Monday, March 27, 2017

Gertrude Mendenhall: A Woman of Substance

By all accounts, Gertrude Mendenhall (1861 – 1926) was a shy, retiring soul who dedicated her career to teaching mathematics to young women. Yet on further inspection, “Gertie,” as she was known to her friends, proves to be a progressive and highly social woman, in possession of a keen mind and a dry and intelligent wit.
Gertrude Mendenhall, ca. 1892

Mendenhall was a member of a well-respected Quaker family that had lived in Guilford county for five generations. She grew up with her three sisters on the grounds of New Garden Boarding School (now Guilford College), where her father, Dr. Nereus Mendenhall, was a teacher and principal. After graduation, she pursued higher education at Wellesley College, earning a Bachelor of Science degree. Following in her father’s footsteps, she chose to enter the field of education. Mendenhall taught mathematics at Guilford College and at Peace College, where she met Charles Duncan McIver, future president of the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG). When State Normal opened its doors in 1892, Mendenhall became a charter member of the faculty and was appointed the head of the Math Department.

Mendenhall (seated) picnicking with faculty members, 1898 

Mendenhall thrived in the academic environment of State Normal. She taught algebra, geometry, and trigonometry to the more advanced students, and helped remedial students with simple arithmetic. The young women in her charge appreciated her patience and determination in teaching a subject that was not one of the most popular in the school’s curriculum. Evalina Wiggins (Class of 1898) perhaps described it best when she explained that her experience in Mendenhall’s math class was “four years of happy misery, for I loved her and didn’t love math.”

Mendenhall (right) and other faculty members in front of Green Cottage
Her “Green Cottage,” located on Spring Garden Street, was a hub of both students and faculty seeking good company and a bite to eat. The cottage was always full of students enjoying her famous tea parties and picnics and faculty paying social visits or attending receptions. In the early days of campus life, the small ratio of student to faculty created close relationships and frequent social interactions. Her students simply adored her. She was known not only as a wise counselor and dear friend, but also for her distinctive appearance. She had a very erect posture and her standard attire, which was a “veritable part of our everyday Miss Mendenhall,” included a crisp white shirt, a white or brown tie, and a brown skirt.

After a tenure of over thirty years at the college, Mendenhall quietly passed away on the morning of April 15, 1926. College president Julius Foust cancelled all classes and a small funeral service was held in her home.  The day afterward, she was laid to rest at the Deep River Friends Meeting House Cemetery.

Mendenhall (left) and Dr. Anna Gove on the porch of Green Cottage

At her funeral service, Rev. R. Murphy Williams, who had been a long-time friend, gave a tribute that captures her very nature, describing her as “gentle yet strong, modest yet courageous, in everything that was for the upbuilding of our state. She has influenced thousands of young women and given them vision of service which they are transmitting into other lives in the school rooms and in the homes, all over our southland.” J.  Y. Joyner, who had known Mendenhall since the first days of the college, later wrote that she was “one of the choicest spirits, strongest minds, most lovable characters, [and] sweetest influences in that first little faculty…”

Mendenhall was convinced that every young woman could master some level of mathematics, and typical of a woman who “practiced what she preached,” she left money in her will to establish a merit and needs based scholarship which would provide students with the means to pursue a degree in higher math and the applied sciences. Typical of her modest nature, she named the scholarship for her aunt, Judith J. Mendenhall. This scholarship is still active and provides financial assistance to students who are pursuing a degree in math.

Ragsdale-Mendenhall Residence Hall

Although immediately after her death, former students asked that a “prominent building” be named for her to “express our love for and gratitude to Miss Mendenhall,” it was not until 1950 that a campus dormitory was named for her. Known as the Ragsdale-Mendenhall Residence Hall, the naming honor is shared with Virginia Ragsdale, Department of Mathematics faculty from 1911 to 1928, and the third faculty member to hold a PhD degree.

