Elwyn B. Robinson, does that name sound familiar? Ask most students on the University of North Dakota campus and they will tell you it does, but most of them cannot place the name specifically. The reason the name should sound familiar to UND students is because the Department of Special Collections, on the fourth floor of the Chester Fritz Library, was renamed for Robinson in 1986.
Elwyn Burns Robinson was born on October 13, 1905, on a farm in Ohio. He earned a B.A. in English at Oberlin College and at Western Reserve University he earned both his M.A. in 1932 and Ph.D in 1936. In 1935 he moved to Grand Forks, ND with his new wife Eva Foster to take a teaching position at the University of North Dakota. After he began teaching at UND, he contributed many works to North Dakota History, most prominent among these was his book “History of North Dakota.” Other important works of his were his radio broadcasts “Hero’s of North Dakota” and his essay “The Themes of North Dakota History.”
Sure, Elwyn Robinson was a great history professor and scholar, but why did the university decide to name the North Dakota Archive after him? The answer lies with his work outside the classroom at UND. During his tenure at UND, Robinson fought continuously for more research material and collections on North Dakota history. In 1961 the Chester Fritz Library was built and there would be from then on a permanent department in which to store collections on North Dakota history.
After his death in 1985, the University, along with Robinson’s two sons, Stephen and Gordon, set up an endowment fund to honor Elwyn Robinson. The fund was to be used to acquire collection material for the Special Collections Archive. A decision was made by the University to rename the archive The Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections. The dedication ceremony included beautiful programs, a portrait of Elwyn Robinson just outside of the department, and many attendees (also, a letter from Governor Sinner congratulating the Chester Fritz Library and apologizing for missing the event). Before the event there was also an invitation sent out to all history department alums inviting them to attend the dedication and partake in a historic reunion.
Elwyn Robinson’s donations to the discourse of North Dakota history along with his determination to contribute anything and everything he could find on the history of North Dakota earned him the honor of having the very department he worked so hard to expand and nurture renamed for him. I would urge anyone interested in North Dakota history to refer to Robinson’s works on the subject.