Monday, March 30, 2015

Constance Han-Jun Lam (Class of 1933): Humanitarian and Heroine

March is Women's History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month feature alumni from the Woman's College, North Carolina College for Women, or State Normal eras. 

Constance Lam
Against the increasingly violent backdrop of war-torn China, Constance Lam became a humanitarian and a heroine.

A native of Canton, China, Lam’s goal was to gain the education and practical experience in social work to successfully return to her homeland and improve conditions for her people. After attending high school in New York, Lam entered the Woman's College of North Carolina, now UNCG, and majored in sociology. She was a member of the Young Voter's Club, the Physics Club, and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Lam was an excellent student and was described by her professors as intelligent, poised, and determined, with a great deal of personality and energy.

In 1933, as a senior at Woman's College, Lam was awarded the prestigious Elizabeth Lowe Gamble scholarship from The New York School of Social Work. While she studied in New York, she also worked with the local Chinese population. In 1936, she returned to China and planned to pursue medical studies in Peking. The war with Japan broke out in 1937 and interrupted these plans. She instead traveled to Hong Kong where she began her work with the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into the already overpopulated city.

It was at this time that she began working closely with Dr. Percy Selwyn-Clarke, the Director of the Division of Medical Services in Hong Kong. She greatly admired his humanitarian work and it is evident that he thought highly of her, even encouraging her to pursue creative writing. Lam quickly became the director of a refugee camp housing over 2000 Chinese girls. She also served in various capacities in the Foreign Auxiliary of the Chinese Red Cross, the Chinese Defense League, and the Eugenics League.

During this time, Lam kept up with several friends and faculty members that she had known at Woman's College, especially French professor Jessie Laird who sent her money as well as reading material, which was expensive and hard to obtain. She particularly requested Lin Yutang's Moment in Peking and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. She realized that she was living in very historically significant times and prayed for the defeat of Hitler. Lam wrote in a letter to Laird, "I somehow feel that I shall not live long, so I must return to society some of her gifts."

In 1939, Lam became seriously ill due to poor working conditions and exhaustion. Although her health improved, she never regained her full strength. She attributed her recovery to Selwyn-Clarke and was forever grateful to him. When a relapse occurred several years later, she moved in with the doctor and his wife, Hilda. In 1943, Selwyn-Clarke was arrested by the Japanese who believed that he was a British spy. He was imprisoned in horrible conditions and at one point sentenced to death. Lam smuggled food, soap, notes, and other items to her friend. She was even detained and questioned about her association with Selwyn-Clarke.

She cabled friends in September of 1945 with news regarding the mass exodus from the city. Lam reported that she was safe, but that her sister Rose had been killed in an air raid and that her father had died. She was concerned that she would not survive the war and her premonition was almost realized -- she died in Queen Mary's Hospital in Hong Kong on November 30, 1945. It was apparent that Lam was held in very high regard amongst the people of Hong Kong, as her health status was reported in the daily newspaper and her funeral was attended by both Chinese and British officials.

At her death, Professor Jessie Laird donated funds to the Woman's College library to acquire beautifully illustrated books on China, in memory of her friend.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Physician, Professor, and Medical Missionary Annie V. Scott (class of 1914)

March is Women's History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month feature alumni from the Woman's College, North Carolina College for Women, or State Normal eras. 
Greensboro native Annie Vellna Scott arrived at State Normal and Industrial College in Fall 1910 at the age of 21. She was an active student at the State Normal and Industrial College as well as an early entrepreneur. She served on the board of directors of State Normal Magazine as a representative from the Adelphian Literary Society. She also held a leadership position with the campus YWCA group and was a member of the Student Volunteer Board. And, in a display of her ingenuity, she paid her expenses at the State Normal and Industrial College by selling subscriptions to Current Opinion magazine.

