Monday, October 15, 2018

Lucy Robertson: Academic and Activist

While Lucy Henderson Owen Robertson (1850 – 1930) was a member of the staff of State Normal and Industrial College (now UNC Greensboro) for only a short time, she made a lasting impression on the college, the city of Greensboro, and education in the South. Robertson was born in Warrenton, North Carolina, but grew up in Hillsborough, attending Miss Nash and Kollock’s School for Young Ladies, then Chowan Baptist Institute (now Chowan University). Robertson liked to tell the story of when, as a young girl, she visited a palmist who told her fortune. When the woman read her palm, she said that Robertson’s heart and head line were parallel, and it was hard to tell which was longer. She determined at an early age, that it was her heart line.

Lucy Robertson

In 1869, she married Dr. David A. Robertson and moved with him to Greensboro, raising two sons. Perhaps unusual for women of her time, she had a career in academics.  In 1875, she took a position at Greensboro Female College (now Greensboro College) as an assistant in the Literary Department, then head of the English Language and Literature Department. She became a widow at thirty-three years of age and dedicated the rest of her life to teaching.

In 1893, Robertson was enticed to accept a position at the State Normal to teach in the Department of English and History. When the school opened in 1892, this was a combined department, but it was eventually split into separate areas and Robertson became the head of the newly established Department of History. The fact that she was made department head reflects college president Charles Duncan McIver’s willingness to hire women for important positions. McIver may have also liked the fact that she was a native of North Carolina. During the early years, the College took pride in recruiting its professors from the South, specifically North Carolina.

State Normal Faculty, ca. 1893. Lucy Robertson is on the far right

 Described as “tall and graceful, well educated, well-traveled, and vitally interested in people,” Robertson was an immediate favorite with the students of State Normal. She developed a curriculum for the History Department that stressed a “familiarity with the great names and events” and a chronological sense of history. She particularly emphasized Greek and Roman history, medieval history, English history, and U.S. history. The Department used textbooks in all classes, but also encouraged “topical study, parallel reading, and independent research in a library.”

Robertson only taught seven short years at the State Normal before returning to Greensboro Female College in 1900 to accept the position of Lady Principal, and then President. In fact, she became the first woman to hold the office of college president in the state and in the South. She remained President until 1913, when she made the decision to return to teaching. Robertson also spent time traveling both in the United States and overseas, visiting eleven countries.

Annual History Department Report written by Lucy Robertson, 1898

In 1917, as the country began to mobilize for World War I, Robertson was appointed to the Executive Council of the North Carolina Division of the Woman’s Committee.  Specifically, she was chosen as Chair of Child Welfare.  She was considered to have the credentials and experience to be an effective state representative and the connections to recruit students and faculty from North Carolina’s well-established network of women’s colleges for war work.

Robinson was also involved in spheres beyond academics, becoming involved in many organizations and president of the Western Conference of the Women's Foreign Missionary Societies, the United Society of Foreign and Home Missions, and a member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Woman's Club of Greensboro.

In her later years, she continued to work, teaching “Bible and Religious Education” at Greensboro Female Academy until a few days before her death in May of 1930. She died in the infirmary of Greensboro College. She was buried in Green Hill Cemetery, Greensboro.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Curry School: Practice Teaching on Campus

On February 18, 1891, the North Carolina Legislature passed "An Act to Establish and Normal and Industrial School," officially chartering the institution that would become UNC Greensboro. As the State Normal and Industrial School, the institution focused heavily on training women to become teachers in North Carolina's public schools. As part of this training, the institution established a practice school so that students could gain practical classroom experience as part of their education.

State Normal opened its practice and observation school in 1893 under the direction of Philander P. Claxton. Initially, the school had ten pupils, with ages ranging from five to eight. Two of these pupils were the children of State Normal president Charles Duncan McIver. Classes were held in rooms within the Wooden Dormitory, one of two student residence halls on the State Normal campus.

Curry School students, circa 1910
By 1898, the practice school student body had grown to nearly 200 pupils, and the school was officially incorporated into the Greensboro public school system. The Wooden Dormitory building also grew to accommodate the expanding student population. Meanwhile, McIver and others at State Normal advocated for funding to build a separate building on campus to hold the practice school.

In 1902, that goal was finally achieved and the new practice school building opened. Named after Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, who helped advocate for the founding of the State Normal, the practice school building was located on College Avenue. With the new building came even more growth in the practice school student body. Beginning in 1913, the Curry School added each year a new grade from eighth to eleventh (which was at the time the state's standard senior year). It produced its first high school graduating class in 1917. Due to interruptions from World War I, however, Curry School would not graduate another class until 1927.

