Documenting History

Display in Maugans Alumni Center to include diplomas from 1885 to 2013

In the diploma of Longwood’s first male graduate, the late Walter J. Payne Jr., Class of 1934, “her” is scratched out with a pen and “his” is added. This piece of Longwood history—along with diplomas bearing every Longwood name designation and signed by every former president since Longwood became a public institution in 1884—will be on display in the Maugans Alumni Center.

A “diploma wall” in the McGaughy Library will contain 19 diplomas spanning 128 years—from Lula M. Duncan, an 1885 graduate of Farmville Female College, to Melissa Haislip, a 2013 graduate of Longwood University and the first nursing class, who was killed in a June 2014 car crash. Two diplomas from before 1884, including an 1862 diploma that is the oldest in the university’s possession, also will be displayed in the center’s alumni suite.

The Office of Alumni Relations already had a few of the diplomas in its possession, but most were donated at the request of Nancy Britton Shelton ’68, associate vice president for alumni relations.

“I wanted to capture this part of our history, and I specifically wanted the signature of every president on a diploma,” said Shelton, who began the project two years ago. “People over the years have given me diplomas; if not for that, this project wouldn’t haven’t happened. When someone dies, relatives often give us something to remember her or him by—the diploma, a yearbook, a pin. They don’t want those things thrown away or put in a yard sale.”

The wall will be home to diplomas signed by 15 former presidents—from William Henry Ruffner (1884-87) to Marge Connelly (interim 2012-13)—and bearing the institution’s previous name designations: State Female Normal School, State Normal School for Women, State Teachers College and Longwood College.

The Longwood College diplomas include one from the first year they were conferred (Virginia Bowie Brooks ’50) and the last year (Kendall Lee ’01). Among the Longwood University diplomas is one from the last year they were signed by Patricia P. Cormier (Cam Patterson ’10).

Shelton’s diploma, from the first year that Dr. Henry I. Willett Jr. signed diplomas, will be on the wall. So will that of Shelton’s mother, Sue Yeaman Britton ’34 (side-by-side with the first male graduate’s diploma) and
of Britton’s mother, Maud Chernault Yeaman, Class of 1905.

Three diplomas signed by Dr. Joseph L. Jarman will adorn the wall—one for each of the institution’s name designations during his presidency from 1902-46.

“I thought one diploma wasn’t enough for Dr. Jarman because of the three different names,” said Shelton.

Shelton has always cherished the oldest diploma in Longwood’s possession, that of 1862 graduate Ella Warren, donated about 20 years ago by Susan Paul ’63 of Farmville, Warren’s great-granddaughter.

Warren graduated at age 16, which Shelton said wasn’t uncommon for that era. The Farm-ville Female College diploma is signed by George LaMonte, president from 1859-62. Warren’s father, Howell Edmunds Warren, was among a group of prominent local citizens who asked the state legislature in 1860 to change the school’s name to Farmville Female College, according to Longwood College: A History by the late Dr. Rosemary Sprague, a longtime Longwood English professor.

The other diploma that predates Longwood’s transition to a public institution belonged to Lucy E. Knight, an 1877 graduate of Farmville College. Her diploma is signed by Paul Whitehead, president from 1873-82.

Many alumni will recognize the name on one sheepskin on display. Barbara Bishop ’60 was an art professor at Longwood from 1965 until her death in 1991 and helped establish the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts.
The McGaughy Library, named for longtime Longwood benefactor Page Cook Axson McGaughy ’46, will be located in the alumni suite. The alumni center is named for the late Katharine Allen Maugans ’46, whose
$2.5 million bequest made the facility possible.

By: Kent Booty