Monday, January 16, 2017

The Rise of Campus Dramatics (Part III): The Raymond Taylor Years


Raymond Taylor
The most significant event to happen to early campus dramatics was the arrival of Raymond Taylor, who joined the English Department in 1921 as a professor of speech. He would go on to become the school’s Director of Drama for the next thirty years. Taylor was a very qualified hire, having a Bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master’s degree from Harvard. Although College president Julius Foust was not convinced that dramatics should be included in the school’s official curriculum, Taylor was eventually allowed to teach courses in theatre production and playwriting, as well as speech. Foust also was not supportive of the female students dressing in pants, even for theatre productions, but Taylor purchased men’s suits for the young women to wear when they were playing male roles. He pushed the rules even further when he allowed students to smoke cigarettes on stage, an activity strictly forbidden by the College.

Under Taylor’s guidance, the Dramatic Club became The Dramatic Association of the North Carolina College for Women (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) and finally, in 1924, the Playlikers, which became the only campus organization allowed to perform plays. That year, the students performed five plays featuring both students and faculty. In 1925, the students took one of their production, Will-o’-the-Wisp, to Chicago for the National College Theatre Tournament and won second place. Taylor also accompanied his students to New York to see plays featuring famous stars, such as Ethel Barrymore, and to visit sites such as the Metropolitan Museum, the Aquarium, and the Statue of Liberty. In 1926, the Playlikers first performed plays written by students, specifically, a tragedy titled The Quick and the Dead, set in Eastern North Carolina, and a comedy titled Sims.  Taylor also established the Masqueraders, an honorary dramatic society.

The Playlikers Try on Costumes for a Campus Production


Eventually, the Playlikers would include not only students, but also members of the community in their productions. This added much-needed male participants to the all-girl school performances, now held at Aycock Auditorium (currently UNCG Auditorium).  By the 1930s, the students were offering one play per month to audiences of over 2000 people. Perhaps recognizing that his students lacked proper stage elocution, Taylor requested that the College add two speech specialists to the faculty. He commented that his students showed “nasality, lisping, harshness, weak and thin voice texture, lack of breath control, sameness and monotony of tone, drawling and stuttering, exaggerated and disagreeable sectional accents, nervous rapidity, faulty enunciation and pronunciation, [and] affected elocution.”


The Parkway Playhouse
The venue for campus programs expanded in 1941 when an amphitheater was constructed as part of a Works Project Administration (WPA) project. It had a seating capacity of 2500 people and included an outdoor stage to be used for May Day celebrations, plays, and pageants. Additionally, the 1940s ushered in a summer repertory program which would eventually move to the small town of Burnsville, North Carolina. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the theatre would be called the “Parkway Playhouse.” 

The Taylor Theatre
In the late 1940s, Taylor began to lose control of the program, and a growing lack of student interest caused the Playlikers organization to “disintegrate.” Finally, in 1949, the faculty advisory committee recommended that the College hire a new director of Dramatics, and Raymond Taylor, once considered the father of the school’s Dramatic program, was removed from leadership. Although he had less administrative responsibilities, Taylor continued to teach until his retirement in 1960, and when a new theatre was constructed on campus in 1967, it was named in his honor.






Monday, January 9, 2017

The Rise of Campus Dramatics (Part II): Plays and Pageants

While the earliest campus presentations were staged as entertainment for visits by state dignitaries, increasingly, other sources of student entertainment began to sprout up at the State Normal and Industrial School (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro). Recitals were planned by music professor Wade Brown, who also assisted the campus Literary Societies in staging elaborate operettas.

The Little Minister, 1910
The Literary Societies were created in 1893 as social organizations that focused the energy of the student body on debates, dramatic productions, and social activities. In the early years, there were only two Societies (Adelphian and Cornelian), but as the school’s enrollment grew, two additional organizations were added (the Dikean in 1918 and the Aletheian in 1923). Involvement in plays and pageants were a popular benefit of belonging to a Literary Society and the students enjoyed participating in theatrical events that allowed them to dress in ornate costumes.