In the mid-1920s, construction on a new and more modernized Curry School Building on Spring Garden Street began. As the new building was nearing completion in 1926, the original Curry building on College Avenue burned to the ground. Faulty electric wiring and poor original construction were to blame for the fire. The portico framing the front entrance to the building was the only part of the structure to survive. It remained in place for over a decade, with students referring to it as "the ruins."

Curry School students, circa 1940
By this point, well over a third of the juniors and seniors at the college (known in 1926 as the North Carolina College for Women) were education majors. Many others majored in a specific subject area but planned to teach high school after graduation. The Curry School population also grew, with an enrollment of 402 students in December 1928. A kindergarten was added in 1935 and the twelfth grade of high school in 1946. Total enrollment at the Curry School, however, remained steady, due primarily to the size of its building. In 1944, the school reportedly had a lengthy waiting list and rejected numerous applicants.

By the 1950s, the number of students at Woman's College who needed practice teaching experience greatly outpaced the ability of the Curry School to offer them on-campus opportunities. More and more students found these experiences in other local public schools. Additionally, the facilities at the Curry School had deteriorated to the point that a candidate for the school's deanship in 1958 proclaimed it the worst he had ever seen.

A state bond referendum in 1959 helped improve the physical plant. The repairs and additions included the construction in 1961 of Park Gymnasium next door to the Curry School Building. But by this time, the small student body and the limitations in offerings for high school students (both varieties of classes and extracurricular activities) started to impact the school. Additionally, Curry's operating costs per pupil were almost double that of the other nearby public schools.

Curry School students, 1970
Outside consultants and an education faculty study in 1966 all recommended closure of at least the high school at Curry. Robert O'Kane, dean of the School of Education, agreed and the high school officially closed in 1969. The elementary grades (kindergarten through sixth grade) followed in 1970. Today, the Curry School building remains on Spring Garden (although the Park Gymnasium was razed in 2004 to make way for the Moore Humanities and Research Administration Building).

Monday, October 1, 2018

History of the Virginia Dare Room (Alumni House)

In 1937, the Alumnae Hall at the Woman’s College (now UNCG) opened to much fanfare and excitement across the campus. Designed by Penrose V. Stout of Bronxville, New York, and modeled after Homewood in Baltimore, Maryland, it was originally called the Alumnae Hall. The name was changed to the Alumni House in November 1972.

Baptism of Virginia Dare
One the distinguishing features of the House is the large ballroom, which today is more commonly referred to as the Virginia Dare Room. The historical title for the room is in direct reference to the large mural over the fireplace that depicts the baptism of Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in the United States, in 1587. The idea for the mural dates to March 1936, when the Alumnae House Building Committee was planning the interior layout for the house.

Following the resignation of Miss Elizabeth Thompson as the contracted interior designer for the House, the committee voted to hire J. Frank Jones, Inc., from Richmond, Virginia. At his first official meeting with the group on March 2, 1936, Mr. Jones presented to the committee a photograph of the Baptism of Virginia Dare, which had been given to Miss Clara Byrd, the Secretary of the Alumnae Association. Mr. Jones was charmed with the picture and suggested to the committee that it would be perfect, when enlarged and hand colored, to display as a mural over the fireplace mantle. The image he presented to the group was of a painting originally given to the North Carolina State Historical Commission in April 1930 by National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in The State of North Carolina. Mr. Jones also suggested finding a second painting that could be a companion piece to the Virginia Dare mural.
The committee members were very impressed by the beauty of the picture and thought that Mr. Jones’ idea was an excellent recommendation. At the following meeting on March 16, 1936, Dr. Julius Foust, the Chancellor of Woman’s College, presented to the committee a letter by Mr. Jones. In it, he recommended using the Baptism of Virginia Dare and The Croatan Tree as companion mural pieces in the Alumnae House. It was of his opinion that both images were visually decorative and of historical value. He further noted that he had found an artist willing to paint them for $150 each, which he described a “ridiculously low.”

After a short discussion, the committee formally voted and approved the commission of the murals at the recommendation of Mr. Jones. However, rather than using state funding for the project, which would have resulted in a formal competitive bidding process, Dr. Foust suggested that outside monies should be raised for the paintings.

Although the two large murals have hung in the Virginia Dare Room since the House opened, the room was not always identified by them. Originally, the room was referred to in meeting minutes and in correspondence as the “large reception hall.” It was not until the May 29, 1948 meeting of the Alumnae Association that the name Virginia Dare Room first appears. The reasoning for this nomenclature shift is absent from the minutes, however it was likely done to recognize the importance of the mural in the room. Today, the Virginia Dare Room hosts many UNCG activities including lectures, board meetings, and public forums as well as external events such as weddings.