Monday, March 20, 2017

“Building a New Society:” The Beginning of the Women’s Liberation Movement on Campus

Objecting to discriminatory societal trends, the late 1960s saw women across the nation form groups to expand their perspective on gender roles as well as political, economic, and social equality. UNCG female students also began to unite, establishing their own campus Women’s Liberation group, with the goal of identifying and finding solutions to “their common problems as women in this society.”  They saw women’s liberation as a problem “closely related and interlocked with the other problems in the country, the very problem of war itself…that we cannot hope to move toward a better world or even a truly democratic society at home until we begin to solve our own problems.”

"Woman Power" symbol, Carolinian March 6, 1970

On March 3 1970, at a meeting focusing on “Woman Power,” the students challenged the social pressures to “dress the right way (fashionable in clothes) and date the right boys (socially acceptable).” They also questioned the preconceived standards that forced women’s main goal to be “to catch a husband, so you can get married, have babies, cook, clean, and do house work while you stagnate intellectually and your husband wonders why you aren’t interesting to talk to anymore.” No longer were young women satisfied with limited life options. They wanted fair treatment on campus and beyond college graduation.

Feiffer Cartoon, Carolinian March 13, 1971

Several weeks after the “Woman Power” meeting, a two-day Women’s Rights Symposium was held with a full schedule of discussions on women’s liberation, movies relating to women’s rights, and workshops on topics such as male chauvinism. Featured presenters included members of the national Women’s Liberation Movement, such as Florence Kennedy, who was the legal advisor of the chapter from New York. Some speakers advocated taking a hard line, explaining that it was “morally wrong to waste the potential women have in merely being wives and mothers.” Others pointed out prevalent anti-feminist word choices, such as human and mankind. Roxanne Dunbar, a representative of the Southern Female Rights Union, suggested a mass movement against “our personal male oppressors.” Campus organizations, such as the Political Economy Club, also sponsored a speaker during the Symposium, focusing on “The Economic Discrimination Against Women.” Interestingly, many of the speeches and workshops were poorly attended. Out of almost 5,000 women students attending the college during spring 1970, only approximately fifty students attended the event. Male students were not allowed. In some cases, local newspaper coverage was cynical.

From an International Women's Day Flyer, 1971

In these early years of the campus Women’s Liberation Movement, some students felt like change might be coming too fast. An editorial in November 1970 campus newspaper took up for the “silent majority” who believed that a woman’s place [was] still in the home,” and encouraged women to find fulfillment as wives and mothers. Other editorials scoffed at the popular image of liberated women as “bra- burning” militants, and called for a broader view of the Movement.  These conflicting views are illustrated in campus publications such as the October 1971 Carolinian, which ran an ad for engagement rings (with the catchphrase, “When you know it’s for keeps”) next to an advertisement for abortions.

In 1972, students who were continuing to advocate equality for women in all sectors, were sometimes surprised at the apathy of their classmates. A January 1972 column in the Carolinian, written to promote discourse on women’s issues, called for students to join interest groups to continue to define “what women want.” The author was discouraged to find most of the responses from her articles were from men.
Carolinian, January 1972
Yet, even though some students thought the progression of women’s rights was moving too slowly, there were changes happening on campus. In the fall 1973 semester, UNCG instigated a women’s studies curriculum offering four courses -  Women in American History, Women in Literature, Women and Economic Activity and Women in Politics. The classes were open to both women and men.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Annie Petty, State Normal's First Librarian

The library room in the Administration Building, circa 1895
When State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) first opened its doors in October 1892, it did not have a library or library books. Yet, founding president Charles Duncan McIver spoke adamantly of the “Library we are to have,” and he personally donated many of his books to begin the school’s first reference collection. Other faculty members followed suit, donating or lending books from their personal libraries in order to create a collection for student use. The school’s book collection continued to grow, and, in 1896, Annie Florence Petty was hired as State Normal’s first librarian.

