Monday, August 25, 2014

Lina McDonald: The First Campus Mystery

Graduating Class of the State Normal and Industrial School, 1893
Lina McDonald is not pictured
Working at the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives is always interesting. Recently, I came across one of the earliest campus mysteries – the tragic accident of a student who lost her life several months before graduation when she was struck by a train and killed, not far from campus.

A Forsyth County native, Miss Lina McDonald was a graduate of Peace Institute (now Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina) and arrived at the State Normal and Industrial School (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) when the doors opened in the fall of 1892. Although she had gained teaching experience in the nearby towns of Winston, Shelby, and Concord, Miss McDonald decided to apply to the State Normal to acquire a certificate and additional experience.  In addition to her responsibilities as a student, she also served as an assistant faculty member and soon took charge of the Department of Vocal Music and Education where she quickly gained the reputation as a conscientious and caring teacher. She was described as having a lovable nature, a good character, and winning cheerfulness which made her well-liked by both the students and the teachers. Her sweet personality and reputation as a powerful teacher made her untimely death an even greater shock to the college and to the community.

The circumstances surrounding the accident were never fully understood. There were no actual witnesses and the last person who saw her alive reported that she was safe on a nearby embankment. What happened next is purely conjecture.


A remembrance of Lina McDonald written by members of the faculty

It was not unusual to find Miss McDonald taking long walks. As an assistant member of the faculty, she was not restricted to campus and she was known to relieve the stress of teaching and studying by walking, either with members of the staff or friends in the community. On the afternoon of January 16, 1893, Miss McDonald was returning from a visit with her friend, Mrs. James Glenn in South Greensboro when her path took her close to the railroad tracks, presumably because it created easier walking conditions in the snow. A local man, T. J. Trent, told authorities that the young woman had passed him while he was making his way south, away from the city. He noted that when she was approximately 200 yards beyond him, she paused and appeared to contemplate her path. She then reversed course and headed back toward to the city, passing him again. About that time, Mr. Trent heard the sound of the oncoming train, but had lost sight of Miss McDonald who he believed had continued to her destination. It was only later that he heard that she had been struck by the train; her body discovered by a local hunter, lying on the track in the snow. Sadly, the engineer had not seen her and the accident had gone unnoticed by the train crew or the passengers.

As a crowd gathered around the lifeless body, no one could identify her. It was only later that evening when someone discovered a college laundry tag reading “Lina McD ” on her clothing that someone remembered a young woman by the name of Lina McDonald attended the State Normal, and college president Charles Duncan McIver was notified. Two days later, McIver and several members of the faculty accompanied Miss McDonald’s remains to her funeral in Raleigh.

The mystery of how she was hit by the train when she was last seen safely on a high embankment was never solved. The official inquest did not hold the engineers responsible for her death and it was generally believed that she may have panicked when she heard the train, causing her to lose her footing and fall on the track. Another proposed explanation was that somehow the train caught part of her clothing, pulling her onto the rails, and causing the train to pass diagonally over her chest. Whatever the circumstances, Lina McDonald was truly mourned and ten years later when asked to write about the first graduates of the State Normal for the campus yearbook, The Decennial, her classmates and colleagues included her in their number.

Monday, August 18, 2014

WC Takes to the Skies

In the Fall 1946 course catalog, the Physics Department at Woman's College added a new class to its curriculum. "Elements of Aeronautics" allowed WC students to not only understand the principles of aeronautics but to actually learn how to fly from instructors from the Hawthorne Flying Service at the Greensboro-High Point airport (now the Piedmont Triad International Airport). An article in the Greensboro Daily News noted that "the course, as outlined, will be one of the first of its kind in the country, and Woman's College will become one of the few girl's schools in the nation to offer flying to its students."
Dr. Anna J. Reardon

The course was led by Dr. Anna J. Reardon, head of the physics department. Prerequisites included at least one year of mathematics, one year of physics, and written permission from the student's parents. In the first semester, seven WC students signed up for the course -- Lucy Rodgers, Tommy Tomlin, Jean Fleming, Margaret Ferbee, Betty Pickett, Jean Kirkman, and Betty Sue Beaman.

Students began with on-campus classes in the Science Building focused on navigation, aerodynamics, aircraft, meterology, and air regulations. Three times per week (third period on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday), the students focused on learning to read maps, chart courses, and study wind drifts.

