Monday, March 25, 2013

Pearl Eugenia Wyche, class of 1903

Today's Spartan Stories post was written by junior Rachel Sanders, who is a student worker in Special Collections and University Archives. For a research paper for Dr. Lisa Tolbert's course History 430: Historical Methods for Social Sciences, Rachel used the University Archives to learn more about Pearl Eugenia Wyche, a 1903 graduate. Below is a condensed version of her paper.

Pearl Eugenia Wyche, born in 1878 in Vance County, North Carolina, attended the State Normal and Industrial School for Women (which is now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) from 1897-1903. During her time at the Normal School, she had some unique work and social experiences which separated her from her classmates. She served as a makeshift nurse during the typhoid epidemic of 1899 (assisting her older sister who was on the nursing staff at that time), was chosen for a scholarship by the governor and the faculty of the Normal, and was hired immediately after graduating to work for the Cone Mills Corporation, where she was the head of the welfare department for 47 years.

Mary Lewis Wyche, Pearl's older sister
Wyche’s application gives us some especially significant information about her life. She had a twin sister, Ruby, who applied with her. It would appear that Ruby was not accepted because Ruby’s name never appears again in the university records. We also learn from the McIver Collection that Charles D. McIver, founder and president of the Normal, helped Wyche get a job on campus working as a secretary and bookkeeper for Dr. Anna Gove, who was on the faculty at the Normal School at the time.

Also interesting is Pearl’s older sister, Mary. Mary Lewis Wyche was working as a nurse at the Normal School during the typhoid epidemic of 1899, during Pearl’s second year at the Normal School. Pearl and Mary worked together during the epidemic, with Pearl working as a makeshift nurse and medical assistant. In a letter to her mother and Ruby, Pearl describes her efforts to assist others in the epidemic. She mentions the symptoms that those affected were experiencing and she mentions several of the doctors working at the school by name, including Doctors Richardson, Scott, Gove and Beall. Pearl says, “I was very busy trying to get some of the bills made out today. I act as a druggist sometimes, and Dr. [sic] too. Several of the teachers wanted medicine, but hated to bother Dr. Gove so they came to me for medicine.” It likely would have not been uncommon in 1899 for a student like Pearl to fill prescriptions and nurse others. Pearl was not a certified nurse; in fact, she mentions that she plans to let the more experienced nurses take over for her in the days to come.
Caesar Cone, one of the founders of Cone Mills

After the epidemic, Pearl went on to finish her education at the Normal School. She graduated in 1903. Caesar Cone, one of the founders of the Cone Mills Company, was present and heard her read an essay at the commencement exercises. Very shortly after that, he hired her. She would go on to work for Cone Mills as Director of Welfare from 1903 to 1950, and she developed the first Industrial Welfare Department in North Carolina. Pearl never married and died in 1951 in Greensboro, shortly after her retirement from Cone Mills. Pearl’s life was not only impressive; it was exceptional.

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