Petty grew up in a Quaker family in the Bush Hill community, which is now part of Archdale, NC. Both she and her sister Mary received an early education at the New Garden Boarding School (although Annie graduated in 1894 after the school had already changed its name to Guilford College). Mary, who also completed a degree at Wellesley College, was the first of the Petty sisters to start work at State Normal, teaching chemistry at the school from 1893 through 1934. After a brief period teaching school in Red Springs in Robeson County, NC, her sister Annie arrived at State Normal in 1896 to manage the school’s burgeoning library.

Petty (second row, seated in front of tennis racket)
with other members of the Faculty Tennis Club, 1900
At the time of Annie Petty's arrival, the State Normal's library contained around 600 volumes and was housed in a small room across from the President's office in the Administration (now Foust) Building. Although her official title was “librarian,” Petty did much more than manage the book and periodical collection. She also received and sorted the campus mail, signed for package deliveries, and rang the campus bell to signal the change of classes every forty minutes.

After two years, Petty took a year’s leave of absence to attend the Drexel Library School in Philadelphia, where she gained additional professional training and developed a particular interest in reference services. Advanced professional training for librarians was not commonplace at the time. When Petty returned to her position at State Normal in 1899, she was the first professionally-trained librarian employed in the state of North Carolina.

State Normal's Carnegie Library building, 1905
Petty continued to develop the school’s book and periodical collection, and a dedicated library building was secured in 1905 when philanthropist Andrew Carnegie provided State Normal with a $25,000 grant to construct a campus library building (now known as the Forney Building). This was the first Carnegie grant to be given to construct a college library. Petty, her assistant, and a number of student workers continued to grow the collection and make the library a campus hub.

In addition to her work on campus, Petty was active professionally in the North Carolina Library Association (NCLA). She was a founding member of NCLA’s executive committee in 1904, and in 1908 she was elected as only the second president in the organization’s history. She served an additional presidential term from 1913-1915. She was also the first secretary of the North Carolina Friends Historical Society.

Mary and Annie (standing) Petty, 1952
In 1921, Petty left Greensboro for Raleigh, taking a position as Assistant Secretary of the State Library Commission. She continued her interest in reference librarianship, and was proud to be able to serve readers in her home county of Randolph by developing the state’s first traveling bookmobile. Petty remained at the State Library Commission for twelve years until her retirement. In 1933, she returned to Greensboro, where she shared a home with her sister Mary (who passed away in 1958).

After a long and successful career spent building libraries and library collections at State Normal and across the State of North Carolina, Annie Petty died in 1962 following surgery for a broken hip. She was 91 years old.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Importance of the YWCA at UNCG

*This blog was written by Laura Cashwell, History major at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

During the long history of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), many organizations, clubs, and sponsors have come and gone. Most of these groups have left traces of their impact on the campus, but none come close to the legacy of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
Early Members of the campus YWCA
The YWCA began its relationship with the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) in December of 1892. Once established, the organization began to grow both in membership and in influence. Faculty and staff were encouraged to participate in the various YWCA activities, which ranged from Christmas services to building the campus meeting hall, or “the YWCA Hut.” A female student group called “the Carpenterettes” built the Hut in 1918. In addition to YWCA functions, the building was used for extracurricular activities and special events, such as dances and meetings. The Hut allowed the YWCA to expand its space, which had been previously limited to a meeting room at the Students' Building.

The YWCA Hut, built by students in 1918

The religious aspect of the organization was appealing to both students and faculty and was one of the biggest services the YWCA provided to the school. The YWCA was responsible for morning devotions, Sunday services on campus (Sunday School), Christmas caroling parties, services at Christmas Eve and Easter, and various other holiday programming. They also incorporated a choir to perform at events, strengthening the relationship between the YWCA and other groups on campus. 

