Originally from Starkville, Mississippi, Miss Fort graduated with honors from Mississippi Industrial Institute and College, considered the first public women’s college in the United States. She then acquired additional training in New York. Hired as a professor and head of the art department at the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG), Miss Fort was paid a significantly lower salary than other teachers at the college. Even though she was qualified for the position, her salary was $450 per year, as compared with Dixie Lee Bryant, who taught Natural Science with a salary of $900. This may reflect the attitude, held by many in education, that art was only a vocational subject, included in the curriculum because it was considered necessary for every future teacher to master. The industrial art department offered classes such as architectural and mechanical drawing, but it also recommended courses in decorative design, art history, china painting, woodcarving, and clay and plaster modeling. Miss Fort was known as an exacting teacher who expected, “respect for order and truthfulness of representation” in her classes. * Art classes met twice a week, and students were required to take a year of training to earn their diploma.
|Melville and Her Bike, 1893|
During a time when few teachers could afford their own home and many found themselves living in the dormitories with students, Miss Fort lived with Miss Gertrude Mendenhall, the professor of Mathematics. The teachers lived in “Green Cottage,” a small house directly off campus, entertaining both faculty and students with parties, games, and teas. She was also friends with the wives of the male faculty, especially with Effie Joyner, wife of James Y. Joyner, who taught English at the college from 1893 – 1902.
Miss Fort enjoyed riding her bike through campus and was active in the faculty photograph club, but her true love was art. She was a sincere advocate of appreciating art through nature. Miss Fort wrote a moving article about Peabody Park, five miles of graded drives and walkways on the North side of campus, which appeared in The Decennial. It includes the following sentiments:
If the mission of art is to cultivate the power to perceive and to appreciate the beautiful, and, if nature is the source of all art, can there be found a more natural or a more pleasing method of cultivating this power than to lead the student into the beauties of nature?
|Faculty Photography Club, 1895|
Melville Fort is seated at right
In 1919, the changing focus of the school and resulting curriculum shifts, resulted in the resignation of Miss Fort and the two other vocational art teachers. Little is known of the details of Miss Fort’s life after leaving the college. She moved to Raleigh where she held part-time positions with the State architect and in the State Revenue Department. Interestingly, she moved in with the Joyner family and lived in their home until Mrs. Joyner died in 1930. Ultimately, Miss Fort was buried in the Joyner family plot in Raleigh after her death in 1939.
* As recalled in 1964 by Mrs. Julius Foust, a student of Miss Fort