Dunbar Rowland Becomes Director

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.

Capitol Street as Rowland would have seen it, c. 1900. Call Number: PI/CI/1981.0041 Item 24 (MDAH Collection)
Capitol Street as Rowland would have seen it, c. 1900. Call Number: PI/CI/1981.0041 Item 24 (MDAH Collection)1

The act establishing the Mississippi Department of Archives and History provided for a nine-member board of trustees, which met for the first time on March 14, 1902, to organize the department. The board included every member of the Mississippi Historical Society executive committee, except Charles H. Brough, who was replaced by G. H. Brunson, presumably because Brough was under consideration for the directorship. The board set the length of its members’ terms and passed resolutions commending the work of Franklin L. Riley, authorizing the copying of Confederate veteran records, and the filing of all newspapers published in the state. They also authorized the director to solicit donations of archival material, portraits, and artifacts to the department.2

Perhaps the board’s most important task was that of electing the first director of the department. Names submitted for the position were Charles H. Brough of Clinton, W. F. Hamilton of Carrollton, and Dunbar Rowland of Coffeeville.

Rowland’s main competition for the directorship was Charles Hillman Brough (1876-1935), chair of the history department at Mississippi College in Clinton. Brough certainly seemed like a more qualified candidate for the position. In 1898, he received his Ph.D. in economics, history, and jurisprudence from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and subsequently was elected as the chair of Philosophy, History, and Economics at Mississippi College. He had published articles on the economic history of Mississippi in the Publications series and also served on the executive committee of the Mississippi Historical Society.3

Brough was the requisite academic, whereas Rowland was a lawyer who dabbled in history in his spare time. What was the deciding factor in their candidacies? Historian Patricia Galloway suggests that it was Rowland’s rhetoric and support of the agenda of Mississippi’s elite and the MDAH board of trustees: to validate the Confederate cause in the Civil War and the resulting policies of segregation and Jim Crow. The preservation of historical records by MDAH was intended to support this view of history (and indeed it did, with contemporaries describing Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist as Rowland’s most important publication). Comparing Rowland’s stirring “Plantation Life in Mississippi before the War” and Brough’s more innocuous historical articles, Galloway demonstrates that Rowland better fit the mold of Lost Cause apologist.4

It also seems that Rowland had the blessing of board president Stephen D. Lee, who had served as the first president of Mississippi A&M, where Rowland received his B. S. degree in 1886. Rowland later said that “it was at his suggestion that I undertook the duties of this work.”5 Another factor in the election of thirty-seven-year-old Rowland may have been that Brough, who was only twenty-five, may have been considered by some of the trustees to be too young for the directorship.

Rowland received five votes to Brough’s four and thus became the first director of MDAH.

1 For a map of Jackson streetcar routes in 1912, see this post on the Preservation in Mississippi blog:

2 Information on the first board meeting from Dunbar Rowland, First Annual Report of the Director of the Department of Archives and History of the State of Mississippi from March 14, 1902, to October 1st, 1902, 2nd ed. (Jackson, Miss: MDAH, 1911), 6-8 (MDAH).

3 Franklin L. Riley, ed., Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, vol. III, (Oxford, Mississippi: Mississippi Historical Society, 1900), 317.

4 Patricia Galloway, “Archives, Power, and History: Dunbar Rowland and the Beginning of the State Archives of Mississippi (1902–1936),” American Archivist 69, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2006): 87-91. (accessed December 8, 2010).

5 Dunbar Rowland, “Seventh Annual Report” in Seventh and Eighth Annual Reports of the Director of the Department of Archives and History of the State of Mississippi 1908-1909 (Nashville, Tennessee: Press of Brandon Printing Company, 1909), 6 (MDAH).