Fire and Stone

The Making of the University of North Carolina under Presidents Edward Kidder Graham and Harry Woodburn Chase

By Howard E. Covington Jr.

Fire and Stone

544 pp., 6 x 9, 45 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5182-8
    Published: January 2019

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Distributed for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library

Awards & distinctions

2019 North Caroliniana Book Award, The North Caroliniana Society

In June 1919 Harry Woodburn Chase was chosen to succeed Edward Kidder Graham as president of the University of North Carolina. The two were a study in contrasts. Graham was a southerner whose father had worn Confederate gray. Chase was a New Englander and suspected of being a Republican. Chase had advanced academic degrees, including an earned doctorate, while Graham’s title was honorific. Chase was quiet, almost shy, and he best expressed his thoughts in the written word. Graham was an accomplished writer but also a superb public speaker whose friends had a political career charted out for him until his death at 42 years of age, a victim of the 1918 influenza pandemic.

The university trustees chose Chase to succeed Graham after two more highly favored candidates were disqualified at the last minute. A young man--Chase was 36 at the time--he wasn’t expected to stay in Chapel Hill all that long. He remained for a little more than a decade and in that time he oversaw the transformation of the institution and introduced it to a national audience.

Chase built upon Graham’s ambitions for the university that its work extend beyond the campus to reach citizens all across the state. Graham first kindled this fire for a new mission among the undergraduates he met in his classroom in the decade before he became president in 1914. One of those acolytes was his younger cousin, Frank Porter Graham, who called him the greatest teacher he had ever known. Chase gathered his administration behind this spirit of service and moved the university into a new era.

If one man had not followed the other, the university would have been a different place. Taken together, the presidencies of Graham and Chase turned a relatively small institution founded in the liberal arts into an institution worthy of its name, the University of North Carolina.

About the Author

Howard E. Covington Jr. of Greensboro is the author or coauthor of more than fifteen works of North Carolina history and biography. Among his books are Terry Sanford: Politics, Progress and Outrageous Ambition; The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made A Difference, 1900-2000; Favored by Fortune: George W. Watts and the Hills of Durham; Once Upon A City: Greensboro, North Carolina’s Second Century; and Lady on the Hill: How Biltmore Estate Became An American Icon. In, 2004, Favored by Fortune received the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association’s Ragan Old North State Award for best non-fiction by a North Carolina writer. In 2010, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library published his The Good Government Man: Albert Coates and the Early Years of the Institute of Government as the first volume in its Coates University Leadership Series.
For more information about Howard E. Covington Jr., visit the Author Page.


“A worthy contribution to the history of American higher education and, in particular, to understanding the history of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the years between its near collapse during the era of Reconstruction and the activist presidency of Frank Porter Graham during the Great Depression.”--The Journal of Southern History

“Offers a thorough accounting of two critical University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) presidencies in the early twentieth century. . . . Covington has performed an important service.”--North Carolina Historical Review

"Explains how the 'fire' of Graham and the 'stone' of his successor, Chase, transformed UNC from a quiet liberal arts institution into a respected university equipped to provide an academic experience that prepared students to participate in a growing commercial, industrial, and agricultural New South."--PineStraw

“Some years ago former Mississippi Governor William Winter was asked what there had been in the South to keep him going as Mississippi dealt with the trauma of great social change. He paused for a moment and then answered, ‘I could always look to Chapel Hill.’ The reference to the town, of course, was a reference to the University established there more than two centuries ago, and this book is a compelling story of how a young president, Edward Kidder Graham, in a brief tenure so marked it with what the author describes as ‘attitude and spirit’ that his dream is vital even today. It is also the story of Graham’s successor Harry Chase who proved himself a courageous and effective disciple, and the beginning of the story of Graham’s cousin Frank who succeeded Chase and whose spirit has never left the place. Even those who do not love Carolina but who do respect important history well captured and shared will find this a fine read. All will have a new understanding of the conviction of celebrated journalist and alumnus Charles Kuralt that from this early twentieth century movement fully emerged ‘as it was in the beginning, the University of the people.’”--Thomas W. Lambeth, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Class of 1957, President of General Alumni Association (1989-1990), and Executive Director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation (1978-2001)

“If you care about public service, if you care about research that helps North Carolinians, or if you simply want to learn more about UNC’s history, then you need to read this book. Covington tells the story of the University at the start of the twentieth century, during a time that laid the foundation for an institution that remains proudly public. In his telling, he vividly captures the times and the people who first made it a center of innovation for the state.”--Lynn White Blanchard, Director of the Carolina Center for Public Service at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill