Monday, April 18, 2016

The Bachelors Bench: A Forgotten Campus Monument

Long forgotten and hidden by branches and brush in what is left of Peabody Park, sits the “Bachelors Bench.” Engraved with “Bachelors of 1903,” one might initially think that it refers to unmarried men at the turn of the century. If this were true, it would truly be a mystery as The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) was a school for young women until 1963. In actuality, it commemorates something quite different. This granite bench memorializes the granting of the first bachelor’s degrees at the State Normal and Industrial College (now UNCG).

The Bachelors Bench

As it is tucked away in an area of the campus that is overgrown with natural vegetation and poison ivy, the bench goes unnoticed by the many students and faculty who walk by the location each day. It is likely that the significance of this granite slab was forgotten only decades after its creation. Even in the 1930s, students asked about the meaning of the bench had no idea of its importance. They may not have realized that for the first ten years of the school’s existence, the college did not offer degrees. Students were awarded diplomas for mastery of the limited curriculum.

Seven out of the Nine Students Who Received Bachelor's Degrees in 1903

The following years saw an expansion in the curriculum and an improvement in scholarship, leading the college to change its name in 1897 from the State Normal and Industrial School to the State Normal and Industrial College.  In 1901, the North Carolina State Legislature gave the State Normal the authority to grant its students actual degrees. While the college's president, Charles Duncan McIver, did not feel that the school’s standard curriculum warranted a degree, he did agree to an expanded program of graduate study. McIver invited students who had previously graduated with diplomas, to return to the college and take additional coursework to earn an official degree. Nine young women received their bachelor’s degrees in the spring of 1903. The Class of 1909 was the first to receive degrees for four years of standard coursework.

Traditionally, classes placed their commemorative markers in Front Campus, now known as Foust Park, where their graduation exercises were held. The graduates receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1903, marked their accomplishment with a bench placed in Peabody Park. This wooded area, located near the current School of Music, Theatre, and Dance Building, was named after Englishman George Peabody, who donated a large amount of money to support teacher training throughout the South. Many of the smaller granite memorials that commemorated the early classes have been removed, stolen, or lost. Perhaps it is because of its unique placement, its sturdy granite construction, and the overgrowth of the area surrounding it, that the Bachelors Bench has survived into the 21st century.

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