Annie V. Scott, 1914 Pine Needles yearbook
In addition to her service and work on campus, Scott was known for her keen intellect and interest in current events. Her entry in the 1914 Pine Needles yearbook described her as“a ready authority upon scientific investigation and present day topics, for she is a thorough student of all the sciences our curriculum affords.”

After graduating with a bachelor of science degree from State Normal in 1914, she attended the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (now part of Drexel University College of Medicine). She received her medical degree in 1918 and was one of only two women to receive licenses that year from the North Carolina Board of Medical Examiners.

Scott served for two years as an intern at Lying-in Hospital and at Bellevue Hospital before she sailed for China in 1920. She worked mostly in North China, principally at Shantung Christian University's Cheeloo Hospital as a professor and chief of pediatrics. Her work included everything from teaching medical school students to operating a private clinic to serving as school physician for three primary schools. She also published a book on pediatric medicine in China as well as numerous journal articles. 

Her service in China was not continuous, however. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, going to war against the United States, Dr. Scott and other Americans in the area were repatriated. She was an instructor in pediatrics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Medical School until 1946, when she returned to China. Dr. Scott left China for the last time in 1951, when Chinese Communists forces intervened against the United States in Korea. For four years, she returned to Columbia University, serving as a visiting professor of pediatrics.

In 1954, she became clinical professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina. In this role, her research primarily focused on the detection and prevention of tuberculosis in children. She retired in 1964, and moved to High Point.

Scott receiving her honorary doctorate from UNCG in 1967
Scott received numerous awards for her medical work and service. In 1959, she earned the Alumnae Achievement Award from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. The North Carolina Public Health Association awarded her a merit citation in 1965 for "her long years of dedicated and unselfish service as pediatrician, clinician, teacher, educator and her many achievements with broad public health application" In 1967 at its annual Founders Day ceremony, UNCG presented Scott with an honorary doctor of science degree. Her "outstanding Christian medical service" in China earned her a special citation from the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, USA.

On February 1, 1975, Scott passed away and was buried at Alamance Presbyterian Church cemetery in Greensboro. Her tombstone includes a special inscription: "served 30 years in China in medical missions."

Monday, March 16, 2015

Flying the Friendly Skies with Alumnae Phyllis Sheeran (class of 1944)

March is Women's History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month feature alumni from the Woman's College, North Carolina College for Women, or State Normal eras. 

Phyllis Sheeran
Phyllis Sheeran (Class of 1944), a native of Virginia, caught the “flying bug” quickly after graduating from Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro). She began her career with Eastern Airlines during a time when commercial airlines were still in their infancy. Sheeran flew on a twenty-one passenger airplane with a crew of three, which included a pilot, a co-pilot, and a stewardess. She worked for Eastern Airlines for nine years, first as a stewardess, then as a supervisor, training other young women to become flight attendants.

Sheeran was first based in Atlanta and then New York with short flights to Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis, and Boston. Correspondence to friends describe her experiences viewing the world in miniature from 14,000 feet above ground; illuminated cities, silver rivers and streams, and sunrises over Lake Pontchartrain. She joked that being in the clouds was the closest that she would come to heaven.
Her early years as a flight attendant corresponded with the last years of World War II and many of her passengers were service men either going overseas or returning home. Those who were returning often told horrible tales of their war time experiences. Soldiers, generals, diplomats, politicians, and ambassadors crossed her path. She also met celebrities in her travels; most notably, actor Robert Taylor and singer Lena Horne.

Her job enabled her to keep in touch with many of her Woman’s College friends and she frequented weddings and other important occasions throughout the east coast. On several occasions, former Woman’s College students who were on her flights, recognized her class ring and they would reminisce about their days as students.

Sheeran married Frederick Lyon in November of 1953 and made the decision to cease her career with Eastern Airlines. She subsequently raised a child and became heavily involved in civic work. When she was a flight attendant, Sheeran often complained that she did not have time to actually see the places she traveled – as she was working. Sheeran would remedy this in years to come as she and her husband traveled extensively both in the United States and abroad.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sister Mary Michel Boulus (class of 1947): Educational Leader

March is Women's History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month will feature alumni from the Woman's College, North Carolina College for Women, or State Normal eras. 

