Monday, November 16, 2015

100 Years Ago: Campus Life in 1915

On Saturday, September 18, 1915, the 702 students enrolled at the State Normal and Industrial College (now UNCG) gathered in the auditorium of the Students' Building to kick off the new academic year with "College Night." Representatives from the Senior Class as well as the Young Women's Christian Organization (YWCA) spoke, and, according to State Normal Magazine, "the various college organizations gave 'stunts' which showed the new girls in every unique and mirth-provoking manner something of the different phases of college life."

Students' Building in 1915. The building was razed in 1950,
but the cornerstone remains visible on College Avenue, in front of the EUC.
Only a few weeks later, the College celebrated Founder's Day with wreaths of flowers and tributes from the College and the Senior Class taken to the grave of founding president Charles Duncan McIver by four faculty members remaining from the opening of the school just 23 years before. Flowers were also placed at the grave of the school's first Lady Principal, Sue May Kirkland, who had died the previous year.

And only two days after Founder's Day, the campus received a high-profile guest when William Jennings Bryan, a politician and a close friend of McIver's, made a short stop at State Normal. He briefly spoke with the students in the dining hall during their dinner time, discussing his shared grief at the loss of McIver nine years prior. As State Normal Magazine noted, he also "made a few remarks, embodying the ideals of Dr. McIver - and of every great man - leaving with us the stimulating thought that life holds for us, with interest, just what we put into it."

The excitement over the initial weeks of school in 1915 continued throughout the academic year as students participated in debates, dramatic presentations, and other events as part of the campus literary societies. As the course bulletin from the 1915-1916 academic year noted, "students should breathe an atmosphere that will promote growth." The campus administrators and students promoted growth by bringing in numerous speakers and performers covering a wide range of subject matter.

Members of State Normal's YWCA at an annual retreat
in Western North Carolina
Women's suffrage was a major point of debate and advocacy for the State Normal students on campus one hundred years ago. In Spring 1915, 250 students participated in a march during their regular afternoon “walking period.” This march, led by members of the orchestra and girls with makeshift instruments, paraded down College Avenue with “Votes for Women” banners flying high. The protest ended at Spencer Dormitory where the girls listened to speeches on women’s rights given by their fellow students. At the 1915 commencement ceremony in June, students refused to applaud the speaker, Governor Locke Craig, because he spoke against women’s suffrage. It was only after Governor Craig conceded that he would support women’s right to vote if that is what they desired, that he received a positive response from his audience. Another speaker that year suggested that women leave the vote to men. As a result, the students created an effigy of the unfortunate legislator and burned it in Peabody Park. Also, a suffrage group, thought to be the first of its kind in the South, was formed on campus.

Sophomore class giving a performance on
the Athletic Fields (where Petty Building sits today)
Interestingly, in the November 1915 State Normal Magazine, we also see a refrain still echoing on campus today. In a piece titled "College Spirit," Louise Winston Goodwin wrote, "What is it that makes an inter-university foot ball game so interesting? College spirit! Of course, we don't have the opportunity to fight on inter-collegiate gridirons. But we do have athletics, and athletics should be a very potent factor in our campus life. Even if you don't 'go into training' on your team, you can throw yourself into your team practice - always be there, always play your hardest. If you don't play, you belong on the side lines, giving your interest, your enthusiasm to liven up the game." That sense of spirit was on display in the annual campus basketball tournament, held in November, with the championship game played on Thanksgiving afternoon. For the first time ever, the Freshman class took the championship, with a member of the Senior class noting in State Normal Magazine that "those Freshmen weren't as green as they thought or we thought they were."

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