Monday, March 27, 2017

Gertrude Mendenhall: A Woman of Substance

By all accounts, Gertrude Mendenhall (1861 – 1926) was a shy, retiring soul who dedicated her career to teaching mathematics to young women. Yet on further inspection, “Gertie,” as she was known to her friends, proves to be a progressive and highly social woman, in possession of a keen mind and a dry and intelligent wit.
Gertrude Mendenhall, ca. 1892

Mendenhall was a member of a well-respected Quaker family that had lived in Guilford county for five generations. She grew up with her three sisters on the grounds of New Garden Boarding School (now Guilford College), where her father, Dr. Nereus Mendenhall, was a teacher and principal. After graduation, she pursued higher education at Wellesley College, earning a Bachelor of Science degree. Following in her father’s footsteps, she chose to enter the field of education. Mendenhall taught mathematics at Guilford College and at Peace College, where she met Charles Duncan McIver, future president of the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG). When State Normal opened its doors in 1892, Mendenhall became a charter member of the faculty and was appointed the head of the Math Department.

Mendenhall (seated) picnicking with faculty members, 1898 

Mendenhall thrived in the academic environment of State Normal. She taught algebra, geometry, and trigonometry to the more advanced students, and helped remedial students with simple arithmetic. The young women in her charge appreciated her patience and determination in teaching a subject that was not one of the most popular in the school’s curriculum. Evalina Wiggins (Class of 1898) perhaps described it best when she explained that her experience in Mendenhall’s math class was “four years of happy misery, for I loved her and didn’t love math.”

Mendenhall (right) and other faculty members in front of Green Cottage
Her “Green Cottage,” located on Spring Garden Street, was a hub of both students and faculty seeking good company and a bite to eat. The cottage was always full of students enjoying her famous tea parties and picnics and faculty paying social visits or attending receptions. In the early days of campus life, the small ratio of student to faculty created close relationships and frequent social interactions. Her students simply adored her. She was known not only as a wise counselor and dear friend, but also for her distinctive appearance. She had a very erect posture and her standard attire, which was a “veritable part of our everyday Miss Mendenhall,” included a crisp white shirt, a white or brown tie, and a brown skirt.

After a tenure of over thirty years at the college, Mendenhall quietly passed away on the morning of April 15, 1926. College president Julius Foust cancelled all classes and a small funeral service was held in her home.  The day afterward, she was laid to rest at the Deep River Friends Meeting House Cemetery.

Mendenhall (left) and Dr. Anna Gove on the porch of Green Cottage

At her funeral service, Rev. R. Murphy Williams, who had been a long-time friend, gave a tribute that captures her very nature, describing her as “gentle yet strong, modest yet courageous, in everything that was for the upbuilding of our state. She has influenced thousands of young women and given them vision of service which they are transmitting into other lives in the school rooms and in the homes, all over our southland.” J.  Y. Joyner, who had known Mendenhall since the first days of the college, later wrote that she was “one of the choicest spirits, strongest minds, most lovable characters, [and] sweetest influences in that first little faculty…”

Mendenhall was convinced that every young woman could master some level of mathematics, and typical of a woman who “practiced what she preached,” she left money in her will to establish a merit and needs based scholarship which would provide students with the means to pursue a degree in higher math and the applied sciences. Typical of her modest nature, she named the scholarship for her aunt, Judith J. Mendenhall. This scholarship is still active and provides financial assistance to students who are pursuing a degree in math.

Ragsdale-Mendenhall Residence Hall

Although immediately after her death, former students asked that a “prominent building” be named for her to “express our love for and gratitude to Miss Mendenhall,” it was not until 1950 that a campus dormitory was named for her. Known as the Ragsdale-Mendenhall Residence Hall, the naming honor is shared with Virginia Ragsdale, Department of Mathematics faculty from 1911 to 1928, and the third faculty member to hold a PhD degree.

Monday, March 20, 2017

“Building a New Society:” The Beginning of the Women’s Liberation Movement on Campus

Objecting to discriminatory societal trends, the late 1960s saw women across the nation form groups to expand their perspective on gender roles as well as political, economic, and social equality. UNCG female students also began to unite, establishing their own campus Women’s Liberation group, with the goal of identifying and finding solutions to “their common problems as women in this society.”  They saw women’s liberation as a problem “closely related and interlocked with the other problems in the country, the very problem of war itself…that we cannot hope to move toward a better world or even a truly democratic society at home until we begin to solve our own problems.”