The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Jumela Ann Boulus arrived at the Woman's College from her home in China Grove, NC in the Fall of 1943. She majored in mathematics, and participated in numerous extracurricular activities, including the Catholic Students organization and Square Circle (a student group focused on the study of math). As the leader of WC's Service League during her senior year, she raised an all-time high $3000 during the school's annual Campus Purse Drive. She also served as president of the Interfaith Council during the 1946-1947 school year, leading an effort to salvage and scrap enough paper to buy a $100 government bond for the campus chapel fund. For her work, she was one of ten WC seniors elected to Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.

Boulus in 1947 Pine Needles yearbook
Boulus graduated from the Woman's College in 1947 and taught math at Concord (N.C.) High School for two years. During her summer breaks, she continued her education, earning certificates in guidance and constitutional law from Columbia University and UNC Chapel Hill. She also earned a master's degree in mathematics from John Carroll University (Cleveland, Ohio) in 1959.

On August 2, 1949, she entered the Sisters of Mercy religious institute after a meeting with Sister Mary Immaculata. Boulus offered to drive one of the Sisters back to the convent in Belmont after Sunday mass. While there, Boulus was introduced to Mercy Sister Mary Immaculata Dulohery. Sister Immaculata asked Boulus, "Why don't you come teach for the greatest principal on earth and you'll never have to worry about money again?" And a few months later, she took her vows.

After joining the Sisters, she continued to teach mathematics in Charlotte area schools, including O'Donoghue High School and Charlotte Catholic School. By 1966, Sister Michel had joined the teaching faculty at the Sacred Heart College, a Roman Catholic liberal arts college for women in Belmont, NC. And in 1967, she became the college treasurer. Then, in 1975, she was named the college's president, becoming the first UNCG graduate to lead a four-year college or university.

Under her leadership, Sacred Heart College created a number of educational programs to aid people in need. A special education teaching certificate program was created in 1976. And in 1979, an English language institute was founded for non-native speakers. An adult degree program was also developed in 1979, and in 1982, the college began offering 12 credit hours of classes free to unemployed citizens of Gaston County. Unfortunately, the college closed in 1987 due to decreased enrollment and funding issues.

Sister Michel, 1981 Sacred Heart College yearbook
In addition to her work as president of Sacred Heart College, Sister Michel advocated for education for young people in Lebanon. During the 1970s and 1980s when Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war, she was instrumental in providing academic scholarships to Lebanese students attending U.S. colleges and universities. She was also involved with the work of the Lebanese in North Carolina Project at North Carolina State University (now part of the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies).

In 2011, she was honored by the President of Lebanon for her service to the Lebanese people. In presenting her with the Presidential Shield of the Republic of Lebanon, President General Michel Sleiman called Sister Michel "a leading example of those American Lebanese." UNCG honored Sister Michel with the Alumni Distinguished Service Award and an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1977.

On December 9, 2012, Sister Mary Michel Boulus passed away at the age of 86.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Trailblazing "Human Computer" Virginia Tucker (class of 1930)

March is Women's History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month will feature alumni from the Woman's College, North Carolina College for Women, or State Normal eras. 

Virginia Layden "Ginna" Tucker of Hertford, NC, was a North Carolina College for Women (NCCW, now UNCG) graduate whose pioneering work in aeronautics and mechanical engineering paved a path for women in STEM fields. Through her work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, now NASA) to her research at Northrop Aviation Corporation to her involvement with the Society of Women Engineers, Tucker used her NCCW education to become a trailblazer in aviation research.

