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WWI Collections: Remembering Charles Duncker Jr.

Today, October 17, is the 100 year anniversary of the death of Washington University alum Captain Charles Henry Duncker Jr., who was killed in battle while serving as the Captain of the 340th Field Artillery division during WWI.

A sketch of Charles Duncker Jr.'s headshot. Duncker is dressed in uniform, which includes a military cap and a high-necked jacket.
A sketch of Charles Duncker Jr. made by Simmie Gellman. From University Archives’ Names That Live Collection, 1967.

The Life of Charles Duncker

Charles Duncker Jr. was born in 1893 and attended Central High School in St. Louis, where he was editor of the school paper and played on the football team. Duncker was an exemplary student, and as the highest-ranking graduate of Central, he was awarded an automatic scholarship to Washington University.

Charles Duncker in the 1915 Hatchet yearbook.

At Washington University, Duncker continued his academic excellence while becoming an active participant in University life. He was the editor-in-chief of Wash U’s Hatchet yearbook, editor-in chief of Student Life, and member of Phi Beta Kappa, Beta Theta Pi, and Sigma Xi. He graduated from the University in 1914, and began working for his father’s carpet company before enlisting in the first officer’s training camp at Fort Riley in April of 1917 and was commissioned as a lieutenant. On May 14, 1918, he married fellow Wash U alum Ada Nicholson, who had worked on the Hatchet with him, and was shipped off to France later that same month.

A group photo of the 1914 Hatchet board. The board is made up of twelve individuals, four women and eight men, all of whom were white.
A page from the 1914 Hatchet, showing the Hatchet board. Duncker (second photo, center) was Editor-In-Chief and Nicholson (third photo, top), was an associate editor.

Duncker served bravely in the war and was quickly promoted to Captain on October 7th, but only ten days later, he was shot and killed in Thiaucourt-Regnieville, France. Lieutenant Dan Bartlett, a junior at Washington University, was present when Duncker was shot. Below is a scrap of paper, from the Dan Bartlett Collection, that was allegedly in Duncker’s pocket when he was shot. The scrap even contains a hole that is purportedly made by the German shell that killed Duncker.

A range deflection fan that was in Captain Duncker’s pocket when he was shot.

Memorializing a War Hero

After the war, Duncker’s parents and widow gifted Washington University with Duncker Hall in Charles Duncker’s memory. The cornerstone to the building was laid in 1923, and it was open for classes in 1924. Duncker Hall completed the main quadrangle of Washington University that is made up of Brookings, January, and Ridgley. It was originally home to the Business School until they outgrew it in the 1960s, and has since been the home of the English department.

The photo shows that the 1923 ceremonial laying of the cornerstone of Duncker Hall was attended by four men in ceremonial robes, one in a nice suit and hat, and was lowered into the foundation by two workers in suspenders using a rope system.
A photograph of the ceremony to lay the cornerstone of Duncker Hall in 1923. Photo from Washington University Photographic Services Collection.

Duncker and other students who died in the war were also honored in a 1921 ceremony by the Washington University Memorial Association. A plaque commemorating the dead is still on display outside of Ridgley Hall. You can read more about the Memorial Association and see a scan of Charles Duncker’s War Record in our previous blog post.

Further Resources on WWI

The Memorial Plague depicts two women in robes (one holding a sword the other ) at the base of ith an inscription and a list of names. The inscription reads: To the honor and memory of the Alumni and students of Washington University who gave their lives for their country in the Great War.
Memorial Plaque outside of Ridgley Hall. Photo from Washington University Photographic Services Collection.

Materials from Washington University’s WWI collections, including a barrage report held by Charles Duncker when he died, are now available digitally through the Missouri Digital Heritage project, “Missouri Over There: Missouri and the Great War,” a project to digitize collections of Missouri’s participation in the First World War. You can check out the project at http://missourioverthere.org/. Patrons interested in researching more about WWI can also view the library’s WWI Archival Sources Research Guide to discover other related University collections.