"Woman Power" symbol, Carolinian March 6, 1970

On March 3 1970, at a meeting focusing on “Woman Power,” the students challenged the social pressures to “dress the right way (fashionable in clothes) and date the right boys (socially acceptable).” They also questioned the preconceived standards that forced women’s main goal to be “to catch a husband, so you can get married, have babies, cook, clean, and do house work while you stagnate intellectually and your husband wonders why you aren’t interesting to talk to anymore.” No longer were young women satisfied with limited life options. They wanted fair treatment on campus and beyond college graduation.

Feiffer Cartoon, Carolinian March 13, 1971

Several weeks after the “Woman Power” meeting, a two-day Women’s Rights Symposium was held with a full schedule of discussions on women’s liberation, movies relating to women’s rights, and workshops on topics such as male chauvinism. Featured presenters included members of the national Women’s Liberation Movement, such as Florence Kennedy, who was the legal advisor of the chapter from New York. Some speakers advocated taking a hard line, explaining that it was “morally wrong to waste the potential women have in merely being wives and mothers.” Others pointed out prevalent anti-feminist word choices, such as human and mankind. Roxanne Dunbar, a representative of the Southern Female Rights Union, suggested a mass movement against “our personal male oppressors.” Campus organizations, such as the Political Economy Club, also sponsored a speaker during the Symposium, focusing on “The Economic Discrimination Against Women.” Interestingly, many of the speeches and workshops were poorly attended. Out of almost 5,000 women students attending the college during spring 1970, only approximately fifty students attended the event. Male students were not allowed. In some cases, local newspaper coverage was cynical.

From an International Women's Day Flyer, 1971

In these early years of the campus Women’s Liberation Movement, some students felt like change might be coming too fast. An editorial in November 1970 campus newspaper took up for the “silent majority” who believed that a woman’s place [was] still in the home,” and encouraged women to find fulfillment as wives and mothers. Other editorials scoffed at the popular image of liberated women as “bra- burning” militants, and called for a broader view of the Movement.  These conflicting views are illustrated in campus publications such as the October 1971 Carolinian, which ran an ad for engagement rings (with the catchphrase, “When you know it’s for keeps”) next to an advertisement for abortions.

In 1972, students who were continuing to advocate equality for women in all sectors, were sometimes surprised at the apathy of their classmates. A January 1972 column in the Carolinian, written to promote discourse on women’s issues, called for students to join interest groups to continue to define “what women want.” The author was discouraged to find most of the responses from her articles were from men.
Carolinian, January 1972
Yet, even though some students thought the progression of women’s rights was moving too slowly, there were changes happening on campus. In the fall 1973 semester, UNCG instigated a women’s studies curriculum offering four courses -  Women in American History, Women in Literature, Women and Economic Activity and Women in Politics. The classes were open to both women and men.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Annie Petty, State Normal's First Librarian

The library room in the Administration Building, circa 1895
When State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) first opened its doors in October 1892, it did not have a library or library books. Yet, founding president Charles Duncan McIver spoke adamantly of the “Library we are to have,” and he personally donated many of his books to begin the school’s first reference collection. Other faculty members followed suit, donating or lending books from their personal libraries in order to create a collection for student use. The school’s book collection continued to grow, and, in 1896, Annie Florence Petty was hired as State Normal’s first librarian.

Petty grew up in a Quaker family in the Bush Hill community, which is now part of Archdale, NC. Both she and her sister Mary received an early education at the New Garden Boarding School (although Annie graduated in 1894 after the school had already changed its name to Guilford College). Mary, who also completed a degree at Wellesley College, was the first of the Petty sisters to start work at State Normal, teaching chemistry at the school from 1893 through 1934. After a brief period teaching school in Red Springs in Robeson County, NC, her sister Annie arrived at State Normal in 1896 to manage the school’s burgeoning library.

Petty (second row, seated in front of tennis racket)
with other members of the Faculty Tennis Club, 1900
At the time of Annie Petty's arrival, the State Normal's library contained around 600 volumes and was housed in a small room across from the President's office in the Administration (now Foust) Building. Although her official title was “librarian,” Petty did much more than manage the book and periodical collection. She also received and sorted the campus mail, signed for package deliveries, and rang the campus bell to signal the change of classes every forty minutes.

