and Logan advertising agency in New
York City, and was public relations director of Pan American Airways
when he died in 1947. When the university raised money in 1931 to
build Graham Memorial Building to honor Edward Kidder Graham, Brown
donated the considerable sum of $80,000.
Despite their low numbers on campus at the time, women were on the
Tar Heel staff, and some were probably in early journalism
classes. Mary MacCrae, the first woman admitted to UNC and the daughter
of Law School Dean James MacCrae, was associate editor in 1898, and
Hazel Holland was managing editor in 1901. Louise Wilson was associate
editor in 1911 and may have been the first woman to enroll in a journalism
course. Watson Kasey, a woman, was associate editor in 1912, and Anna
Liddell was associate editor in 1915.
Graham taught the journalism course again in 1912 and 1913. In the
intervening years of 1910 to 1912, and again from 1913 to 1915, the
course was taught by Professor James Finch Royster, a Shakespeare
expert in the English Department. Nothing is known of Royster’s
journalism background, but he was related to Vermont Connecticut Royster,
who graduated from UNC in 1935 and became editor of the Wall Street
Journal before returning to the university to teach in the School
of Journalism from 1971 to 1986.
Graham became university president in 1913, and Richard Hurt Thornton
was hired in 1915—primarily to teach journalism courses—after
he visited the University of Wisconsin to observe its journalism program.
The UNC journalism program expanded to four courses in 1915, including
news writing, news editing, editorial writing, and feature writing.
Students who completed the four journalism courses and certain liberal
arts electives could receive what was called a certificate in journalism.
A year later, Graham enlisted Thornton and the journalism program
in his public service effort to extend the boundaries of the campus
to the boundaries of the state. On December 7, 1916, one hundred newspaper
people from North Carolina gathered in the Dialectic Society Hall
in New East for the first North Carolina Newspaper Institute, which
was cosponsored by the North Carolina Press Association.
In welcoming the newspaper people, Graham said the university and
newspapers needed to work together to “solve the great problems
of the people in both prosperous and stunted communities.” The
newspapermen had been invited to the university, he said, “not
to be taught by us, but that we may be a medium through which knowledge
may be spread and given to the great bulk of the people which both
newspapers and the university try to reach. Just as the university
is the product of the ideas and feelings of its community, so is the
newspaper.” The idea of the Newspaper Institute has continued
to the present day.
The staff of the Tar Heel published the Press Institute
News for institute attendees. It was the first daily newspaper
published on campus—albeit for only three days—on December
7th, 8th, and 9th. The United Press wire service provided national
news, and a typesetting machine was provided by the Mergenthaler Linotype
Company of New York.
Two global events affected journalism instruction in 1917 and 1918.
The United States entered World War One in April 1917, and journalism
courses were curtailed because of military activities on campus. Many
students enrolled in military courses, joined the Student Army Training
Corps, conducted drills and maneuvers, and practiced digging trenches
in Battle Park. Some dormitories were called barracks, and the Army
opened a post exchange on campus. The Tar Heel did its part
to conserve paper by reducing its type size and the number of pages
from six to four. The end of the war on November 11, 1918, brought
an end to military activities on campus.
The worldwide Spanish influenza epidemic—which began as the
war ended—also had an impact on the university. More than five
hundred of the one thousand students enrolled at the time became ill,
but only three died. A three-week quarantine of patients was lifted
in October 1918 as the epidemic was waning. When two university doctors
became ill, second-year medical students helped to care for the sick.
A Tar Heel editorial implored professors to open classroom
windows to let in healthful fresh air.
The greatest tragedy of the influenza epidemic was reported in the
Tar Heel on October 30, one week after the newspaper had
reported that the influenza epidemic was almost over. A front page
story reported the death of 42-year-old President Edward Graham on
October 26, five days after he became ill. The
Tar Heel had mentioned another notable flu victim a week
earlier when it reported that “Mr. T. C. Wolfe, managing editor
of the Tar Heel, left the Hill last week to be with his brother,
reported very ill with pneumonia at his home in Asheville.”
That referred to Thomas Wolfe’s visit to his brother Ben, whose
death was portrayed as the death of Ben Gant in Wolfe’s novel,
Look Homeward, Angel.
Graham’s role in the development of journalism education in
North Carolina was recognized at the North Carolina Press Association
meeting in 1919 in a 12-stanza poem by William Hill, which ended thusly:
Weed well his grave, here sleeps a man so true,
Tis well to honor him,
So bright a gem (alas! we find so few,)
His fame shall never dim.
And as we think, of all that he hath done,
To build and hearten youth,
We now can see, the victory he won,
For God, and Man, and Truth.
Clarence Hibbard began teaching journalism courses in 1919. Student
journalists did not understand the nature of an academic department,
and a news story in the Tar Heel identified Hibbard as head
of the journalism department in the English department and said he
was qualified because of his extensive experience as a newspaper correspondent
in Japan. In offering the position to Hibbard, Edwin Greenlaw, chairman
of the English Department, said he would teach three journalism courses
to twenty-five men, five days a week. He also said Hibbard and his
wife could rent a new bungalow in Chapel Hill for $25 a month. It
had water, electricity, and a good location. Its lack of a furnace
would not be a problem, Greenlaw said, because it had a fireplace
and an adequate supply of pine and oak firewood.