One of the fundamental tasks managed by the YWCA was the creation of the student handbook. This was a set of rules given to the students, as well as the lyrics to the school song, faculty descriptions, and school programs for the year. The handbooks were produced from the beginning of the YWCA’s involvement on campus in 1892 until the 1934-35 school year, when the Student Government Association shared the publication. After 1935, the handbook was published by the college.

YWCA members hanging a wreath on the chancellor’s door, ca. 1947.

In the school’s early years, student life revolved around clubs, organizations, and academics alone. Today we have television, cell phones, internet, and other sources of entertainment that did not exist in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Therefore, the YWCA was important because it provided a source of productive entertainment for the general student body. Its importance was so great that in 1912 the school hired and paid a YWCA secretary to oversee the campus activities. The secretary had her own office within the YWCA Hut and in 1914 was paid a salary of $900 per year, an equivalent to roughly $21,000 in 2017.  This was a luxury no other organizations on campus enjoyed at the time. 

The history of the YWCA on campus has been remarkable. Its founding at the State Normal and Industrial School in 1892 marked the beginning of a valiant effort to organize religious activities revolving around the school, faculty, and students. The YWCA’s involvement on campus ended in 1958. Perhaps the school had grown and diversified by this point, which split members of the YWCA into other organizations. The removal of the YWCA Hut in the 1940s also reflected the waning importance of the organization.

Through examination of the University Archives, it is clear that the YWCA was once a prominent influence in the city of Greensboro. The large number of sources which contain information about the organization, such as yearbooks, scrapbooks, and oral histories that mention the YWCA, show how important this organization once was to the students. Although it ceased to play a major role at the school, the YWCA was and remains an important part of the history of student life on campus.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Ezekiel "Zeke" Robinson

Robinson with the college's horse and buggy
When the doors opened at the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) on October 5, 1892, school president Charles Duncan McIver had 15 well-qualified faculty members and nearly 200 young female students. While cooks, janitors, handymen, and others worked behind the scenes to keep the school running, McIver felt that he needed a single individual to manage the facilities and the support staff on the growing campus. He called upon Ezekiel “Zeke” Robinson, a young African American man who had worked as a servant for McIver during his time teaching at Peace Institute in Raleigh. Robinson arrived mere weeks after the campus’s opening, and took up the duties of “General Factotum.”

In this role, Robinson managed the school’s large support staff – as many as forty-two individuals in the 1894-95 academic year. Nearly all of these workers were African Americans, and many (including Robinson) lived in a small segregated neighborhood several blocks west of campus. There, Robinson and his wife raised their four children – three boys. One son, named Charles Duncan McIver, died at a young age. The other two sons, Ed and Milton, moved to New York City where one became a prominent orchestra leader. Robinson’s only daughter Annie, named after McIver’s daughter, graduated from Bennett College in 1932 and became an educator in Greensboro.

Robinson (front center) with other members
of the maintenance team
In addition to supervision of other support staff, Robinson performed numerous tasks that were critical to the function of the school. He rang the school bell, assisted with campus landscaping, lit fires to keep offices and rooms warm, waited table at state dinners, and delivered the campus mail. He also served as a porter to the college presidents, seeing that they kept appointments and helping with their coats and umbrellas. In his role as the campus chauffeur, he drove the college presidents to meet visiting dignitaries such as Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, and Anna Howard Shaw. In the earliest days of the campus, he manned the college horse-and-buggy, providing students with their primary means of transportation into the city.

Robinson just prior to retirement, 1944
 During his time at the school, he saw the transition from horses to automobiles, from oil lamps to electricity, from fireplaces to central heating, and from wells and pumps to running water. He served three college presidents (McIver, Julius Foust, and W.C. Jackson). He saw the acreage of campus increase tenfold, and saw the student body grow from 200 to over 2,200.

Ill health forced Robinson to retire in 1944 after a 52-year career, although he noted that he planned to “come to work on his good days, and that the college will have to get along as best it can when he can’t make the grade.” At his retirement, faculty and alumnae presented Robinson with a $300 gift to symbolize their “appreciation of his long and faithful service to the college.” He returned to campus numerous times after his official retirement, typically at the annual Founder's Day celebration in October.

