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Jan 19 2012

John Caldwell: A Legacy of Service

John Tyler Caldwell

John Tyler Caldwell

An exhibit currently on display in the lobby of D.H. Hill Library celebrates the life and legacy of John Tyler Caldwell, one of NC State’s most influential chancellors, who would have turned 100 last month.

The exhibit draws from various university history resources available from the Special Collections Research Center, including the John Tyler Caldwell Papers, 1893 – 1995. This manuscript collection documents the busy public life of Caldwell, whose tenure as chancellor lasted from 1959 to 1975.

Among the materials available to researchers in this collection are certificates marking some of the honors and memberships bestowed on Caldwell during and after his time as chancellor. One of these, a copy of which can be seen in the exhibit, commemorates Caldwell’s induction into the Golden Chain Honor Society, the oldest honor society exclusive to NC State. A group of exceptional seniors is inducted each year, along with occasional faculty, staff, and alumni who have been significant to the university. As of 2011, there were 1,069 “links” in the Golden Chain, including former Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., President Emeritus of the UNC System William C. Friday, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry Hugh Shelton, and Basketball Hall of Famer Coach Kay Yow.

Caldwell signature

Caldwell's signature on his Golden Chain certificate. Note the exclamation point.

Like many university honors, the certificates presented to Golden Chain inductees include the signature of the chancellor. In Caldwell’s case, this created the unusual situation of signing his own induction certificate. Perhaps noting the humor in this, Caldwell included an exclamation point in parentheses after his signature (see image to the right).

Another certificate marks the establishment of the Caldwell Scholarship program by the NC State University Alumni Association. Now known as the Caldwell Fellows, the program promotes the development of leadership skills through service learning opportunities. Funds for experiential learning and a tuition stipend are awarded to students like Saul Flores, who spent the summer of 2010 walking, riding buses, and hitchhiking over 5,000 miles from Ecuador to North Carolina. Photographs he took during his journey will be the subject of “The Walk of the Immigrants,” an upcoming exhibit in D. H. Hill’s Exhibit Gallery.

Also included is a certificate naming Caldwell as an honorary associate member of the North Carolina chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Caldwell was honored for his “encouragement and support” of the architecture programs in NC State’s College of Design. To learn more about the lives of architecture students during Caldwell’s tenure, please watch our oral history with John Atkins, who served as Student Body President from 1964 to 1965.

Oral histories with other former student leaders are available as part of the Student Leadership Initiative. For more information about the initiative, contact Genya O’Gara at or (919)513-2605.

To learn more about the Caldwell manuscript collection, please see the collection guide. If you are interested in using the collection for research, please contact the Special Collections Research Center.

To learn more about the history of NC State University, please visit Historical State and the NCSU Libraries’ Digital Collections.