Tucker in her senior yearbook, 1930
Tucker arrived on the NCCW campus in the Fall of 1926, and quickly established herself as a leader among her peers. In her senior year, she served as president of the Adelphian Literary Society as well as the "college fire chief." As college fire chief, she organized a fire drill in Spencer dormitory in April 1930 that garnered praise from Chief F. D. Shaw of the the Greensboro Fire Department, who specifically congratulated Tucker on "the conduct of the students" and their "good training." Two months later in June 1930, she graduated from NCCW with a B.A. in mathematics and a minor in education.

After graduation, she worked as a high school mathematics teacher in her hometown of Hertford, NC. She also took the Civil Service exam in hopes of applying for a job with the federal government. After four years of teaching, she earned an appointment at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (now Langley Research Center) in Virginia. Langley was the main research center for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Tucker was one of five women who began work in September 1935 as Langley's first "Computer Pool." NACA did not have modern electrical computers, but instead relied on the work of "human computers," a pool of female mathematicians. These women were tasked with processing the huge amounts of data coming in from wind tunnel and flight tests. Using slide rules, charts, and her deep mathematical knowledge, Tucker and the other "human computers" performed intricate calculations that enabled NACA engineers to design and perfect airplanes.

Tucker at her desk at Langley, 1946
While only 25 women were on the large staff at Langley when Tucker arrived in 1935, the number expanded during World War II. Tucker herself helped recruit many of the women who became human computers, traveling to universities and women's colleges across the South. After a recruiting trip to the Woman's College, she wrote to the Alumnae Association "that graduates from Woman's College are definitely outstanding women." By 1946, Tucker had advanced to the position of Overall Supervisor for Computing at Langley, and she was tasked with managing a department of over 400 women in computing sections across the laboratory facility.

After 12 years with NACA, Tucker left civil service for a position as an aerodynamicist at Northrop Corporation in Hawthorne, CA, one of the United States' leading aviation companies. Specifically, Tucker's engineering research focused on boundary layers (the very thin layer of air flowing over the surface of an aircraft wing) and increased aircraft efficiency. She wrote to the Woman's College Alumae Office in 1954 that "my work is most interesting and I am privileged to be working with a group of specialists, many of whom have emigrated here from Austria, Switzerland, France, and Germany, since 1945."

In addition to her work at Northrop, Tucker was a leader in advocating for women in the engineering fields. She was elected director of the Los Angeles Section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in 1955. She chaired SWE's National Finance Committee from 1955-1956. And, in 1957, she served as SWE's representative to the Los Angeles Technical Societies Council. In October 1957, she was invited to a be principal speaker in a panel discussion on "The Woman Engineer in Modern Industrial Society" at UCLA.

In 1965 after 17 years as an engineer at Northrop, Tucker returned home to Hertford, NC, to serve as Supervisor of Instruction and Evaluation in Perquimans County. She held this position until her retirement in 1974. Tucker passed away on January 19, 1985, at the age of 75.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Claudette Graves Burroughs-White: Pioneer of Desegregation

February is Black History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month focus on remembering important people and events related to the history of African Americans and UNCG.

Claudette Graves Burroughs-White, 1961 yearbook
Claudette Graves Burroughs-White was a student at Woman's College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) from 1957-1961. She entered the college during the second year of the campus' desegregation and faced many personal and academic challenges because of it. During Burroughs-White's senior year at Dudley High School in Greensboro, North Carolina, the city saw the integration of their public schools. Many in her senior class were involved with local protests and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and they believed that it was important to see their classmates placed in all of the state colleges. They were successful and Burroughs-White was one of five African American students who enrolled at Woman's College. She found that some students and professors were very welcoming, but others were blatantly unhappy with the new integrated campus. There were no African American professors. In fact, the only African Americans on campus were those who worked in maintenance or housekeeping.

Although she lived at home and not in a dormitory, the living quarters on campus were still somewhat segregated. The African American students lived in the same dormitories as the white students, but were required to live in separate halls with their own bathrooms. Her campus involvement was somewhat limited because of her commute to campus and her job. Most of her social life was off campus and she had a strong network with her high school friends and her family church. She and her friends dated the young men from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically black university also located in Greensboro.

