Graham Memorial


Graham Memorial, circa 1931-1960s. UNC-Chapel Hill Image Collection. Click photograph for full information.

Graham Memorial Hall, completed in 1931, stands as a memorial to Edward Kidder Graham.1 Graham spent much of his life in the University system. Born on October 11, 1876 and a native of North Carolina, Graham grew up in Charlotte. He then attended UNC from 1894 to 1898. He left Chapel Hill for one year, which he spent as a private school teacher, before returning to serve as a librarian at the University. After a year as librarian, Graham became an English instructor in 1899; this position transitioned into an associate professorship in 1902 and a professorship in 1904. In 1913, when University President Francis Preston Venable became sick, Graham stood in as acting president and by 1914 he became the UNC President.2


Edward Kidder Graham portrait. UNC-CH Photographc Archives. Click photograph for full information.

Although his term as University president was short, Graham made a lasting impact on UNC. In his inaugural address on May 1, 1915 he stated,

As a university it is a living unity, an organism at the heart of the living democratic state, interpreting its life, not by parts, or by a summary of parts, but wholly — fusing the function of brain and heart and hand under the power of the immortal spirit of democracy as it moves in present American life to the complete realization of what men really want.3

This speech outlined Graham’s idea for the modernization of the University with focus on serving North Carolina. The concept of the research university, for which UNC is known today, comes from the ideas Graham set forth during his presidency. As he said about the modern university, “It would emphasize the fact that research and classical culture rightly interpreted are as deeply and completely service as any vocational service.”4

Graham Memorial Hall honors Graham, who died suddenly on October 26, 1918 during the Influenza Pandemic.5 The building originally functioned as a student union. In consideration of the student union as the center of student life on campus, the building committee selected the site of the burned University Inn on McCorkle Place.6 The completed student union included the Horace Williams Library, a barber shop, a bowling alley, and game room, as well as offices for student publications.7


1930s aerial view of campus shows how development was already progressing southward from McCorkle Place, home of Graham Memorial, to Polk Place. Image courtesy UNC Photographic Archives. Click for more information.

As the center of campus life shifted south in the 1960s, the Frank Porter Graham Student Union was built in 1968, and Graham Memorial Hall took on a new purpose. The Dramatic Art Department moved into the building without needing any renovations. In 1992 during the University’s Bicentennial campaign an $8.5 million gift from the James H. Johnston Trust allotted $1.25 million for renovations to Graham Memorial to house the James H. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence.8 The gift helped to update the technology within the building, renovate classrooms, and provide office space to various academic groups as well as the Honors Program. The Dramatic Arts Department remained in Graham Memorial until $5 million in funds could be raised in order to provide proper facilities in the addition to Playmakers Theater.9



[1] Rachael Long, Building Notes, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Updated and rev.

(Chapel Hill: Facilities Planning and Design, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1993), 219.

[2] Louis Round Wilson, [Biography of Edward Kidder Graham]., 1930, 1.

[3] Edward Kidder Graham, “Inaugural Address at the University of North Carolina,” School and Society 1 (1915), 615.

[4] Ibid., 617.

[5] Long, 219.

[6] “Minutes from December 19, 1921” in Subseries 5.7 Graham Memorial Committee, Records of the General Faculty and the Faculty Council 1799-2011,, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

[7] Long, 219.

[8] Kathleen Keener, “$8.65 million gift to benefit the academics,” Daily Tar Heel, April 20, 1992.

[9] Ibid.