As North Carolina’s Governor-elect Pat McCrory prepares for the Jan. 12 inaugural festivities, a timely exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh will open on Friday, Dec. 21. The exhibit Leading the State: North Carolina’s Governors explores more than 200 years of gubernatorial history. Admission is free, and the exhibit will run through April 28, 2013.
Filled with artifacts that include personal items, clothing and portraits, Leading the State highlights the changes in the office of governor and the role of first spouses. The exhibit also focuses on how governors have campaigned and been elected.
“Along with several old favorites from the museum collection, such as first ladies’ gowns and gubernatorial suits, we are featuring artifacts that have never been exhibited,” says RaeLana Poteat, Curator of Political and Social History. “For example, in a section about the Executive Mansion, we included Gov. Elias Carr’s polka-dotted pajamas, as well as a plant stand and statue that were in the mansion in the late 19th century.”
Sixty-seven governors have served North Carolina, and dozens more presided over the colony before statehood. As Leading the State follows the evolution of the office of governor, discover how governors have gone from being relatively powerless leaders to powerful politicians. Over time, North Carolina’s top leader served longer terms and developed the political clout to contest the General Assembly on key issues.
A variety of artifacts in Leading the State represent past and present governors. These items range from an inkwell that Gov. Zebulon Vance used in the State Capitol during the Civil War to Apollo 11 moon rocks that were presented to Gov. Bob Scott by Pres. Richard Nixon in 1969 to commemorate NASA’s first manned mission on the moon. The exhibit also features the suit that North Carolina’s first female governor, Beverly Eaves Perdue, wore for her official gubernatorial portrait.
Leading the State traces the shift in the role of the governor’s spouse from that of helpmate and official hostess to a public figure representing the state. Many first spouses have supported causes to benefit North Carolinians. For example, First Lady Dottie Martin was instrumental in starting the N.C. Department of Transportation Wildflower Program. This award-winning highway beautification program continues today. Carolyn Hunt, the state’s longest-serving first lady, supported numerous causes, including children’s literacy and the cultural exchange program Friendship Force (now the Center for International Understanding). Leading the State showcases a beautiful kimono that an exchange group from Tokyo, Japan, gave her in 1984.
The role of first lady shifted once again when Gov. Michael Easley took office and First Lady Mary Easley continued to hold a job during her husband’s term. And, of course, the first lady title changed altogether when Gov. Perdue’s husband, Robert W. Eaves Jr., became North Carolina’s first gentleman in 2009.
A section of Leading the State about gubernatorial campaigns and voting practices includes posters, buttons and bumper stickers from past elections. Learn about the different ways North Carolinians have cast their votes. In addition to a ballot box, museum visitors will see a large, electronic voting machine that was used from the 1940s to 2006. The voting machine has small levers above each candidate’s name. Voters turned down a lever above their choice and then moved a larger lever to register their vote.
Whatever 2013 brings for Governor-elect McCrory, he will have a long legacy on which to build. Be sure to see Leading the State, and discover how the contributions of former governors and first spouses have enriched the Old North State.
For more information about the N.C. Museum of History, call (919) 807-7900, access the museum’s website or connect with the museum on Facebook and Twitter. The N.C. Museum of History is a unit of N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. For more information on North Carolina arts, history and culture, visit Cultural Resources online.