Almost four decades after the death of C. C. Crittenden (1902-1969), his contributions to North Carolina history still inspire his successors at the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. Given his long tenure at the agency, the role he played in developing state programs, and the leadership he offered to historical organizations on a national level, his achievements appear unlikely ever to be matched.
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Christopher Crittenden maintained lifelong ties to his native Wake Forest and to Wake Forest College where his father was a teacher and his mother librarian. His maternal grandfather had been the school’s president. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wake Forest and a doctorate at Yale in 1930. His dissertation became his second book, The Commerce of North Carolina, 1763-1789, published in 1936. His first book was North Carolina Newspapers Before 1790 (1928). Crittenden taught history at Yale while completing his studies and, from 1930 to 1935, as an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina.
On July 1, 1935, Crittenden replaced Albert Ray Newsome as secretary of the North Carolina Historical Commission, the beginning of a thirty-four-year association with the state historical agency. In that time the agency increased in size from eight employees to 135 (today the number is over 500). His successor H. G. Jones has written that he “transformed a respectable department into a model for other states.” Davidson College Professor Frontis Johnston said that Crittenden “was a giant among state historical leaders and more than anyone else gave the North Carolina agency a national reputation.”
Under Crittenden’s tenure the Historical Commission (as the agency was known until 1943) and the Department of Archives and History (the agency’s name from 1943 to 1972) initiated the highway historical marker program, extended its publications offerings, pioneered modern records management, began a system of state-owned historic sites, and launched modern museum and preservation programs. From 1935 to 1968, Crittenden served as editor-in-chief of the North Carolina Historical Review. He served, at the state level, as secretary of the Literary and Historical Association (promoting “Culture Week”) and headed commemorations of the Carolina Charter and the Civil War. On the national level, he was the first president of the American Association for State and Local History (1940-42) and was president of the Society of American Archivists (1946-48). He received honorary degrees from Wake Forest and UNC. In 1968, the year the agency occupied its present building, Crittenden stepped down to serve as assistant director. He died on October 13, 1969.
William S. Powell, ed., North Carolina Lives (1962)
Carolina Comments (November 1969)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 461-462—sketch by H. G. Jones
Jeffrey J. Crow, ed., Public History in North Carolina, 1903-1978 (1979)
Ansley Herring Wegner, History for All the People: 100 Years of Public History in North Carolina (2003)
Christopher and Janet Crittenden