Monday, September 24, 2018

T. Gilbert Pearson: A Legacy of Wildlife Conservation

As one of the early faculty members at the State Normal and Industrial College (now UNC Greensboro), T. Gilbert Pearson (1872-1943) was a favorite among his students, but he is perhaps best known for helping to found the National Association of Audubon Society. 

T. Gilbert Pearson

Born in Indiana and raised in Florida, Pearson spent his early years developing an interest in nature. He lived with his family in a log cabin in the woods where he collected and sold rare and valuable eggs. He also traded the eggs for books about birds. By the age of 18, he had amassed a significant collection of eggs and mounted birds and parlayed it into payment toward a college tuition and board. In 1891, Guilford College, a private Quaker college located in Greensboro, North Carolina, agreed to accept the young man’s offer if he would consent to mount additional birds for the school’s ornithological museum. He had a very successful college life at Guilford College, becoming active in academic organizations and campus sports. After graduation, Pearson entered the University of North Carolina, located in Chapel Hill, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree. He then returned to Guilford College to teach biology and continued his interest in the preservation of the state’s dwindling bird population.
State Normal Biology Classroom with Pearson's Birds

In 1901, Pearson decided to accept a position at the State Normal as the chair of the geology and biology department. His natural teaching style made him immediately beloved by the students. Virginia Brown (Class of 1902) recalled Pearson was "young, eager, the sort of person to whom each day seemed fresh as if just created. We caught his spirit." The young professor impressed the students by reciting poetry and telling them stories about the birds and animal life he had seen in the wild before morning class. Believing that nature was the best teacher, he often left the confines of the classroom to hold sessions in his “laboratory,” Peabody Park, sometimes joined by equally captivated faculty members. The existence of this campus park enabled him to teach the young women in his charge about local birds and their migratory patterns. Thus, when they became teachers, they could pass the information to their students.

Pearson (lower left) on an outing near Pilot Mountain, 1893
The school’s president, Charles Duncan McIver, encouraged the young professor and asked him to establish a museum of native birds. It was during his time at the State Normal that Pearson wrote Stories of Bird Life and organized the first Audubon Society in North Carolina. He also served as Managing Editor of The State Normal Magazine.

Pearson's Stories of Bird Life

Pearson’s life progressively would progressively take a turn toward conservation. In 1903, he became the Secretary of the National Audubon Society and State Game Commissioner. He also began to lobby the North Carolina legislature to pass a law that would give the Audubon Society the right to enforce wildlife laws in the state. This would be known as the “Audubon Act,” allowing a private organization to have public authority and creating the South’s first wildlife commission. Although McIver wanted to retain him on the faculty, Pearson left in 1904 to become a full-time agent for the newly formed National Association of Audubon Societies. He later became president of the organization.

Pearson continued as a prolific speaker and writer on behalf of North Carolina’s wildlife, penning an autobiography, Adventures in Bird Protection, as well as The Bird Study Book and Birds of North Carolina and serving as co-editor of the three-volume book, Birds of America. He would move into a national role in conservation, becoming secretary, and later president of the National Association of Audubon Societies.

John Burroughs Memorial Association Medal

After spending his life working toward the conservation of the state’s wildlife, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of North Carolina in 1924. Additionally, Pearson received the medal of the John Burroughs Association and was honored in France with the medal of the Society National d’Acclimatation. He passed away in in 1943 and now lays buried next to his wife Elise Weatherly Pearson (a State Normal alumna, Class of 1896) in Green Hill Cemetery in Greensboro.  

Monday, September 17, 2018

Josephine Hege: Expressing the Spirit of Woman's College

In 1972, Josephine "Jo" Hege retired as an associate professor of history at UNC Greensboro. On the occasion of her retirement, history department head Richard Bardolph wrote of her as "a highly popular teacher, as well known for her sparkling wit, her ebullience, and her razor-sharp intelligence as for the rigorous standards she required of her students." He noted that she "waged relentless assault upon sham and shoddy worksmanship," but added that "four decades of unswerving dedication to classroom excellence only deepened and strengthened her inner kindliness, her unfailing sense of the comic and absurd, her allegiance to the highest intellectual virtues."

Young Josephine Hege
Elma Josephine Hege was born October 18, 1904, in Salem, NC, to Frederick Christian and Augusta Sitterson Hege. The Hege family's roots could be traced back to the earliest years of the Moravian settlement in Salem. When Josephine was six years old, her family moved to Roanoke Rapids, where her father worked at Rosemary Mills.