After two years, Petty took a year’s leave of absence to attend the Drexel Library School in Philadelphia, where she gained additional professional training and developed a particular interest in reference services. Advanced professional training for librarians was not commonplace at the time. When Petty returned to her position at State Normal in 1899, she was the first professionally-trained librarian employed in the state of North Carolina.

State Normal's Carnegie Library building, 1905
Petty continued to develop the school’s book and periodical collection, and a dedicated library building was secured in 1905 when philanthropist Andrew Carnegie provided State Normal with a $25,000 grant to construct a campus library building (now known as the Forney Building). This was the first Carnegie grant to be given to construct a college library. Petty, her assistant, and a number of student workers continued to grow the collection and make the library a campus hub.

In addition to her work on campus, Petty was active professionally in the North Carolina Library Association (NCLA). She was a founding member of NCLA’s executive committee in 1904, and in 1908 she was elected as only the second president in the organization’s history. She served an additional presidential term from 1913-1915. She was also the first secretary of the North Carolina Friends Historical Society.

Mary and Annie (standing) Petty, 1952
In 1921, Petty left Greensboro for Raleigh, taking a position as Assistant Secretary of the State Library Commission. She continued her interest in reference librarianship, and was proud to be able to serve readers in her home county of Randolph by developing the state’s first traveling bookmobile. Petty remained at the State Library Commission for twelve years until her retirement. In 1933, she returned to Greensboro, where she shared a home with her sister Mary (who passed away in 1958).

After a long and successful career spent building libraries and library collections at State Normal and across the State of North Carolina, Annie Petty died in 1962 following surgery for a broken hip. She was 91 years old.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Importance of the YWCA at UNCG

*This blog was written by Laura Cashwell, History major at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

During the long history of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), many organizations, clubs, and sponsors have come and gone. Most of these groups have left traces of their impact on the campus, but none come close to the legacy of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
Early Members of the campus YWCA
The YWCA began its relationship with the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) in December of 1892. Once established, the organization began to grow both in membership and in influence. Faculty and staff were encouraged to participate in the various YWCA activities, which ranged from Christmas services to building the campus meeting hall, or “the YWCA Hut.” A female student group called “the Carpenterettes” built the Hut in 1918. In addition to YWCA functions, the building was used for extracurricular activities and special events, such as dances and meetings. The Hut allowed the YWCA to expand its space, which had been previously limited to a meeting room at the Students' Building.

The YWCA Hut, built by students in 1918

The religious aspect of the organization was appealing to both students and faculty and was one of the biggest services the YWCA provided to the school. The YWCA was responsible for morning devotions, Sunday services on campus (Sunday School), Christmas caroling parties, services at Christmas Eve and Easter, and various other holiday programming. They also incorporated a choir to perform at events, strengthening the relationship between the YWCA and other groups on campus. 

One of the fundamental tasks managed by the YWCA was the creation of the student handbook. This was a set of rules given to the students, as well as the lyrics to the school song, faculty descriptions, and school programs for the year. The handbooks were produced from the beginning of the YWCA’s involvement on campus in 1892 until the 1934-35 school year, when the Student Government Association shared the publication. After 1935, the handbook was published by the college.

YWCA members hanging a wreath on the chancellor’s door, ca. 1947.

In the school’s early years, student life revolved around clubs, organizations, and academics alone. Today we have television, cell phones, internet, and other sources of entertainment that did not exist in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Therefore, the YWCA was important because it provided a source of productive entertainment for the general student body. Its importance was so great that in 1912 the school hired and paid a YWCA secretary to oversee the campus activities. The secretary had her own office within the YWCA Hut and in 1914 was paid a salary of $900 per year, an equivalent to roughly $21,000 in 2017.  This was a luxury no other organizations on campus enjoyed at the time. 

The history of the YWCA on campus has been remarkable. Its founding at the State Normal and Industrial School in 1892 marked the beginning of a valiant effort to organize religious activities revolving around the school, faculty, and students. The YWCA’s involvement on campus ended in 1958. Perhaps the school had grown and diversified by this point, which split members of the YWCA into other organizations. The removal of the YWCA Hut in the 1940s also reflected the waning importance of the organization.

Through examination of the University Archives, it is clear that the YWCA was once a prominent influence in the city of Greensboro. The large number of sources which contain information about the organization, such as yearbooks, scrapbooks, and oral histories that mention the YWCA, show how important this organization once was to the students. Although it ceased to play a major role at the school, the YWCA was and remains an important part of the history of student life on campus.