Monday, August 22, 2016

Behind the Scenes of State Normal with Lula Martin McIver, part two

In last week's Spartan Stories blog post, we looked at the early life of Lula Martin McIver, wife of the State Normal and Industrial School's (now UNCG) founding president Charles Duncan McIver. This week we will explore her role as the first lady of State Normal and her continued influence on education in North Carolina.

In 1892, the McIvers moved to Greensboro after Charles was named president of the newly-established State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG). As the campus's First Lady, Lula took on numerous responsibilities. She took charge of selecting furnishings for the sole dormitory on campus at the time and attending to much of the campus landscaping and beautification projects. She also was responsible for advocating for the hiring of Dr. Miriam Bitting as the campus's first physician, insisting at a woman's college needed a female medical doctor in charge of the health of the students.

McIver family in 1900
Also, on the frequent occasions when Charles was away from campus, Lula stepped in to handle much of the school's business. She would give a quiz for a Civics class or monitor the campus coal supply or advise with the College Physician about a threatened measles epidemic. She frequently served as a host for guests waiting to meet with Charles, and she often served as a mother figure for the students. In a 1944 memorial tribute, the Board of Trustees of the UNC Consolidated System noted that "her mother's heart embraced the increasing number of young students who were leaving home for the first time and made the McIver home a center of gracious hospitality."

Lula also became a staunch advocate for increased state support for education in North Carolina. She was a founding member of the Woman's Betterment Association, which specifically worked for improved facilities for public schools in the state. Lula assisted county leaders throughout the state, and at one time served as a field director. Only four years after the creation of the Woman's Betterment Association, 1,133 new school buildings were constructed in rural areas across North Carolina at a cost of $490,272. The total value of the entirety of public school property across the state almost doubled in that short four-year period.

Charles died in September 1906, but Lula and her four children remained in the McIver house on the State Normal campus. The two oldest McIver children - Annie and Charlie - were among the ten students enrolled at the first practice school on the State Normal campus. Annie went on to graduate from State Normal in 1905. Their youngest daughter, who was also named Lula, was a member of the Class of 1921 at the institution her parents founded. Charles, Jr. graduated from his father's alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in 1909. A fourth child, Verlinda, died at a young age in 1908.

Lula Martin McIver,
pictured in the 1921 Pine Needles yearbook
Lula continued to be an active presence on campus, and remained a strong advocate of a number of social causes, including the YWCA, Sunday Schools, the community Art Association, and educational institutions for both white and African American students in the state. Lula suffered a broken hip in 1930 and was wheelchair bound, limiting her ability to be as active as she had been before. But she still attended the annual Founder's Day ceremony on campus every October.

On December 22, 1944, Lula Martin McIver passed away at age 80. At the Founder's Day service the following October, college president Walter Clinton Jackson noted that "death last December broke Mrs. McIver's long connection with this College, but death cannot remove her benevolent spirit from this campus not can it stop the force which she, working with and through her husband, started for the advancement of educational opportunity for women in North Carolina." That year, students placed wreaths on both the graves of Charles and Lula McIver as part of the Founder's Day ceremony, "conscious of the fact that Dr. McIver himself would feel that this was indeed a just and proper recognition of one who may rightfully be called the co-founder of the College."

Monday, August 15, 2016

Behind the Scenes of State Normal with Lula Martin McIver, part one

In a undated speech titled "The Educated Woman's Contribution to the Service of the State," Lula Martin McIver, widow of the State Normal and Industrial School's (now UNCG) founding president Charles Duncan McIver, passionately argued for the value of education for women in North Carolina. Her speech echoes many of the sentiments expressed at the founding of the school about the importance of educating women as a way of educating the populace as a whole. She stated, "since it is true that the child of today is the citizen of tomorrow, it may safely be claimed that the woman citizen of the state laboring in the home and school combines all four -- she rules all, prays for all, fights for all, and metaphorically and literally feeds all. Since she occupies such an important position in relation to the future citizenship of the state, it is of supreme importance to every state that she be properly trained for her great work."

