Bowdoin College will no longer present an academic award in the name of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Established in 1972 with an endowed gift from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), the Jefferson Davis Award had been presented annually to a student or students excelling in constitutional law. Davis received an honorary degree from the College in 1858, prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.
“It is inappropriate for Bowdoin College to bestow an annual award that continues to honor a man whose mission was to preserve and institutionalize slavery,” said Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose.
The award consists of a cash prize funded entirely by the endowment established by the UDC. The Bowdoin Board of Trustees voted at their most recent meetings to return the entire current value of the endowment to the UDC.
The College will also place an interpretive panel in Memorial Hall that will more generally explain Bowdoin’s connections to the Civil War and provide context for the large tablets in the building’s lobby that bear the names of 288 Bowdoin alumni—including generals Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Oliver Otis Howard—who fought to preserve the Union. It will also explain the College’s history with Davis and provide context for a small plaque in the lobby that lists Davis, sixteen Bowdoin graduates, and two graduates of the Medical School of Maine, all of whom served the Confederacy.
“Bowdoin has an enormous amount to be proud of in the fight for the Union and for racial equality, but we also have this unusual historic relationship with the man who actually led the struggle to perpetuate slavery in America,” said Rose. “Bowdoin will strive to acknowledge and learn from all the aspects of our history.”