Published August 19, 2017 by Bowdoin

Relocating the Jefferson Davis Plaque

Display case containing Confederate plaque in library
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.