The fight for women's education is one that Lula McIver started as a young girl, developed further with her husband Charles, and continued until her death. Lula was born Lula Verlinda Martin in Salem, North Carolina, on June 8, 1864, to Dr. Samuel Martin, a dentist, and Verlinda Miller Martin, who had graduated with honors from Edgeworth Seminary in Greensboro. Young Lula grew up surrounded by books and scientific instruments, and dreamed of becoming a physician. But, in the 19th century, the path for women wishing to become medical doctors was almost non-existent. She attended the prestigious Salem Academy, graduating in 1881. Ultimately, however, she chose to pursue a career as a teacher over her dreams of becoming a physician.

She began her career teaching in a one-room private school and later in the Oxford Orphanage. Four years after beginning her teaching career, Lula met a fellow teacher named Charles Duncan McIver. In 1885, the couple married. Lula, however, retained her strong sense of independence and her belief "that a woman was an individual with a right to her own mind, her own property, her own privileges." She refused to wear a wedding ring as she believed it to be a symbol of the oppression of women (according to a 1940 Founder's Day address issued by the College).

Around the time of their marriage, Charles became heavily involved in local Teachers Institutes, which sought to provide professional training for educators throughout North Carolina. At the time, the state had no formal system for training its teachers, and funding for public schools was sparse. Lula was an essential part of the Institutes' success, doing everything from practice teaching demonstrations to scrubbing clean the local courthouses used as training sites.

Most of the Teachers Institutes took place during the summer months when the public schools were not in session. During the academic year, beginning in 1886, the McIvers both taught at Peace Institute in Raleigh. Lula also briefly held the position of "lady principal" at the Charlotte Female Institute (now Queen's University). During this time, Charles also contemplated leaving education for a career as a lawyer (a decision he ultimately abandoned). Lula joined him in studying the law "because her mind needed the constant stimulation of study and learning." Charles often told a story of coming home to find Lula "completely absorbed, lying across the bed with her chin in her hands, in The Legal Rights of Married Women in England." During her time in Charlotte, Lula studied with Dr. Annie Laurie Alexander, the first North Carolina woman physician to practice in the state.

Next week, we'll explore Lula McIver's role as the first lady of the State Normal and Industrial School as well as her continuing contributions to the development of the public education system in North Carolina.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Tate Street: Evolving to serve a changing community

Tate Street, UNCG's original "campus strip" was originally two streets: Tate Street north of Walker Avenue and Lithia Street to the south. By 1923, when most of the area's commercial development was beginning, both sections shared the same name. The shopping area was targeted at a pedestrian population and included chain grocery stores such as Pender's (330 Tate Street), Piggly Wiggly (337 Tate Street), and Bi-Rite (403 Tate Street); Franklin Drugs (401 Tate Street); Hart's Hardware and Appliances (336 Tate Street); and the Donut Dinette (332 Tate Street). The Victory Theatre, later the Cinema, operated in the now-abandoned building at 326 Tate Street that most recently housed Addams University Bookstore.

As the adjacent Woman's College grew, the Tate Street "strip" became more campus-oriented. Longtime tenants such as The Corner, a soda fountain and variety store located at the corner of Tate Street and Walker Avenue and The College Shop, a clothing store across the street at 413 Tate Street, anchored the district. By the 1950s, Bi-Rite was the only remaining grocer, but it was still offering a full range of meats and produce through the early 1980s, when it was replaced by the current convenience store at the site.

Tate Street, 1963,
from Greensboro City Directory
As Woman's College became the coeducational University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1963, and as campus attitudes liberalized throughout the decade, Tate Street began to see the appearance of bars and other nightspots. Among the earliest were the original Joker's 3 at 449 Tate Street, a converted house that had previously housed a women's clothing store, and the Apple Cellar, a coffeehouse located in the basement of the Apple House diner. Later in the 1960s, the area in front of Brown Building, then home to the UNCG School of Music, would become known as "Hippie Hill", a hangout for the psychedelic generation that caused university and city officials much consternation.