The Tar Heel was optimistic about the future of journalism
instruction at the university, saying the journalism “department”
would get permanent quarters, including a reading room, in the basement
of Alumni Building as soon as the Electrical Department moved into
Phillips Hall, the new science building. The news story read like
an editorial, expressing hope for a “school” that would
compare favorably to others in the country. It said the new “department”
and the new School of Commerce showed that educators had responded
to demands of the times and had given young people in the state what
they wanted at UNC instead of making them go out of the state. The
story boasted that journalism students at UNC took only five percent
of their courses in journalism, compared to 15 percent in the “big
schools of journalism in the large Eastern universities.” Despite
what the story said, the university had not yet created a department
or a school of journalism.
Journalism at the university reached a significant milestone in 1921
with the hiring of Louis Graves as head of the News Bureau and the
first person to hold the title of professor of journalism in the Department
of English. Graves, the first journalism teacher who had significant
newspaper experience, replaced Hibbard, who continued to teach American
literature in the English Department. The student newspaper said Graves
was an “old Carolina man” who finished school in 1902.
The story said he had been a great football player and was the best
tennis player in the university.
One of Graves’ first actions was to join the North Carolina
Press Association, and he addressed the group’s annual convention
in Asheville on July 28. He spoke colorfully about the role of journalism
education. “The craft of newspaper writing has suffered from
a vagabond atmosphere which used to surround it, and writers used
to be looked upon as freaks, strolling minstrels and drunkards, who
are looked upon as hanging around the fingertips of reputable society.”
More preparation should be given to training in journalism, he advised,
and a school of journalism was the solution.
Graves’ News Bureau duties forced him to cut back his journalism
teaching, and he compensated by assigning students to work in the
News Bureau to write news stories about the university for the state’s
newspapers. However, he was further distracted by his efforts to start
his own newspaper in Chapel Hill, which occurred with the first issue
of the Chapel Hill Weekly on March 1, 1923. The newspaper
won the tug-of-war for Graves’ time, and he resigned his university
positions in 1924. University officials concluded that it would not
be practical to combine both responsibilities and that a separate
department of journalism was needed.
With a front-page story on May 27, 1924, the Tar Heel reported
that although university officials had kept a “sphinx-like silence,”
students had heard rumors about plans to open a Department of Journalism
for the coming academic year. The report said Gerald W. Johnson, an
editorial writer for the Greensboro Daily News, had agreed
to be the chairman of the department. He was a North Carolina native
and a 1911 graduate of Wake Forest University who had worked at the
Lexington Dispatch. When classes started on September 19,
1924, thirteen students were in the basic course and four in the advanced
course, with five women among the seventeen students. The department
was located on the second floor of New West, above the student newspaper
offices and below a room where the wrestling team practiced.
Fifteen years after Edward Kidder Graham taught the first journalism
course, journalism at Carolina reached a milestone as a separate academic
department in 1924. Graham legitimized journalism education at the
University of North Carolina and made it an integral part of the university’s
academic mission and service to the state. From that humble beginning,
journalism at Carolina has grown to more than 800 students, nearly
50 faculty members, and more than 20 staff members. It is recognized
today as one of the premier programs of its kind in the world.
Johnson was followed by other visionaries who shaped the school as
it adapted to changing demands. He was chairman for only two years
before he was succeeded by Oscar “Skipper” Coffin, a legendary
curmudgeon who led the department and school for 27 years. Neil Luxon
came from Ohio State in 1953 to turn the school sharply to a more
academic focus, including a graduate program. Wayne Danielson, from
1964 to 1969, and Jack Adams, from 1969 to 1979, provided continuity
and stability as the campus weathered growth, racial integration and
the Vietnam War. From 1979 to 2005, Richard Cole transformed the school
by expanding its programs, raising millions of dollars, and moving
it to a newer and much larger home. Today, Jean Folkerts leads the
school as it enters the second century of journalism education at
1. Levi Brown, “Journalism in the University of North Carolina,”
(Graduating thesis, A.B., 1910).
2. Wilson, Chronicles of the Sesquicentennial (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1947), 286.
3. Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, Vol.
II: From 1868 to 1912 (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton Printing Co.,
4. Archibald Henderson, The Campus of the First State University
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1949), 306-07.
5. Nina Thornton to N. Ferebee Taylor, July 19, 1976, the Office of
Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Nelson
Ferebee Taylor Records #40023, University Archives, Wilson Library,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Nina Thornton was the
widow of Richard Thornton, who taught journalism courses in 1915-18.
6. Joseph A. Mirando, “The First College Journalism Students:
Answering Robert E. Lee’s Offer of a Higher Education.”
(Paper presented to the History division of the Association for Education
in Journalism and Mass Communication, Washington, D.C., Aug. 9-12,
© Tom Bowers, 2009