The classroom learning provided the necessary groundwork for the flying lessons that followed. A minimum of one afternoon per week, each member of the class had to catch the Winston-Salem bus from campus to the Greensboro-High Point airport for a half-hour private flying lesson from one of four instructors of the Hawthorne Flying Service. An article in the Carolinian student newspaper made special note that, "for flying, the girls wear slacks, blue jeans, or army tans."

"Elements of Aeronautics" students with one of
their instructors, Carolinian, Nov. 15, 1946
Initial flying lessons focused on straight and level flying. As the Carolinian reported, "Among the most astonishing things to these flyers was running a straight course to discover the plan flying straight at an angle because the wind is blowing. Instead of holding at a steady course down the air-strip on a take-off the students go to one side, almost getting off the runway." After mastering straight and level flying and adjustments to wind drifts, the students moved on to banks and turns. By the end of the course the students demonstrated their skills with "pylon eights," described as "ice-skating eights in an airplane, with two houses as center of each loop."

"Elements of Aeronautics" appears in the WC course bulletin through the 1954-1955 academic year. But at least one of the original Fall 1946 students continued their aviation-related work. In a 1990 oral history interview, Dr. Reardon notes that one students "followed up with piloting after she graduated from here. She moved out west some place and she took part in some of these races across the country."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Greensboro Got the Girls ... Now Where Do We Put Them?

In last week's Spartan Story, we looked at the decision to name Greensboro as the site for North Carolina's newly-created State Normal and Industrial School. Greensboro citizens were happy and excited -- while those in other towns also in contention for the institution were not so pleased. Greensboro won the right to host the new school by pledging $30,000 along with a site for the campus's development. But the offer alone didn't mean that the money - or even the land - was in hand.

In July 1891, shortly after being awarded the school, a committee was formed to drum up citizen support for a bond referendum to be voted on in late July. The bonds would allow citizens to support the city's efforts to raise the $30,000 pledged to the state. The committee proved successful in its campaign as 771 citizens voted in favor of the bonds; no votes were cast opposed.

State Normal's first president, Charles Duncan McIver,
pictured here in his office in the Main Building in 1895
That night, a "rousing meeting" was held at the Greensboro Court House. The chief speaker was Charles Duncan McIver, who had been selected by the board of directors to be the first president of the new State Normal and Industrial School. McIver "fervently proclaimed his faith in the future progress of the State through the education of its women. He expressed complete satisfaction with the Board's selection of Greensboro for the school, praising its climate, accessibility and its fine public spirit." Likewise, the Greensboro correspondent to the Raleigh News and Observer reported that "Greensboro was delighted with President McIver, and glad to know that he is soon to be one of us."

The issue of raising $30,000 through bonds proved simpler to resolve than that of finding and selecting a site for the school. A number of sites around town were suggested as possibilities. The Steel and Iron Company offered two sites - one directly on a rail line just over a mile outside of town and one within the city limits on Church Street. Another site offered, known as the "Brick School Site," was located about 100 yards west of Greensboro Female College (now Greensboro College). Another site known as the "Tate Site" was also just west of Greensboro Female College on West Market Street.

Ultimately, in November 1891, the site that was selected was one referred to as the "Pullen Site," located about a half mile west of Greensboro Female College on Spring Garden Street. This site was also within view, but not directly on, the railroad line. Two Raleigh real estate speculators and philanthropists, Richard Stanhope Pullen and Robert T. Gray, donated the ten acres that would house the school. The land sat just inside of the city's corporate limits, adjacent to a farm owned by the Reverend R. R. Moore.

Epps & Hackett's original architectural renderings for the
Main Building and Brick Dormitory at State Normal
With a site selected, the board of directors hired Greensboro architects Orlo Epps and C.M. Hackett to design two large brick buildings for the campus. One building was to house the school's academic functions and the other to house its students. Contractor Thomas Woodroffe was brought on to build the structures. Epps and Hackett chose to design the two buildings in the Romanesque Revival style which had been made popular at the time by architect Henry Hobson Richardson.