In 1971, the Apple House diner, which had been the site of segregation battles, was replaced by Hong King House, a Chinese restaurant that served vegetarian dishes; this space is now Boba House. Nearby, Friar's Cellar, a much-loved wine shop and small grocery store began a several-decade run in the building at 334 Tate Street that now houses Tate Street Coffee. Around the same time, the row of shops of the east side of Tate Street added a new, unified façade as part of a project to "modernize" the street and give it more the feel of a suburban shopping center. This was also the genesis of the unusual parking arrangement on the street. Franklin Drugs relocated around this time to a new two-story building with a small parking garage attached at 948 Walker Avenue.

Next door to Bi-Rite in 1971 was a restaurant called Pizzaville (407 Tate Street) that would by the end of the decade be transformed into Friday's, a restaurant by day and venue for new alternative bands by night that hosted some of the earliest performances by R.E.M. and the Violent Femmes as well as local acts like Treva Spontaine and the Graphics. Friday's closed on 11 December 1983 with an unannounced performance by R.E.M., who by this time had "outgrown" the small club and were generally playing in larger venues. Subway and Leon's Style Salon now occupy the space,

Tate Street, ca. 1971
With Friday's and the dawn of the 1980s, Tate Street became a very active area for nightlife and live music in general. The old Piggly Wiggly, later a clothing store called The Cupboard, now became New York Pizza. The Apple Cellar coffeehouse became the Nightshade Café, another live music venue. Upon its closing in the early 1980s, the Cinema Theatre was replaced by the House of Pizza Cinema, a restaurant and bar that featured stereo broadcasts of the new MTV Music Television channel on multiple monitors. Also on the street were the Belstone Fox (329 Tate Street), a bar and live music venue, and Mr. Rosewater's, a restaurant and bar located in the former home of the original Joker's Three. Around 1983, the College Shop closed and was replaced by the Galaxy video arcade.

Recorded music was also a big part of Tate Street's appeal, starting with the opening of the Record Exchange (330 Tate Street), one of the first record stores in Greensboro specializing in independent and imported releases as well as used records and tapes. In 1983, Platterpus Records opened at 335 Tate Street as Greensboro's first record rental store; this short-lived format allowed customers to rent records, which were then sold as used merchandise. Record companies were incensed due to the potential for piracy. Copying of a different sort was facilitated by one of the state's first Kinko's locations, which opened around 1984 in the old Franklin Drug location at 401 Tate Street.

There was new construction on Tate Street in the 1980s as well, including a the block of shops at 427-435 Tate Street that initially included a Burger King and a Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop. This block of stores replaced a large old abandoned house and is now home to Coffeeology and Don Japanese Restaurant.  Around 1990, the building next door, which had housed the original Joker's Three and had later served as Mr. Rosewater's and The Edge nightclub was torn down for a relocated and expanded Kinko's, which remains there today as FedEx Office.

Nightspots became less common on Tate Street once the national drinking age was raised to 21 beginning in 1985 and the strip entered something of a decline even in the midst of a gentrification in the surrounding neighborhood. The House of Pizza Cinema closed and was replaced by Addams University Bookstore in the late 1980s; Addams closed around 2013.

Restaurants are now more common that bars on Tate Street. There is now a Qdoba located in the former Hop-In convenience store and a Jimmy John's where the College Shop once operated. New York Pizza is still open, though it closed briefly after a fire several years ago. A succession of Mexican restaurants have occupied what was formerly office space about the 1970s Franklin Drug location facing Walker Avenue, and Sushi Republic now occupies a former gas station at the northeastern edge of the strip.

Tate Street has proved to be very adaptable in its service of the adjacent campus and community.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Coraddi Controversy of 1954

Page 15 of the Fall 1954 issue of the Coraddi, the art and literary magazine of the Woman's College (now UNCG) featured a short story by student Mary Wells Edward titled "Dinah." But, the page also contained an unrelated pen and ink drawing of a nude man. The drawing was done by Lee Hall, a part-time student from Lexington who worked on the staff of the Coraddi. The publication of this piece brought the debate between art and freedom of the press to the WC campus and ultimately resulted in the resignation of the entire Coraddi staff.

Cover of the Fall 1954 Coraddi
On December 15, 1954, the WC Student Legislature met to determine what - if any - actions it would take to reprimand the staff of the Coraddi for publication of this drawing. A resolution was introduced by student legislator Frances Alexander. This resolution declared that "the Fall issue of Coraddi violates the responsibility of freedom vested in student organizations and does not maintain the standards expected of student publications." It also proposed a forma reprimand of the Coraddi staff "for the publication of objectionable material in a magazine distributed to the general public under the name of the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina."

After the resolution was presented, a vote was taken. The resolution passed by a vote of 21 to 17 (with one abstention). But, after the vote was taken, Dr. William Mueller, faculty advisor to the student legislature and professor of English, spoke to the group. He states that "one's sense of taste is closely related to his sense of morals ... One purpose of education is to enable a person to acquire the kind of taste and judgment which allow him to distinguish between a work of art and something that is cheap and tawdry ... It is my conviction that the contents of Coraddi is art; it is my opinion that it is good art. When we judge a picture, we must also take into consideration whether our final judgment is more a reflection of the picture or ourselves." Following Mueller's speech, the group decided to hold a second vote.. By a vote of 18 to 21, the student legislature chose not to pass the resolution and not to reprimand the staff of the Coraddi for their publication.

Chancellor Edward Kidder Graham
Chancellor Edward Kidder Graham, however, would not this decision not to censure the Coraddi staff stand. The following day, on December 16, he wrote a letter "to the student of the Woman's College" declaring that "after Legislature acted, I was faced with the necessity of taking and a stand and I have taken it." He officially issued "a very strong censure" to the Coraddi staff "based on the simple premise that Coraddi, issued in the name of the College, violates the standards of good taste and judgment which any undergraduate publication is morally obligated to uphold."

In his censure to the Coraddi staff, Graham stated that "it is my considered judgment that, even under the most liberal interpretation, the issue of Coraddi in question clearly exceeds the limits of good taste." He continued, "freedom of the press is inevitably hedged about by the relationship and the responsibility of the press to the social and academic groups in which it exists. The strongest protection for a free press is the judgment and the responsibility of those privileged with freedom, and the present censure is directed first of all toward an apparent confusion in the minds of the Coraddi staff with respect to the all-important difference between freedom and license." Graham concluded by noting that "a wide range of opportunity for the self-expression of the artist is not only recognized but insisted upon by the Woman's College. Nevertheless, art galleries, exhibitions to which people may go on this campus, booklets designed for people who are (or should be) interested in art, and comparable places are the right setting for uninhibited realism. Such opportunities exist on this campus in abundant measure without involving an undergraduate publication for general distribution."

Coraddi editor Debbie Marcus
On December 17, the staff of the Coraddi, led by editor Debbie Marcus, resigned in protest. In a note left at Chancellor Graham's home, the student members of the staff declared that "in view of the Chancellor's statement, the staff of Coraddi believes that it cannot continue to function properly - that is, cannot put out a Fine Arts magazine ...the entire Coraddi staff believes that in the future, consideration of political expediency will - because of censures such as this - have to be of prime consideration. And since the Coraddi staff members are not politicians, but students of the arts, they believe that their resignation is in order."

In the aftermath of the censure and resignations, the Coraddi was unable to publish a Winter issue during the 1954-1955 academic year. But Graham's decision was upheld by the UNC Board of Trustees (the group now known as the Board of Governors). And he wrote privately the following month that disagreement with his decision was limited to "excitable aesthetes and a few other disciples of freedom."

Also of note is the career of Lee Hall, the artist who drew the controversial piece. Hall graduated from Woman's College on schedule in 1956. She later went on to serve as dean of Visual Arts at the State University of New York-Purchase before being appointed president of the Rhode Island School of Design in 1975. She held that position until 1983.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Louise Brevard Alexander: Raising “Fewer Dahlias and A Lot More Hell”

Louise Brevard Alexander was a woman ahead of her time. A strong advocate of suffrage and of women’s education, Alexander would make her mark in North Carolina as a lawyer, a judge, and an educator. Described as scholarly, conscientious, dynamic, and inspiring, she became one of the most popular teachers at Woman’s College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) from her arrival in 1935 until her retirement in 1957. Hired to replace her friend, Harriet Elliott, who had been appointed to the staff of the Democratic National Committee, Alexander taught history and political science to young women for the next two decades.

Louise Alexander
 Louise Alexander and Harriet Elliott had been fast friends since they arrived in Greensboro in the early 1900s. Bonding over their devotion politics and to the Suffrage Movement, they were active in the League for Women Voters and tireless advocates for the 19th Amendment supporting women’s right to vote. Alexander’s captivating speaking style rallied the women of North Carolina to endorse the ratification of the proposed amendment, declaring “Raise fewer Dahlias, and a lot more hell! The place is here, the time is now. The opportunity is yours. It is not the time for women to be alone. They must work together.”
Alexander remained outspoken about world politics, and her activism continued through the years of World War II. Attempting to give a historical background for understanding national and world events, she taught courses in political science and history to her students and gave presentations to the community. She also dispersed recruitment information to young women on campus who might be interested in joining the military. Alexander became known at the college and in the community as a “Human Reference Library” for legal issues as well as national and international political affairs

Epicurean Club, Presbyterian College, 1907
 Her interest in government and political activism was a natural progression of her early life and career choices. Born in 1887 in Hickory, North Carolina, she graduated from Presbyterian College (now Queen’s College) in Charlotte, where she was the president of the student body, the president of her literary society, the editor of the yearbook, the captain of the Daddy Rabbit Tennis Team, and a member of many clubs, including the Epicureans. After graduating from Presbyterian College in 1907, Alexander pursued graduate studies at the University of Tennessee before taking a faculty position at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk. In 1911, she moved to Greensboro to teach history, civics, and economics at Greensboro Senior High School (now Grimsley High School).

Deciding that she needed to expand her horizons, Alexander changed the course of her life by deciding to attend law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After being admitted to the North Carolina Bar in 1920, she returned to Greensboro as the first woman lawyer in Guilford County. She was appointed as Clerk of Municipal Court in 1923 and served concurrently as juvenile court judge until 1935, when she began her tenure as an extraordinarily popular political science professor at Woman’s College. She continued her interest in politics for the rest of her life. Alexander and Harriet Elliott, both influential forces in the Democratic Party, had a standing dinner date for the next thirty years, listening to the election night returns on the radio.

Presbyterian College, Class of 1907
Known for her love of reading, music, cooking, baseball, but especially for her chief hobby of “dogs, dogs, and more dogs," Alexander was a favorite among the students at Woman’s College. Referred to as “Miss Alex,” she made her classes “a lively experience of the living past in which leaders and people live again in their political struggles and aspirations for freedom and democracy.” Her courses were extremely popular, both because of her ability to make politics vital and timely and her reputation for being an easy grader. Often more than 150 students would squeeze into her classroom to hear her to explain “how to live.”

Woman's College Judicial Board, 1949
Her dedication to teaching and to her students culminated in being honored with the first O. Max Gardner Award in 1949, presented to “that member of the faculty of the Consolidated University of North Carolina who in the post academic year has made the greatest contribution to the human race.”

In 1960, Alexander was further honored by the dedication of a conference room in her name in the Elliott Center (now the Elliott University Center) in recognition of her service to the college as a professor and as an advisor to the Judicial Board. After a long and incredibly active life, Alexander died at High Point’s Maryfield Nursing Home on May 30, 1978, leaving as a legacy a generation of students to whom she taught the importance of political activism, public service, and women’s rights.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A History of Disability Services at UNCG

In the early years of the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) the 1890s, one of the admission requirements was that students must be "in good health." Of course, "good health" was never clearly defined by these requirements. In the papers of our second President Julius Foust, we have a letter concerning a potential student who was diabetic. She was denied admission to the school because it was decided that her health wasn’t "good."

From that time, we jump the story forward to the 1970s. Unfortunately, little documentation exists in University Archives to shed light on any policy changes or accommodations for special needs that may have existed in the in-between years.

UNCG Disabilities Student Services
brochure cover,
circa 1990
The Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 surely spurred the greatest change to campus accessibility. It is generally regarded as the first national civil rights legislation for people with disabilities. In fact, much of the language used was the same as that used in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Section 504 in particular had a strong impact on the campus at UNCG and other public and private colleges and universities across the United States. This Section declared that "No otherwise qualified person with a disability should be denied access to, the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any institution or entity receiving federal financial assistance." In Subpart E, it continued by emphasizing that colleges and universities must make appropriate academic adjustments and reasonable modifications to policies and practices in order to allow the full participation of students with disabilities in the same programs and activities available to non-disabled students.

These regulations became effective in 1977, and colleges and universities were provided with a compliance schedule that they had to prove they were meeting. Immediate compliance in terms of accessibility to programming was required. In response, Chancellor Ferguson named the Vice Chancellor for Administration – Charles D. Hounshell – as UNCG’s compliance officer, making him responsible for facilitating the school’s compliance with the Federal Rehabilitation Act. Soon thereafter, the University complied with another required part of the implementation of the law by issuing a memorandum to all faculty, staff, and students regarding the institution’s commitment to non-discrimination. The memo read: "The University of North Carolina at Greensboro reaffirms its policy not to discriminate on the basis of handicap in the programs or activities which it operates."

Accessibility of course content was a key component of compliance that had to be met by the start of the 1977-1978 school year. The law required schools to make reasonable accommodations to facilitate studying, working, and living activities on campus so that all people can participate in them fully. A 1979 brochure focused on "Services for Students with Special Needs" listed a number of campus services available to provide "equal opportunities for academic achievement to all students." Included is mention of "special services and equipment" available in Jackson Library, a "reader service" for visually impaired students, and "interpreting services" for hearing-impaired students..

Administrators also began examining physical accessibility on campus. In September 1977, Facilities Services requested an allocation of the capital improvement funds for the year to assist in the "removal of barriers for handicapped people." Major issues existed on campus that limited access to key services. Offices such as Academic Advising, Adult Student Services, the Cashier’s Office, and many campus administrators were located in a building which had "very deficient access to many handicapped people and no access for people in wheelchairs." This funding was key in order to comply with another aspect of the Federal Rehabilitation Act, which stated that, by June 1980, "reasonable" accommodations must be made to structures to ensure access to classrooms, dormitories, dining areas, student services offices, and other key areas of the university.

Dr. Diane Cooper
In July 1985, UNCG hired Dr. Diane Cooper to a dual position as both "international student advisor and coordinator of handicapped student services" [note: responsibilities for coordinating international student services were delegated to the newly-created International Student Services Office in April 1988]. With her hiring, responsibility for adhering to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 shifted to Cooper. Two years later, in 1987, over 100 students with physical or learning challenges were receiving assistance from Cooper's office. Cooper also provided workshops for faculty and staff on "Working with Disabled Students." These workshops covered "a basic understanding of various disabling conditions," "accommodation techniques used in classrooms and activities," and "resources available for working with students who are disabled."

