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.

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