Digital Archives Postcards

Dunbar Rowland: Education and Early Career

This series explores the life of Dunbar Rowland (1864-1937), first director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. He served from 1902 to 1937.

"A View of A. & M. College Grounds, Starkville, Miss." Call Number: PI/1992.0001 (MDAH Collection)
"A View of A. & M. College Grounds, Starkville, Miss." Call Number: PI/1992.0001 (MDAH Collection)1

Dunbar Rowland attended private school in Memphis, Tennessee, and preparatory school at Oakland Academy in Mississippi.  In 1882, he enrolled at the recently established Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Mississippi State University) and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1886. That summer, Rowland studied law at the office of Judge R. H. Golladay in Coffeeville.2

Rowland entered law school at the University of Mississippi in September 1886, graduating with the L.L. B. (Bachelor of Laws, predecessor to the J. D.) degree in 1888. He then opened law offices in Memphis and worked there for four years before moving his practice to Coffeeville, Mississippi, in 1893.

During his law career, Rowland established a reputation as an amateur historian. He regularly published articles in newspapers and in the Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, a multi-volume work published from 1898 to 1914 (the Centenary series of Publications, published from 1915 to 1925, was edited by Rowland). A biographical note in the third volume (1900) says:

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. He is especially interested in the social, industrial and political problems that are peculiar to the South, and has done much to popularize the study of Mississippi history by his numerous interesting historical and biographical contributions which have appeared from time to time in the Memphis Commercial Appeal and in the Atlanta Constitution.”3

Rowland’s historical writings romanticized the Old South. The use of the word “peculiar” is particularly interesting above. It is a word loaded with meaning due to its use to describe slavery as the “peculiar institution.”  We can only guess what Franklin L. Riley, the editor of Publications, thought at the time, but perhaps “social, industrial and political problems that are peculiar to the South” was a euphemism for the continuing legacy of slavery, Civil War and Reconstruction, and the emerging Jim Crow culture.

Rowland certainly romanticized the Old South. For example, in his article “Plantation Life in Mississippi before the War” in Publications, Vol. III (1900), he waxed eloquently about plantation men, saying:

The writer has a heartfelt conviction that the chivalrous, courtly, courageous Southern gentleman of the ante-bellum period was the grandest embodiment of the most superb manhood that ever graced a forum or died upon a battlefield.4

On the plantation wives, Rowland continues:

Of all the characters that history has preserved for the love of succeeding generations the Southern mother should be enshrined in fame’s proudest niche.5

This philosophy would have implications later for Rowland when he applied for the directorship of MDAH in 1902. So, by 1900 to 1901, Rowland was still in Coffeeville practicing law, but he was also cultivating a reputation as a historian and interacting with the men who mattered in the political and historical landscape of Mississippi.

1 The Chemistry Building (1883, right) and Administration/Chapel Building (1880, center), existed during Rowland’s time there. See “The University’s Historic Buildings,” University Libraries, Mississippi State University. (accessed January 12, 2011).
2 Biographical information from “Rowland, Dunbar Biographical Sketches” and “Rowland, Dunbar Death,” Subject Files (MDAH).

3 Franklin L. Riley, ed., Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, vol. III, (Oxford, Mississippi: Mississippi Historical Society, 1900), 85.

4 Dunbar Rowland, “Plantation Life in Mississippi before the War,” in Publications, vol. III, 87.

5 Ibid., 97.