Author: Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist
Robert Burton House was born on March 19, 1892, in the town of Thelma in Halifax County, N.C., to Joseph Anderson House and Susan (or “Sue”) Drake House. By 1900, the House family resided on a farm in Halifax County, where Joseph House made a living as a farmer. Robert B. House attended and graduated from Warrenton High School in Warrenton, N.C., in 1912. He received his college education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. House took an active role in on-campus activities, such as the Young Men’s Christian Association—where he served as Treasurer in 1915—and the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity. House graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1916 with honors after studying Greek, Latin, and English. In 1917, he obtained a master of arts degree from Harvard University in Massachusetts.
With the United States’ entrance into World War I, Robert House would serve at Camp Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts—after he finished his master’s degree at Harvard University in Massachusetts. From May 12 to August 14, 1917, House trained at Camp Plattsburg in New York. On August 15, 1917, he received a commission as 2nd Lieutenant of Infantry in the Officers’ Reserve Corps (ORC), being assigned to the 76th Division.
After being assigned to the 26th Division on August 30, 1917, Robert House served overseas during World War I with Machine Gun Company, 103rd Infantry, 26th Infantry Division from September 26, 1917 to April 2, 1918. Upon returning to the U.S. through New York on April 19, 1918, House became an instructor in the U.S. Army with the Infantry Replacement Camp at Camp Gordon, Georgia. At Camp Gordon, he was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Replacement Regiment and the 19th Training Battalion, respectively, reaching the rank of 1st Lieutenant on September 14, 1918. House was honorably discharge from active service in the U.S. Army on December 2, 1918, at Camp Gordon.
After returning from France, Robert House immediately married Hattie D. Palmer of Warren County, N.C., on May 2, 1918. After his Army discharge, House taught in the Greensboro, N.C., city schools, until he began his work as War Records Collector for the North Carolina Historical Commission on June 16, 1919. House was asked to compile World War I records for the North Carolina Historical Commission, documenting the role of North Carolinians in the military and on the home front. Up to the summer of 1919, the Historical Commission had no legal authorization from the North Carolina Legislature to operate a statewide wartime records collection project. In 1919, the State Legislature formally approved the North Carolina Historical Commission’s war records collection efforts with the passage of Chapter 144 of the North Carolina Public Laws and Resolutions (specifically Sections 3 and 4) in 1919. The new law empowered the Historical Commission to appoint a collector of World War Records, and provided money for the project’s support.
Upon taking up his duties, Robert House found that the Historical Preservation committee of the North Carolina Council of Defense had begun collecting records through a system of volunteer collecting in various counties of the state. Also, Col. Fred A. Olds, the North Carolina Historical Commission’s Hall of History Collector, had already collected a large amount of war materials. House tried to systemize the collection process and network of volunteer collectors around North Carolina. He and a part-time stenographer worked to copy information from original materials; label, classify, and identify original materials; and operate a continuous correspondence network with individuals throughout the state and with federal wartime government offices.
One of House’s first tasks was to survey all possible sources of information concerning North Carolina in the World War to be found in the U.S. National Archives; in various departments of North Carolina’s government; and among the various county organizations and individuals of North Carolina. Having found other states in America were performing the same records collection work during the war, representatives from several states met in Washington, D.C., in September 1919 to organize what became the National Association of State War History Organizations. This was a cooperative enterprise financed by a membership fee paid by each member state organization. The North Carolina Historical Commission became a member of this association, with House as their representative. This organization assisted North Carolina and House in standardizing their war records collection policies and procedures.
Robert House was the managing editor of the North Carolina Historical Review from 1924 until 1926, when he was appointed executive secretary of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. House served as the right-hand man to University presidents Harry Chase and Frank Porter Graham, before being selected in July 1934 as Dean of Administration at UNC-Chapel Hill.
In 1945, Robert House’s title was changed to Chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill. He served UNC-Chapel Hill for over 35 years. Robert B. House died at his home in Chapel Hill, N.C., on August 12, 1987, and was buried in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery in the same city.
To learn more about Robert House’s WWI service and WWI Records Collector work, check out the Robert B. House Collection (WWI 82) in the WWI Papers of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C.
This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (NCDNCR) various social media platforms, in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina.
Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.