On December 1, 1960, Ezekiel Robinson died at a local nursing home at the age of 93. Robinson was the last surviving member of the faculty and staff from the first year of the State Normal. He was interred at Maplewood Cemetery near the North Carolina A&T campus.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dr. Joseph Himes "It is the mind that sees"

Dr. Joseph Himes taught at UNCG from 1969-1977 as Excellence Foundation Professor in the Department of Sociology.

"It is the mind that sees." It was a personal motto that Dr. Joseph Himes carried with him and guided him throughout his life, from the time he lost his sight in a chemistry experiment in his early high school days.
Himes' parents (his mother was a public school teacher and his father, a college teacher) were committed to his education even before the accident, home schooling him in his elementary school years. After he lost his sight, they increased their efforts even further, and moved a number of times to be nearer to schools that offered the very best education for the blind. With much effort, they enrolled him in the all-white Missouri School for the Blind, where he was able to attend only in a subordinate position. It was there he learned to read braille. Later, Himes' parents moved to Cleveland so that he could attend East High, which had an outstanding program for blind students. Himes' mother read his assignments to him, and he excelled to such an extent that he received one of 15 scholarships awarded nationally by the American Foundation for the Blind. He attended Oberlin College and excelled there as well, and was very involved in organizations, and extracurricular and social functions at the school.

Himes developed a near photographic memory during this time, since almost no course materials were printed in braille and Joseph had to memorize his assignments which were read to him. Unsure of what major to undertake, one of his sociology professors signed him up as a sociology major and he graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1931 Magna cum laude and a member of Phi Betta Kappa. he quickly earned a master's degree in sociology and economics in the following year.
Himes next taught at Houston College for two years before attending Ohio State University where he completed his Ph.D. in sociology and economics in 1938. He worked as a research director, writer, and aircraft assembly worker (during WWII) from 1936-1946, but he made a name for himself as a Professor of Sociology at North Carolina Central University from 1946-1969. In 1969, he was offered a job at his alma mater, Ohio State University, but he chose to come to UNCG.

He would author six books in his lifetime, and well over 100 articles (the first published in 1936). He also served his discipline at the local, national, and international levels. He was the founder and first president of the North Carolina Sociological Society and he held, at times, visiting professorships at Duke, Chapel Hill, and Syracuse University, as well as serving as a Fullbright Lecturer at Helsinki University, Finland, and Madras University, India. Indeed, he was a worldwide traveler, having also served as Project Director and Chief Investigator on a NSF Grant-funded study of "the Recruitment and Socialization of Social Movement Leaders" in Rhodesia in 1976. Dr. Himes was also the recipient of many awards including the DuBois-Johnson-Frazier Award (from the American Sociological Association), the Irwin V. Sperry Award (N.C. Family Life Council), and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Award (UNCG). Dr. Himes' accomplishments would be considerable for anyone and are all the more impressive considering he was both blind and, being African-American, a minority.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Buddy Gist, the Man Behind the Miles Davis Trumpet

The Miles Davis Trumpet is listed on the
UNCG Bucket List
Passing through the atrium of the Music Building, it is easy to overlook the modest exhibit featuring a trumpet. It is in a small case, dwarfed by its surroundings. Even upon reading the plaque, it is difficult to believe that the trumpet belonging to Miles Davis is housed on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Although the name of Miles Davis attracts immediate attention to the instrument, the man responsible for its donation is not as commonly remembered by the visitors making pilgrimages to be close to a noted artifact of music history. The Miles Davis Trumpet was donated to UNCG on September 27th, 2001 by “Buddy” Gist.  

