Skip to main content
Carolina Story: Virtual Museum of University History

William Hayes Ackland (1855-1940) and Ackland Art Museum

Born in Tennessee, William Hayes Ackland was a lover of the theater and the visual arts and published three volumes of poetry and a novel. During the 1930s, he decided to use his fortune to promote the fine arts in the South. He contacted Duke University, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina looking for a site for an art museum that would be part of the school’s educational mission. When he died in 1940, he left his bequest to Duke University. Duke's trustees, however, objected to Ackland’s stipulation that he be buried in the museum and refused the bequest. Years of litigation ended in 1949 with the awarding of the Ackland estate to Chapel Hill. The museum opened in 1958.