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.
The germ of the idea for the department started within the Mississippi Historical Society, which was revived in 1898 by Franklin L. Riley (1868-1929) after unsuccessful starts in 1858 and 1890. The society, under the leadership of former Confederate general Stephen D. Lee (1833-1908) and Riley, collected and published historical documents from around the state, the costs of which were paid by the membership. In 1900, the executive committee of the society appealed to the legislature for an appropriation to defray publication expenses, saying:
It would be assuredly unreasonable to expect a few public-spirited citizens to do all of this work and to pay besides the expenses of issuing the necessary publications, even if they could do so. This is a public work and should command the interest of every citizen who loves his State and has a pride in its history.1
In addition to the appropriation, they asked the legislature to appoint five persons from within the society to a Mississippi Historical Commission. The purpose of the commission would be,
without expense to the State for their labor, to make a full, detailed and exhaustive examination of all sources and materials, manuscript, documentary and record, of the history of Mississippi from the earliest times, whether in the State or elsewhere, including the records of Mississippi troops in all wars in which they have participated, and also of the location and present condition of battlefields, historic houses and buildings.2
The commission would then present a report on the condition of the records to the next session of the legislature, along with their recommendations on their care. The proposed bill passed on March 2, 1900, and the legislature appropriated $1,000 annually for 1900 and 1901 for publishing expenses.
The Historical Commission submitted its report to the governor on November 1, 1901. The report was later published in volume five of Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society (1902). Along with an extensive catalog of manuscript collections and archives from around Mississippi and in other states, the commission members recommended that the collections of the society be donated to the state to form the “nucleus” of a Department of Archives and History and “that a Director of Archives and History be chosen who shall have charge of the proposed Department.”3
Governor Andrew Longino approved these recommendations, because at the next session of the legislature, which began on January 7, 1902, he submitted a letter (January 14) to the legislators asking them to establish a Department of Archives and History “under the auspices of the Mississippi Historical Society, to prescribe its functions and duties, and to provide for its maintenance and for the issuing of future publications of the Mississippi Historical Society.” The next day, Senate Bill No. 26 was introduced by Senator E. H. Moore of Bolivar County. This bill passed the Senate within a month’s time and was approved by the House of Representatives on February 24, 1902, becoming law on February 26, 1902. Senate Bill No. 72, the act for the maintenance of the new department, became law the same day.4
The newly created department now needed a director.
1 Franklin L. Riley, ed., Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, vol. III, (Oxford, Mississippi: Mississippi Historical Society, 1900), 17.
2 Riley, Publications, vol. V (Oxford, Mississippi: Mississippi Historical Society, 1902), 7.
3 Ibid., 32, 34.
4 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), 5-6 (MDAH).