In the early years, the students at the all-girl State Normal played both male and female roles in the productions. Following 19th century conventions, the school’s Lady Principal, Sue Mae Kirkland, would not allow the girls who held the male parts to wear pants. Instead, they wore long black skirts. By at least 1910, as seen in still photographs of the production of The Little Minister, students were allowed to wear black bloomers instead. It was not until 1911 that the students could wear pants on stage.



In most part, the school plays were held in the auditorium or “chapel” of the Main Building (now the Foust Building). When the Students’ Building was completed in 1902, each society had a separate meeting room and an auditorium, which included a stage for debates and productions. Yet, not all performances took place inside. A staging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, performed by the Ben Greet Woodland Players, was given at the outdoor theatre in Peabody Park. This venue was comprised of a wooden stage fronted by a sloping ground, which acted as seating. The theatre was also one of the locations used for the school’s elaborate May Day festivals, the largest of which took place in 1912 and 1916. 
May Day Heralds, 1916

These May Day celebrations, organized by drama professor Mary Settle Sharpe, featured an Old English theme and included large parades with horse-drawn floats, colorful dances, and creative “tableaux vivants.” In 1912, the students presented three plays at several different areas of the campus, which were repeated during the day, enabling 3,000 observers to partake in all of the entertainments. The 1916 May Day event was even larger than the first, again featuring Shakespearean plays performed by elaborately costumed students.

To Arms for Liberty, ca. 1918

As interest in campus theatre grew, the Dramatic Club was formed between 1912 and 1913, to allow girls with a particular interest in theatre to participate more fully in campus productions. Incorporating both a general manager and a business manager, as well as an active membership, the new group performed Booth Tarkington’s The American at the 1913 Commencement exercises. Additionally, special performances such as To Arms for Liberty, which included the students representing the Allied nations as well as American farmers, Red Cross workers, and Liberty Bond representatives, were produced to raise money for World War I mobilization efforts. Yet it wasn’t until 1921, with the arrival of Raymond Taylor, that campus dramatics flourished.

The next installment of The Rise of Campus Dramatics will feature the establishment of the College’s Playlikers group and the hiring of Raymond Taylor, who would become a major figure in campus theatre until his retirement in 1960.




Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy Holidays!

The staff of the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives wishes everyone a happy holiday season! We're taking a break this week, but please join us on Monday, January 9th for a new Spartan Story.

Santa and his Christmas Tree,
a tableau performance by the Cornelian Literary Society in 1913

Monday, December 26, 2016

Happy Holidays!

The staff of the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives wishes everyone a happy holiday season! We're taking a break this week, but please join us on Monday, January 9th for a new Spartan Story.

Woman's College student Mary Frances Thompson dressed as Santa, 1960

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Rise of Campus Dramatics (Part I): The State County Fair

Dramatics was an important part of early campus life at the State Normal and Industrial School (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro). Plays and skits were not only a creative outlet for the students, but also an ideal way for classmates from across the state to get to know each other better. In addition to obvious social benefits, the earliest campus productions drew attention to the new school during a time when the North Carolina Legislature was making important appropriation decisions for the state’s colleges. The first State County Fair was held on November 30, 1894, as part of a Legislature’s Education Committee visit to assess State Normal’s buildings, grounds, and administrative management.