After graduating from high school in Roanoke Rapids in 1923, Hege enrolled in the North Carolina College for Women (now UNC Greensboro) to study to become a teacher. She was a very active student, serving as the Literary Editor of the Pine Needles in her junior year and as President of the Student Government Association in her senior year. In the 1927 yearbook, Hege was described as "exact and correct about what she does, but she expects others to have the same standards. This means that she makes an inspiring teacher, although she is a difficult person to please."

Hege's high standards led her to graduate with honors as a history student at NCCW. She was also awarded the Weil Fellowship, which provided a year of graduate study at Yale University. After teaching in public schools for a few years, Hege returned to her alma mater to serve as a counselor in Shaw Residence Hall and part-time instructor from 1934 to 1938. She spent one year away from Greensboro to complete her master of arts degree in history at the University of Virginia. Then, in 1939, she was named an assistant professor in the history department.

Hege, 1927 Pine Needles yearbook
Throughout her time at the school now known as UNCG, Hege wrote poems, litanies, and scripts for numerous services held on campus. Perhaps her proudest achievement, however, was writing the Litany of Commemoration for Founders Day, which was first performed at the university's 50th anniversary celebration on October 5, 1942.

Hege's contributions to the development and growth her alma mater, however, continued in other avenues. When the institution became a university in 1963, Hege took on an unofficial role of mentor to the new faculty members hired. She drew on her background to provide them with instruction in the art of teaching, helping them adjust to the role of professor. Converse D. Clowse, a history department professor, wrote that "she supported young, green faculty members as well as her students. I know that she gave me sound advice on numerous occasions and saved me from a number of errors. She guided others in the same way ... I think that she saw this as a part of her functions as an experienced teacher, to make the next generation of teachers better."

Hege in her office, 1956
In 1972, Hege retired from UNCG. Six years later, a group of faculty and alumni nominated Hege for an honorary doctorate degree for her commitment to UNCG and to excellence in teaching. The degree was awarded in 1979. In a note informing Hege of this decision, Chancellor James Ferguson wrote "you have made fine contributions to this institution, to the consolidated University, and to higher education throughout the state. For many years your litany has expressed the spirit of the Woman's College and the University, and of course your teaching has had a special meaning for those students whose good fortune it was to be in your classes."

Hege saw the institution transform from the North Carolina College for Women to the Woman's College to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her high standards for excellence and her personal emphasis on passing along knowledge to the next generation of students and faculty members ensured that the spirit of the university's founders carries on today.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Crescendoes: UNC Greensboro’s Lost Folk Music Group

UNC Greensboro student music ensembles historically have been classically-based. Although Woman’s College can be proud of its very own all-female 1940s “big band,” the Darlinettes and Rhythmettes, it was not until much later in the school’s history that the music curriculum experimented with popular music. Consequently, what some might consider the state soundtrack of North Carolina, folk music, never seemed to insinuate itself into the daily listening of the greater student body.

A small group of students set out to change this during the 1962-1963 school year. Three students, Lea Jane Berinatti, Janey Walters, and Pat Bowen, were introduced at a meeting for a student music organization. They bonded over their love of folk music and formed a group. Pam Robbins, an interior design major, would eventually replace Pat Bowen who left to New York on a choir trip, and by the 1963-64 school year, one of UNC Greensboro’s early male students Ray Baker, a psychology major, would join the group. This quartet became known as the Crescendoes, the college’s first folk music group.

The Crescendoes wrote and arranged their own music in addition to performing well-known folk pieces and spirituals. Their most popular song was the spiritual, “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” but their own arranged pieces, “The Very Last Day” and “The Very Good Year” also were crowd favorites. By 1965, the Crescendoes released their first album, recorded by Copeland and performed throughout the Triad area.

Interestingly, once the Crescendoes graduated and moved on with their lives, no other student group stepped in to pick up the folk music tradition. Although folk music’s introduction to the UNC Greensboro campus was successful, the popularity of the genre decreased rapidly among students. When asked to gauge student interest in folk music, campus radio station employee, Class of 1964 alumna, and folk music enthusiast, Janet Hamer, reported that “Folk music apparently had decreased in public appeal on this campus. We had three programs last year, and attendance dropped off considerably at the third program. If enough students showed interest, we would continue the folk music series.”

So, why did folk music die on the UNC Greensboro campus? Hamer believed it happened for two reasons. The first is that the campus did not have the quality of the the particular types of musicians that could and would perform folk music. Lea Jane Berinatti was considered one of the top guitarists on the UNCG Campus, but of all the members of the Crescendoes, only she was a music major. As the National Folk Festival was centered in Asheville at the time and Greensboro was not known for its folk music scene, students on campus were not widely exposed to what might be considered authentic folk music. The second reason folk music never took hold on the campus, according to Hamer, was that folk music was becoming so commercialized by that time that few students knew what true folk music was supposed to sound like. That being said, she admits that “Some of the purists don’t sound very good to the untrained ears. We have a preconceived idea of folk music formed by commercial singers.”

