News Archive 2009-2018

Relocating the Jefferson Davis Plaque Archives

Display case (left foreground) containing Confederate plaque now in Bowdoin’s Hawthorne-Longfellow Library.

A bronze plaque listing the names of nineteen Bowdoin College and Medical School of Maine alumni who fought on behalf of the Confederacy in the American Civil War has being relocated from the ground floor lobby of Pickard Theater in Memorial Hall to a display case near the entrance to the George J. Mitchell Department of Archive and Special Collections in Bowdoin’s Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. The 21-inch by 25-inch plaque—which includes the name of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, who received an honorary degree from Bowdoin before the war—was originally put on display at the College in 1965 during a commemoration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Confederate Army’s formal surrender at Appomattox, overseen by Bowdoin graduate Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Class of 1852).

“For the last fifty-two years, this plaque has hung, incongruously, in a space completed in 1882 that honors the service of alumni who fought to preserve the Union and to end slavery,” said Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose. “What occurred in Charlottesville and the subsequent national conversation have led us to conclude that historical artifacts like this that are directly tied to the leadership of a horrible ideology are not meant for a place designed to honor courage, principle, and freedom. Rather, this part of our history belongs in a setting appropriate for study and reflection. Special collections is where we preserve historical objects and records and where we invite members of our community and the public to research, study, and understand Bowdoin history and the lives of those connected to the College. Critically, this move explicitly preserves and acknowledges our history, our unusual relationship with Davis, and the fact that there were those at the College who did not support the preservation of the Union or the causes of freedom and human dignity.”

Confederate plaque moved from Memorial Hall to Hawthorne-Longfellow Library.

In place of the Confederate plaque in the Pickard lobby, the College will install a panel describing the plaque, explaining its history, why it was moved, and how it can be viewed in its new location. This panel will update and replace a previous panel installed in the Pickard lobby in the fall of 2015 that explained Bowdoin’s connections to the Civil War and described the College’s relationship with Davis. It was at that time that the Bowdoin Board of Trustees agreed unanimously to discontinue an award in Davis’s name that had been presented annually from 1973 to 2015 to a student or students excelling in constitutional law, and to return the full value of the award’s endowment to the original donor, the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

7 thoughts on “Relocating the Jefferson Davis Plaque

  1. Allison Witton

    Thank you Bowdoin College for this thoughtful and reasoned change to the campus. Proud to be an Alumni!

  2. Elizabeth Davis

    These actions the part of the college give us a chance to reconsider history in the light of present events and thoughtfully shift what we honor and how. Thank you President Rose. Special Collections is the best place for this item.

  3. Frank Thiboutot

    Liberal snowflakes at Bowdoin and most colleges have little concept of history as it pertains to the War of Succession. The South wanted to secede for the same reasons the colonies wanted to secede from Great Britain. Abolition of slavery was a secondary issue until 18 months into the war. Lincoln was against the equality of the Negro with whites and Gen. Lee never owned slaves and thought slavery was repulsive. 750,000 deaths apparently is not enough of a sacrifice to Black Lives Matter which is simply another Marxist revolutionary group funded by George Soros that should not be given any credibility whatsoever. Millenials, the mainstream media and academia are sheep. Trump was right that the so-called Alt-Right AND Antifa are both reprehensible. It’s time for Bowdoin students and faculty to get a grip.

  4. Joe Cusack Bowdoin 1972

    A suitable resolution to a controversial topic.
    Others would do well to follow Bowdoin’s leadership on this.

  5. Jeffrey Huntsman, '64

    “An entirely appropriate response. As a scholar who has taught about, among other things, how Shakespeare portrays Shylock, I agree that education demands a free but critical eye. I read “Mein Kampf” decades ago (while taking George Bearce’s “Political Philosophy” course, though it was not assigned reading), because I wanted to try to understand how any human being could become such a cold yet “rational” monster. (I could never get through his second, previously unpublished, book because the writing was simply unreadable.) I think the treatment of this plaque is very proper and intelligently handled. Very well done and entirely in the Bowdoin tradition.

  6. Bob Spencer"60

    If the College (and others) spent the same amount of time, effort, thought,action and money devoted to “being politically correct” toward constructive/positive change (ie not trying to re-write history) then maybe we would be getting somewhere!!!!

  7. John A. Currie Class of 1973

    While accepting the formal surrender at Appomattox, future Bowdoin President Joshua Chamberlain had the courage to make a gesture of reconciliation and inclusion by ordering a salute to the defeated Confederate solders present. Do what you will with Jefferson Davis, but the dismissal of our fellow Bowdoin alumni saddens and angers me. How arrogant of President Rose to believe that he knows what was in the hearts of these men. I don’t know what they believed in, but I did learn at Bowdoin that many at that time felt greater allegiance to their state than any other entity. This PC reaction is an act of division rather than inclusion and reconciliation. I side with Chamberlain. In his words, “cause was, I believe, one of the worse for which a people ever fought. Before us, in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood… thin, worn, and famished bet erect, and with eyes looking into ours, walking memories that bound us together as no other bond;- was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?”

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