The "Bevy of Sailor Girls" from New Hanover County, 1894

The College’s president, Charles Duncan McIver, appointed four students to plan the auspicious event. The program included State Normal students entertaining the Committee and the general public with a rendering of the state song and a competition to present the most creative skit featuring significant local products and notable historic figures from the girls’ home counties. The event took place in the auditorium, or “chapel,” of the Main Building (now the Foust Building), and included elaborate costumes and props, as well as cleverly titled banners. The skits varied greatly in size, depending on how many students were from a certain county. A particularly large group from Yadkin County incorporated corn shucks and a large bottle with a banner reading, “Yadkin furnishes corn in all its forms.” Particularly singled out were the “bevy of sailor girls” from New Hanover County who who sang a rollicking version of “A Sailor’s Wife a Sailor’s Star Should Be.” Only one “plucky” girl represented Greene County, but she did so with great flair, wearing a garland of corn and holding a squealing piglet on her back. It’s hard to imagine that the piglet, as well as her banner which read, “hog and hominy,” did not push her into the winner’s circle. Yet, the victorious county was Rockingham, which represented a cradle holding a sugar-cured ham and students carrying shields representing four governors from that area of the state. Their banner declared, “Nursery of Our Governors.” For winning the day, the Rockingham girls were awarded the Grand Prize of a framed picture of Pilot Mountain. The event was a notable success and hailed as “one of the most unique entertainments ever given in the state.” Afterwards, the girls were feted with oysters and hot chocolate.

"Nursery of Our Governors," the Rockingham County Entry, 1894

When the Education Committee returned to the campus in February of 1897, McIver chose to feature the State County Fair event again. This time he requested that the Elocution Department plan the activities for the important occasion. The program began with a costumed student chorus representing the three departments of the school - Business, Domestic Science, and Pedagogy. Subsequently, there was a presentation of the counties. The Mecklenburg County offering, which represented students dressed as hornets, was very well received. But, the high point of the pageant was a mock legislative session presented by thirty-five State Normal students, during which the College’s appropriation budget was increased by $100,000. The 1897 State County Fair also stands out for being the year that students from Durham allegedly sewed cigarettes into their costumes, which they promptly smoked after the event and consequently were severely reprimanded by the faculty. Whether this is a true story or only a rumor, it remains part of the unofficial college lore.

The Mecklenburg Hornets, 1897
By the time the Committee visited again in February 1899, the student productions had taken on a more political theme, most likely due to the Spanish-American War. The “tableaux vivants” included representations of “E Pluribus Unum – American Types,” “Way Down Yonder in Dixie,” and “Justice.” Also featured was a scene symbolizing the “School of Education,” in which Uncle Sam played by E. J. Forney, the College’s treasurer and professor of business, gave the Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba instruction in self-government. This was a common theme after the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, and reflected political cartoons of the day, which showed Uncle Sam attempting to teach a new class of unruly American territories. The production was met with “deafening applause,” and considered a rousing success. The presentation ended with a “tableau vivant” of the Great Seal of North Carolina surrounded by representatives of all of the counties singing “The Old North State.” Although these early State County Fairs were very obvious attempts by President McIver to sway the State Legislature, dramatic activities on campus continued to grow in popularity and increasingly came under the direction of the school’s Literary Societies.

The next installment of “Campus Dramatics” will feature early Literary Society productions, the establishment of the school’s Dramatic Club, and pageants staged as part of the campus mobilization efforts for World War I.






Monday, December 12, 2016

Chancellor Jackson Retires in Style

When Dr. Walter Clinton Jackson stepped into the role of Chancellor of the Woman's College (now UNCG) in 1934 he had big shoes to fill.   Dr. McIver had built the State Normal & Industrial School from the ground up and President Foust had kept it growing and expanding after McIver's death, but Dr. Jackson brought with him a strong belief in the importance of education that would serve him well in his new position with the college.
Dr. Jackson, undated
Dr. Jackson was born and raised on a cotton farm near Hayston, Georgia.  His mother was a big proponent of education and encouraged her son to pursue an advanced degree.  He entered Mercer University at the age of 16, earning his Bachelor of Science degree in 1900.  He taught in public schools in both Georgia and North Carolina before coming to Greensboro in 1905 to serve as the Principal of Greensboro High School (Now Grimsley High School).

