Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry (for whom the Curry Building is named) was a minister, politician, and Confederate Army officer during the Civil War. Born in Georgia, his family moved to Alabama when he was 13 years old. After graduating from the University of Georgia in 1843, Curry enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he was inspired by the lectures of Horace Mann to become an advocate for free universal education. After serving in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Curry returned to Alabama and was elected to several terms in the Alabama state legislature. He was later elected to serve as a congressman from Alabama to the United States House of Representatives, where he was an avid advocate of public schools. When Alabama seceded from the United States in 1861, Curry became a representative to the Congress of Confederate States.
After the Civil War, Curry studied for the ministry and became a minister, but over time the focus of his life and work shifted to promoting free education in the South. He traveled the South extensively, lecturing in support of the establishment of state normal schools. It was during this time that he became an influence upon and inspiration to, the University’s founder, Charles Duncan McIver, as well as many other young educators across the South. It was a speech delivered to the North Carolina Legislature that may have precipitated the legislature’s decision the following month to establish the State Normal and Industrial School (which would eventually become UNCG). Curry was asked to, and delivered, the commencement address for the graduating class of 1897.
Later in life, Curry would return to political life and served as Ambassador to Spain, from 1885 to 1888, during the second presidential administration of Grover Cleveland. Curry died in 1903.