Wilson Library highlights Order of Golden Fleece

Peek into the hidden history and records of the Order of the Golden Fleece honor society in an exhibit at UNC’s Wilson Special Collections Library.

The Order of the Golden Fleece:“To Restore Unity to Campus Life” explores the history, traditions, and accomplishments of the Order in recognition of its 110th anniversary. The exhibit draws materials from the North Carolina Collection, the Southern Historical Collection, and the University Archives and Records Management Services. It will be on display on the 4th floor of Wilson Library until March 7, 2014.

Roach Sidney Stewart and Robert Withington Herring, two first-year law students, founded the Order of the Golden Fleece with other student members in 1904. The founders wanted to address the issue of internal divisions and rivalries on campus, which they felt harmed UNC.

The Order’s name refers to the Greek story of Jason and the Argonauts, who heroically sought a legendary golden fleece in order to claim Jason’s rightful throne.

Traditionally, initiates have been inducted in public “tapping ceremonies.” In these ceremonies, “giants” (members of the Order disguised in black hoods) roamed the audience of a campus event “tapping” those chosen for membership. The exhibit features photographs by prominent North Carolina photographer Hugh Morton documenting the “tapping ceremony.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Order sought to become more inclusive and representative of the student body by inducting both minorities and women. The exhibit offers a unique look into the evolution of the Order, featuring letters and records calling for change on the campus and state level, whether in the troubled 1920s or the Civil Rights era.

In 1962, the Order inducted its first black member, Julius Levonne Chambers, who would become chancellor for N.C. Central University. In 1972, the Order inducted the first female members ­ Deborah Ann Potter, Mary Norris Preyer, Katherine Carlton McAdams, and Anne Queen, who was director of the Campus Y.

Over the last 110 years, the Order has touched numerous aspects of UNC, including student government, civil rights, free speech and affirmative action.

Members of the Order called “Argonauts” include UNC presidents and chancellors, North Carolina politicians, innovators in the sciences, renowned artists, journalists, prominent business leaders and athletes. Notable Argonauts include UNC Presidents William C. Friday and Frank Porter Graham, Kay Kyser, Charles Kuralt, Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice and Mia Hamm.

Through the exhibit, visitors can follow the dynamic history of this influential honor society in its struggles to remain relevant, inclusive, and reflective of the core values of UNC. From founding documents to modern anniversary celebrations, the exhibit offers a distinctive look at one of the most important groups in UNC history.

By Patrick Dollar, graduate student in the School of Information and Library Science.

Published Feb. 19, 2014.