Main Building was constructed to house the president's office, 10 classrooms, the library, a small gymnasium, and an auditorium/chapel. Originally referred to as the "matron's hall" or the "living building," the second structure is most often referred to as Brick Dormitory. Located approximately where the current McIver Building stands, Brick Dormitory contained a kitchen, a dining room, and living spaces for the student body.

After more than a year spent planning the new school and constructing its facilities, the State Normal and Industrial School officially opened its doors for an initial class of 198 female students from across North Carolina on October 5, 1892. The Brick Dormitory was destroyed by a fire in January 1904. But the Main Building, which was renamed in 1960 to honor Julius Foust, the second president of the school, remains in use primarily for classroom and academic office space. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Greensboro Gets the Girls!

On February 18, 1891, the General Assembly of North Carolina passed an act that officially established a "normal and industrial school for white girls." This act appropriated $10,000 per year for maintenance of the school, but not for buildings, land, or other facilities. In fact, the act stated that "the institution shall be located ... at some suitable place where the citizens thereof shall furnish the necessary buildings or money sufficient to erect them." Cities were given until June 1st to submit their bids to host the new school.

Act to Establish a Normal Industrial School
for White Girls, 1891
On June 9th, the appointed board of directors met in Raleigh to consider the various host proposals. Three main competitors for the new institution emerged -- Durham, Graham, and Thomasville. Greensboro had not even submitted an offer, although the News and Observer in Raleigh reported that representatives from Greensboro "intimated an intention to make a proposition." The board members adjourned to investigate the proposals, but the Greensboro citizens continued their work. The Graham (N.C.) Gleaner wrote that "all this time the Greensboro folks were as busy as beavers, running hither and thither getting subscriptions to knock the other applicants out who had entered the race at the beginning and made a square manly fight for the school." Many newspapers intimated that Greensboro was the understood front-runner, assuming they could garner the necessary support and funds, and that the investigations of the other offers was merely a matter of courtesy.

After learning of the offers from Durham, Graham, and Thomasville, the citizens of Greensboro held a mass meeting on June 12th to finalize their proposal. The citizens present voted unanimously to make a bid of $30,000 plus a site -- an offer which surpassed all others under consideration. Following this offer, the school's board of directors unanimously decided to accept Greensboro's offer. The chairman of the board, Major S.M. Finger, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, stated, "I congratulate Greensboro on the result. I believe this is the proper place for [the school]. The Piedmont is the coming part of the State."

Local newspapers in Greensboro also celebrated the decision. The Greensboro correspondent to the News and Observer titled his article "Greensboro Wins," with the subtitle: "She Gets the Girls Industrial School -- The City of Flowers is Happy." The Richmond Dispatch announced "Greensboro Gets the Girls." And the Greensboro Patriot praised the "spirit of progress and liberality manifested by the citizens and rejoiced that Greensboro's advantageous location, accessibility to railroads, and healthy climate had been recognized by this decision."

Understandably, the other three cities under consideration for the school were not pleased by the decision. The Durham Globe blamed "the men of property" in that city for "lack of enterprise," stating "Greensboro was wide awake and all her citizens were open-handed. There was no waiting for two or three men to do it all; there was no jealousy and no personal pride. It was city pride and city enterprise." Citizens in Graham complained that the board considered the proposals of Graham and Thomasville only as a means "to pry Greensboro" into submitting an offer.

Cover of a promotion booklet produced by the Greensboro
Chamber of Commerce, 1892
Thomasville, however, argued the strongest against the choice of Greensboro to host the new school. J.A. Leach, who presented Thomasville's proposal to the board of directors, wrote an open letter criticizing the board's "hasty action" and failure to give the other towns the chance to outbid Greensboro if they desired. His chief complaint, though, was that the board selected a "fashionable city" where prices were high compared to other areas. The choice of Greensboro, in his opinion, violated the section of the school's establishment act which stated that "the institution shall be located at a place where low rates of board can be secured." He argued that the purpose of the school was to provide education for poorer girls "not in a city that is noted for its style and costly female dress, where the Normal and Industrial girls will have to dress as well as the college, graded school, and city girls do when upon the streets or at the churches where they must go, but in some town where good board is cheap, and plain inexpensive clothing can be worn with propriety."

In spite of objections, Greensboro was indeed set to house the new State Normal and Industrial School. Stay tuned to next week's Spartan Story where we learn more about the Greensboro citizens' work to move forward with the campus's development.