Arthur Taswell “Buddy” Gist, Jr. was born in Spartanburg, SC in 1925, but was raised in Greensboro, NC. His father and mother, Arthur and Louise Gist, were the proprietors of the Magnolia House Motel on Gorrell Street. The Gist family hosted an impressive array of entertainers in their establishment, including Ray Charles, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, and Tina Turner. Magnolia House, which is preserved as a historical landmark, accumulated such a remarkable list of patrons because it served as one of the few motels providing quality accommodations for African American travelers prior to desegregation.

In August of 1942, Gist was enlisted in the military, serving in the Navy for the duration of World War II. Into adulthood, Buddy Gist attended North Carolina State A & T University, where he was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. Upon graduating in 1947, Gist continued the entrepreneurial family tradition, but relocated from Greensboro to Harlem, which provided far greater opportunity than the South during the Jim Crow Era.

Upon taking up residence in Upper Manhattan, Buddy Gist submerged himself in the thriving African American cultural community. During one evening in 1949 at the Birdland Jazz Club, billed as the “Jazz Corner of the World,” Gist was introduced to Miles Davis by US heavyweight boxing champion, Ezzard Charles. This began Buddy Gist’s friendship Miles Davis and his family. Gist met many of Davis’ recording friends and even helped look after his children while Davis was on tour.

Miles Davis performed in concert at UNCG in 1973
Unlike many of his New York circle of friends, Buddy Gist was not a musician or sports hero. In keeping with his family tradition, Gist was a successful business owner through the 1960s and 1970s. He owned several car dealerships in the New York area, and he began two African import coffee companies, after which (Mt. Kilimanjaro Coffee Company), Miles Davis named his album, Filles de Kilimanjaro. For several decades, Gist lived a life of glamour and success, but by the 1980s, he fell upon hard times and returned to Greensboro.

A few years after taking up residence in Greensboro, Buddy Gist allowed the Miles Davis Trumpet to be exhibited on loan to UNCG, beginning in 1996. The trumpet was not officially donated to UNCG until September 27th, 2001. At this time, the value of the trumpet, modestly estimated in the annual report of the School of Music, was $70,000. The jazz program became the Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program, a memorial to Gist’s friendship with the jazz legend. Soon after the donation became public and the instrument was on display, the Missouri Historical Society requested it be loaned for an exhibit on Miles Davis. A more professional appraisal was conducted, and it was discovered that the serial number on the UNCG trumpet matched that of the trumpet featured on the cover of Davis’ Kind of Blue album. This meant the instrument Gist donated was not just any trumpet, but that is was the trumpet used during the recording of a masterwork of 20th century Jazz. This cultural treasure was revalued by appraisers at $1.6 million. In honor of Buddy Gist’s donation, Steve Haines, director of the UNCG Jazz Program, funded the construction of a custom display case in which the trumpet is featured today.
Not a historically accurate photo, but we like to think Dr.
McIver would approve.

Tragically, Buddy Gist’s life took a turn for the worse. After returning from sabbatical in 2008, Steve Haines followed up on rumors that Buddy Gist, 83 years old, was homeless, living in Center City Park. By August of 2008, Haines organized assistance for Gist, moving him into Partnership Village, a program operated by Greensboro Urban Ministries. Essentially, Buddy Gist was adopted into the family of the UNCG music faculty. Chad Eby, jazz professor, invited him to Thanksgiving dinner with his family, and Gist continued to receive a steady stream of visitors who were recipients of the amazing stories Gist would tell about his life. In July 2009, Buddy Gist suffered an incapacitating stroke. John Salmon of the School of Music became Gist’s legal guardian, and he was moved into the Golden Living Nursing Center in Greensboro.         
On April 18th, 2010, Arthur “Buddy” Gist, Jr. died, requesting that all memorial donations be made to UNCG’s Miles Davis Jazz Festival. The UNCG School of Music held a memorial service in the Organ Hall on April 25th, 2010. Gist’s name will be forever connected to Miles Davis through the generosity of his two greatest treasures, the trumpet and his relationship with the faculty of UNCG.