In 2013, the Office of Disability Services received approval for a name change to the Office of Accessibility Resources and Services (OARS). OARS continues to "provide, coordinate, and advocate for services which enable undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities to receive equal access to a college education and to all aspects of university life." In addition to providing adaptive technology, interpreter, note taker, alternative testing, and other services, OARS staff members work to broaden "disability awareness within the university community."

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Birth of the North Carolina State High School Music Contest-Festival

Over the next two weeks, UNCG will play host to hundreds of students attending Summer Music Camp. The Summer Music Camp, which began in 1983, has grown to be the largest university music camp in America. In two one-week sessions, students are instructed in band, mixed chorus, orchestra, and piano. But the Summer Music Camp is not the first program for younger students on the UNCG campus. On Friday, May 7, 1920, thirteen pianists from high schools across North Carolina arrived on campus (which was then known as the North Carolina College for Women) to compete in the first musical contest for students ever to be held in the state.

Wade R. Brown
The North Carolina State High School Music Contest-Festival was the brainchild of Wade R. Brown, who had begun his work on campus as the Director of the Department of Music in 1912. During this period, music was not part of the standard curriculum in secondary schools in North Carolina. Rarely were music teachers employed in public schools, and, when they were, this was typically only to teach private piano lessons in a designated classroom. As Brown wrote, "in our own state (and over most of the South) our educational leaders and the public as a whole seemed indifferent to the cultural value of music in education and to the final contribution it had to offer in a social democracy such as ours."

In hopes of improving this situation, in 1919, Brown decided to attempt to organize a music contest aimed at high school students in North Carolina. Due to the fact that piano performance was the only type of music taught in public schools at that time, they determined to focus the contest on that instrument alone. With the blessings of President Julius Foust, Brown wrote a letter to high school principals and piano teachers across the state announcing that this piano contest for high school students would be held at the North Carolina College for Women on May 7, 1920. Each school was invited to send one pianist to represent them in the contest.

Brown turned the competition into a weekend-long event. Competitors and their teachers were invited to be guests at a performance by E. Robert Schmitt, a celebrated French pianist. On the day of the contest, they were treated to another special piano performance by one of the members of the senior class at NCCW.

Performance program from the 1920 competition
While fourteen student enrolled in the competition, only thirteen appeared on the day of the contest. Beginning at 10:30am, each student performed a solo piece before a panel of three judges. The judges were faculty members from Salem College, Greensboro College, and NCCW. From among the thirteen, those judges selected six to play again that evening at 8:00pm in the finals. The contest drew a large number of students, visiting teachers, and the general public to observe the final competition. After the six finalist performed, the audience was entertained by "an informal program of community singing" and a short lecture on the importance of music education while the judges conferred.

In the end, the judges selected Jessie Mercer of the Wilmington High School as the winner of the first contest. She was awarded "the silver loving cup, given by the Euterpe Club of Greensboro, which was to remain in her possession until the next State Contest."

Competitors at one of the contests in the late 1920s
The state contest continued to grow over the years. In 1922, competitions for glee clubs and violin soloists joined the piano contests. Orchestra competitions were added in 1925. Additional contests for strings (1927), woodwinds (1928), and brass (1928) also appeared. By 1929, the contest had grown so popular that students were divided into classifications based on the enrollment of their high school. Additionally, students in smaller high schools (those with enrollments under 500 had to survive a "District Elimination Contest" prior to traveling to Greensboro.

Ultimately, these contests also helped impact the music education curriculum in North Carolina secondary schools. As Brown noted in his introduction to the 1946 pamphlet The State Music Contest-Festival: A History, "these great annual gatherings ... have done so much to make a real beginning in musical appreciation and artistic development among the youth of North Carolina."