Thankfully, the genre has been reintroduced successfully on the UNC Greensboro campus, and students now have access to quality folk music performances. In 2008, the UNCG Old Time Ensemble was created by Dr. Revell Carr with the mission “to give students an opportunity to learn songs and tunes that have been part of North Carolina’s culture for generations.” Additionally, in 2015, the National Folk Festival (now the North Carolina Folk Festival) began to be hosted in Greensboro, NC, giving everyone in the city the opportunity to cultivate a trained-ear for folk music.
Cary, Faye Jenkins. "Folksinging: Fading Fad or Priceless Heritage." The Carolinian 15 January, 1965, p. 4.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Religious Activities at the WC

"In all the days of our years as a college, we have been mindful of the fact that, although a State institution and thereby bound by the American tradition of separation of Church and State, religion has a place of supreme importance in the life of every individual. Believing that a college carries the responsibility, beyond imparting knowledge and developing skills, of fostering spiritual understanding and growth, we offer a varied program of religious activity and interests." -- Dean of Administration Walter Clinton Jackson, 1943

Student leaders and speakers at Religious Emphasis Week, 1950
Religious activities did indeed hold a prominent place in the University's landscape from its opening in 1892. The Y.W.C.A. was a prominent fixture on campus, official University Sermons were given by local and out-of-town religious leaders, the college distributed Bibles to seniors at commencement (until 1930), and many religious student groups were formed.

In the 1930s and 1940s, religious activities were particularly integrated into campus life. Students in 1932 formed the Inter-Faith Council as a way of "foster[ing] understanding, cooperation, joint activity and the development of a sense of unity in diversity among the student religious organization." The Inter-Faith Council consisted of two student representatives and the faculty/staff advisor of each of the student religious organizations on campus. They hosted speakers from a broad spectrum of religious backgrounds, held campus vespers services, published a religious handbook for students, and led dormitory devotions.

Students at a chapel service in Aycock Auditorium, 1954
Also, at the same time that Dean of Administration Walter Clinton Jackson led an (ultimately unsuccessful) fundraising drive to construct a campus chapel building,  a group of students in 1939 organized the first annual Religious Emphasis Week. Religious Emphasis Week ran from October 22-27 and featured seminars, lectures, discussions, and special group meetings selected from a poll of the student body. Selected topics of focus included "What Can Be Accomplished by Prayer?," "A Christian Philosophy of Life," "Religious Basis for Social Action," and "Religious Resources for Personal Living." Rabbi Edward L. Israel of Har Sinai Congregation and Baltimore delivered the Thursday evening address in Aycock Auditorium on "Religion and Abundant Living." Religious Emphasis Week continued until 1953 when it was renamed the Inter-Faith Forum.

While religious activities were plentiful on the WC campus, there were official regulations outlining the role of the students and the administration in planning and facilitating these activities. Five key points guided the policies on religious activities on campus:
  • "All religious groups should be given impartial opportunity to function on campus according tot he vitality of the particular group."
  • "The initiative for religious activities on campus should ... mainly rest with the various denominational or recognized non-sectarian groups rather than with the college administration."
  • "Emphasis of the entire religious program should be to relate the individual to the church of her choice."
  • "College regulations with respect to requests for scheduling of events on campus, use of college property, and student government and administrative rules are to be observed."
  • "Groups which are political, economic, or sociological in purpose but which are not religious either in the denominational or inter-faith respect are not to be placed under the authority of the Religious Activities office."
The goal of the policies was to make "religion a real and natural part of her life while at WC rather than merely an additional college 'activity.'"

Religious Activities Center in Elliott Hall
The Religious Activities Center  served as the central administrative hub for all of the student-led religious activities and groups. The Center was located on the third floor of Elliott Hall, and included the office of the Inter-Faith Council president, the office of the Coordinator of Religious Activities (a University-hired position), and a large room in which group meetings could be held. A 1957 brochure about religion at WC noted that the Center's "lovely surroundings afford a quiet place for meditation."

In the early 1960s, the position of Coordinator of Religious Activities was no longer funded, and the activities related to organizing the campus religious groups were folded into the work of the Dean of Students. By 1971 (ironically the year of the founding of the Department of Religious Studies), UNCG's course bulletin no longer listed information about religious activities on campus.