Graves Burroughs-White as Social Chair of the Town Students Association
Burroughs-White later recalled that while many white students were anxious to be her friend, others ignored her. She was constantly amazed that girls, who professed to be her friends, would not touch the same utensils or lab equipment that she used. Incredibly, one fellow student believed that Burroughs-White had a tail. Other students were changed very positively by knowing her personally - they recognized their racial prejudice and were able to rethink their position. Burroughs-White was attending Woman’s College during the February 1960 Sit-in at Woolworth's in downtown Greensboro and she was involved in this nonviolent Civil Rights protest.

While in college, Burroughs-White majored in sociology and was interested in working in the field of juvenile justice. After graduation, she briefly moved to Philadelphia, then returned to Greensboro and took a position as a probation officer with the Domestic Relations Court of Guilford. She continued to work in the court system until she retired in 1994. Burroughs-White was very active in the community serving as a city councilwoman (1994-2005) and as a member of the Governor's Crime Commission (1997-2005), the United Way, the Girl Scouts, and the YWCA. Throughout her career she was admired as a pioneer and received many prestigious awards in her field.

In 1991, she was interviewed as part of the UNCG Centennial Oral History Project. You can find the full transcript of her oral history interview online at

Monday, February 16, 2015

UNCG's Black Power Forum of 1967

February is Black History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month focus on remembering important people and events related to the history of African Americans and UNCG.

Throughout the 1960s, Greensboro served as a key site for the civil rights movement. After the Sit Ins and protests of the early 1960s, the middle of the decade saw the ideals of black self-determination and pride being spread throughout Greensboro and the nation. The term “Black Power” first entered the national consciousness through Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader Stokely Carmichael’s speech at the March Against Fear in 1966. Black Power soon became known as a movement for solidarity within the black community and the fight for racial independence.

Agenda for November 1, 1967,
the first day of the Black Power Forum
While students at North Carolina A&T University stood as leaders in the movement, discussions were not limited to the area’s historically black colleges and universities. On November 1-3, 1967, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro played host to a controversial Black Power Forum, organized in large part by the UNCG Student Government Association to “inform students and faculty members of this movement and its actions and to give us a chance to discuss Black Power, its history, its political and social implications for us and the nation.” 

The forum was organized around three topics: “Black Power past and present,” “the ghetto,” and “Black Power and the self-image of the Negro.” Speakers from across the country were brought in for presentations and discussions held in Cone Ballroom. Attendance the first day was judged “poor” with fewer than 75 attendees at the initial session, but by Thursday evening attendance had grown to 800. A UNCG report summarizing activities after the conclusion of the Forum noted “that off-campus people outnumbered UNCG students and faculty, that they were primarily Negroes and males, that a considerable number of them seemed to be sympathetic toward the concepts of Black Power, and that they often expressed their feelings with applause or cheers.”

The Forum did not occur without controversy. Editorials and essays declared that the University had been “used” by activists with a specific agenda. Rumors abounded that Ku Klux Klan members planned to attend the Forum, and UNCG Chancellor James Ferguson was forced to ask police officers with the City of Greensboro to attend each of the scheduled sessions to “guard against possible trouble.”

Black Power Forum participants, 1967
Additionally, administrators expressed concern that the sessions “did not produce a detached, objective examination of the ideas of Black Power but were given over to vigorous exhortations in support and advocacy of the movement.” But they could not deny that the Forum provided students with a learning opportunity. As stated in the UNCG report, “today’s students, today’s citizenry in general must learn all they can about the nature of Black Power and the forces that brought it into being. They need to be aware of the task before them. Above all, they should not wait until a crisis develops – until there is a riot in the streets – to gain knowledge of this troublesome subject.”