In 1909, Dr. Jackson joined the faculty of State Normal as a professor in History.  He was a popular teacher and students flocked to take his course on "Representative Americans."  In fact, so many students took this class that chairs had to be brought in from other classroom to accommodate the size.  His passion for the history showed in his teaching and the past came alive for those he taught.  So much so, that one former student recalled a day "when his enactment of a duel brought forth from a girl, at whom he lunged his imaginary sword, a piercing and hysterical scream."

Throughout his years at State Normal (and then Woman's College), Dr. Jackson moved into new and in more responsible roles.  Shortly after coming to the college, he became head of the History Department.  From 1915-1921 he served as Dean of the College, before taking the newly created position of vice president in 1922.  He left Woman's college in 1932 to serve as the dean of the school of public administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but returned to Woman's College later that year to serve as the Dean of Administration after Dr. Foust retired.

Dr. Jackson had been groomed for the position and was the obvious choice as Dr. Foust's replacement. Dr. Frank Porter Graham, president of the consolidated university, said that Dr. Jackson was the unanimous choice of faculty, students, and alumnae.  Porter spoke with a number of people at the college, and finally conferred with Zeke, who had been at the school since the very beginning. Virginia Vanstory reported the encounter:
When Dr. Graham spoke to Zeke, the venerable staff member confessed that he had been praying over the matter.  
'With what results, Zeke?' Dr. Graham asked.
'Well, the Lord's on Mr. Jackson's side,' Zeke replied, and that, Dr. Graham felt made it unanimous. 
Over the sixteen years that Dr. Jackson served as chancellor, he saw the school through many changes, including including the expansion of the student body to more than double (2200 students) at his retirement in 1950.

Dr. Jackson was a well liked and well respected chancellor.  In his welcoming address to the Freshman class each year, he advised students to come by his office to see him, if only to say 'hello.'  And Freshman took him up on his offer, showing up at his door to report how happy they were with the college or how homesick they felt.

Perhaps the students love for Dr. Jackson was best expressed in the generous retirement gift that the alumnae presented him with, a brand new car!
Car presented to Dr. Jackson by the alumnae in May, 1950.
L to R: Jane Wharton Sockwell, Betty Brown Jester, Dr. Jackson, Jane Summerell, Laura Weil Cone



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

75 years ago: "Pearl Harbor Letter" from Ella

Part of the Women Veterans Historical Project collections, this letter was written by "Ella" to her family  on 13 December, 1941, six days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We don't know anything about Ella except from what we can infer from the letter itself. She was a nurse with either the Army Nurse Corps at Tripler Army Hospital or with the Navy Nurse Corps at Naval Hospital Pearl Harbor.

In her letter, Ella comments that her family "maybe would be looking for a letter" from her.  I do hope she had already let them know that she was not a casualty of the December 7th attack, rather than making them nervously await news for a week!

Ella types:


" Yes, it happened here; the thing that everyone in the country predicted - that is everyone but the people living in Hawaii. We sat her smugly satisfied that nothing could happen to Oahua - of course not; we were so well fortified - ? - Well, something went wrong somewhere, evidently. Honolulu was caught sleeping and a most terrible thing happened here last Sunday."

Ella recounts how she left her quiet morning shift at the hospital that day to attend 8 a.m. mass and that she was in church when the attack began. Ella then rushed back to the hospital and she relates the events there that day. She then discusses the differences in Honolulu now that the area was under martial law. 

Ella describes the how the hospital nurses "have rallied to the age-old call of service, and probably have the same spirit that prompted old Florence N[ightengale] to go to Crimea."

The letter ends with:

"We are all well and busy - it gives no time to think, so it is better that way. There is lots to do and Honolulu has quieted down to something one would never recognize, but we are all in this war. Things don't look any too cheerful, but we aren't going to let it get us down."

On this 75th anniversary of the "day that will live in infamy", the Women Veterans Historical Project salutes the service of military nurses.

You can read the entire letter below: