history professorship honors Gov. William B. Umstead
The first UNC professorship
named for a state governor honors William Bradley Umstead (1895-1954),
whose 30-year political career also included terms as a U.S. senator
Durham attorney Merle U. Richey created the William B. Umstead Professorship
in American History in the College of Arts and Sciences in honor of
her father, who graduated from Carolina in 1916 with a history degree.
The $500,000 endowment to fund the professorship includes Richey's
gift of $333,000 and a matching $167,000 grant from the North Carolina
Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund, said James W. May Jr.,
executive director of UNC's Arts and Sciences Foundation. Income from
professorship endowments supplements professors' state salaries, making
it possible to attract or retain talented faculty. A national search
for the Umstead professor is under way.
"My father had a tremendous pride in and love for the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill," Richey said. "He saw
this University as a public servant, and he valued pleasant memories
of his student days, the professors who formed his thinking, and the
friendships which lasted throughout his life."
Richey said her mother's inspiring "frugality and wise financial
management" made the professorship possible. Widowed at 53, Merle
Davis Umstead, a former teacher and librarian, had managed most social
events at the Governor's Mansion while her husband was in office (1953-54).
A native of Rutherford County, she was principal of Sunshine School
(1920-21) and Washburn School (1925-26) there. She taught math and
was librarian at Rutherfordton's Central High School from 1927-29.
She died in 1988.
"This professorship will preserve the legacy of Umstead's public
service while taking Carolina into the future with distinguished teaching
and scholarship in the field that he loved," said Risa Palm,
dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
A Durham native, Umstead excelled in debate at Carolina. After graduating,
he taught high school history in Kinston, then joined the World War
I effort as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He later studied law at
Trinity College (now Duke University), and he began working as an
attorney in 1921. Umstead was twice elected prosecuting attorney of
the Durham County Recorder's Court in the 1920s. He later was elected
solicitor of the state's 10th Judicial District.
In 1932, Umstead, a Democrat, was elected to the first of three terms
representing the state's then-new 6th Congressional District. A strong
advocate for farmers, agriculture and tobacco, he supported most of
President Roosevelt's New Deal legislation, including the Farm Home
Administration, Rural Electrification, and Soil Conservation. He voluntarily
retired from his seat after six years and returned to Durham to practice
When U.S. Sen. Josiah William Bailey died in 1946, N.C. Gov. R. Gregg
Cherry appointed Umstead to serve out Bailey's unexpired term. In
1948, Umstead lost his bid for election to the post, which was won
by former N.C. Gov. J. Melville Broughton. It was Umstead's only defeat
in his long political career.
Umstead was elected governor in 1952. His program, "A New Tomorrow
for North Carolina," called for progress and advancement in public
education, industrial development and many other areas of public need.
Despite becoming seriously ill at the beginning of his administration,
Umstead returned to his duties and provided strong leadership for
the next year and a half. He implemented much of his program before
his health failed. He died in office in 1954.
In a 1945 speech for the University's sesquicentennial, Umstead, then
president of the UNC General Alumni Association, elaborated his views
on the University's role. "All that it is and has belongs to
the people of the state," he said. "Many times it has been
called 'The University of the People.' "
- Eliza Fisher Laskowski