Monday, October 15, 2018

Lucy Robertson: Academic and Activist

While Lucy Henderson Owen Robertson (1850 – 1930) was a member of the staff of State Normal and Industrial College (now UNC Greensboro) for only a short time, she made a lasting impression on the college, the city of Greensboro, and education in the South. Robertson was born in Warrenton, North Carolina, but grew up in Hillsborough, attending Miss Nash and Kollock’s School for Young Ladies, then Chowan Baptist Institute (now Chowan University). Robertson liked to tell the story of when, as a young girl, she visited a palmist who told her fortune. When the woman read her palm, she said that Robertson’s heart and head line were parallel, and it was hard to tell which was longer. She determined at an early age, that it was her heart line.


Lucy Robertson

In 1869, she married Dr. David A. Robertson and moved with him to Greensboro, raising two sons. Perhaps unusual for women of her time, she had a career in academics.  In 1875, she took a position at Greensboro Female College (now Greensboro College) as an assistant in the Literary Department, then head of the English Language and Literature Department. She became a widow at thirty-three years of age and dedicated the rest of her life to teaching.


In 1893, Robertson was enticed to accept a position at the State Normal to teach in the Department of English and History. When the school opened in 1892, this was a combined department, but it was eventually split into separate areas and Robertson became the head of the newly established Department of History. The fact that she was made department head reflects college president Charles Duncan McIver’s willingness to hire women for important positions. McIver may have also liked the fact that she was a native of North Carolina. During the early years, the College took pride in recruiting its professors from the South, specifically North Carolina.



State Normal Faculty, ca. 1893. Lucy Robertson is on the far right




 Described as “tall and graceful, well educated, well-traveled, and vitally interested in people,” Robertson was an immediate favorite with the students of State Normal. She developed a curriculum for the History Department that stressed a “familiarity with the great names and events” and a chronological sense of history. She particularly emphasized Greek and Roman history, medieval history, English history, and U.S. history. The Department used textbooks in all classes, but also encouraged “topical study, parallel reading, and independent research in a library.”



Robertson only taught seven short years at the State Normal before returning to Greensboro Female College in 1900 to accept the position of Lady Principal, and then President. In fact, she became the first woman to hold the office of college president in the state and in the South. She remained President until 1913, when she made the decision to return to teaching. Robertson also spent time traveling both in the United States and overseas, visiting eleven countries.


Annual History Department Report written by Lucy Robertson, 1898

In 1917, as the country began to mobilize for World War I, Robertson was appointed to the Executive Council of the North Carolina Division of the Woman’s Committee.  Specifically, she was chosen as Chair of Child Welfare.  She was considered to have the credentials and experience to be an effective state representative and the connections to recruit students and faculty from North Carolina’s well-established network of women’s colleges for war work.

Robinson was also involved in spheres beyond academics, becoming involved in many organizations and president of the Western Conference of the Women's Foreign Missionary Societies, the United Society of Foreign and Home Missions, and a member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Woman's Club of Greensboro.

In her later years, she continued to work, teaching “Bible and Religious Education” at Greensboro Female Academy until a few days before her death in May of 1930. She died in the infirmary of Greensboro College. She was buried in Green Hill Cemetery, Greensboro.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Curry School: Practice Teaching on Campus

On February 18, 1891, the North Carolina Legislature passed "An Act to Establish and Normal and Industrial School," officially chartering the institution that would become UNC Greensboro. As the State Normal and Industrial School, the institution focused heavily on training women to become teachers in North Carolina's public schools. As part of this training, the institution established a practice school so that students could gain practical classroom experience as part of their education.

State Normal opened its practice and observation school in 1893 under the direction of Philander P. Claxton. Initially, the school had ten pupils, with ages ranging from five to eight. Two of these pupils were the children of State Normal president Charles Duncan McIver. Classes were held in rooms within the Wooden Dormitory, one of two student residence halls on the State Normal campus.

Curry School students, circa 1910
By 1898, the practice school student body had grown to nearly 200 pupils, and the school was officially incorporated into the Greensboro public school system. The Wooden Dormitory building also grew to accommodate the expanding student population. Meanwhile, McIver and others at State Normal advocated for funding to build a separate building on campus to hold the practice school.

In 1902, that goal was finally achieved and the new practice school building opened. Named after Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, who helped advocate for the founding of the State Normal, the practice school building was located on College Avenue. With the new building came even more growth in the practice school student body. Beginning in 1913, the Curry School added each year a new grade from eighth to eleventh (which was at the time the state's standard senior year). It produced its first high school graduating class in 1917. Due to interruptions from World War I, however, Curry School would not graduate another class until 1927.

In the mid-1920s, construction on a new and more modernized Curry School Building on Spring Garden Street began. As the new building was nearing completion in 1926, the original Curry building on College Avenue burned to the ground. Faulty electric wiring and poor original construction were to blame for the fire. The portico framing the front entrance to the building was the only part of the structure to survive. It remained in place for over a decade, with students referring to it as "the ruins."

Curry School students, circa 1940
By this point, well over a third of the juniors and seniors at the college (known in 1926 as the North Carolina College for Women) were education majors. Many others majored in a specific subject area but planned to teach high school after graduation. The Curry School population also grew, with an enrollment of 402 students in December 1928. A kindergarten was added in 1935 and the twelfth grade of high school in 1946. Total enrollment at the Curry School, however, remained steady, due primarily to the size of its building. In 1944, the school reportedly had a lengthy waiting list and rejected numerous applicants.

By the 1950s, the number of students at Woman's College who needed practice teaching experience greatly outpaced the ability of the Curry School to offer them on-campus opportunities. More and more students found these experiences in other local public schools. Additionally, the facilities at the Curry School had deteriorated to the point that a candidate for the school's deanship in 1958 proclaimed it the worst he had ever seen.

A state bond referendum in 1959 helped improve the physical plant. The repairs and additions included the construction in 1961 of Park Gymnasium next door to the Curry School Building. But by this time, the small student body and the limitations in offerings for high school students (both varieties of classes and extracurricular activities) started to impact the school. Additionally, Curry's operating costs per pupil were almost double that of the other nearby public schools.

Curry School students, 1970
Outside consultants and an education faculty study in 1966 all recommended closure of at least the high school at Curry. Robert O'Kane, dean of the School of Education, agreed and the high school officially closed in 1969. The elementary grades (kindergarten through sixth grade) followed in 1970. Today, the Curry School building remains on Spring Garden (although the Park Gymnasium was razed in 2004 to make way for the Moore Humanities and Research Administration Building).

Monday, October 1, 2018

History of the Virginia Dare Room (Alumni House)

In 1937, the Alumnae Hall at the Woman’s College (now UNCG) opened to much fanfare and excitement across the campus. Designed by Penrose V. Stout of Bronxville, New York, and modeled after Homewood in Baltimore, Maryland, it was originally called the Alumnae Hall. The name was changed to the Alumni House in November 1972.

Baptism of Virginia Dare
One the distinguishing features of the House is the large ballroom, which today is more commonly referred to as the Virginia Dare Room. The historical title for the room is in direct reference to the large mural over the fireplace that depicts the baptism of Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in the United States, in 1587. The idea for the mural dates to March 1936, when the Alumnae House Building Committee was planning the interior layout for the house.

Following the resignation of Miss Elizabeth Thompson as the contracted interior designer for the House, the committee voted to hire J. Frank Jones, Inc., from Richmond, Virginia. At his first official meeting with the group on March 2, 1936, Mr. Jones presented to the committee a photograph of the Baptism of Virginia Dare, which had been given to Miss Clara Byrd, the Secretary of the Alumnae Association. Mr. Jones was charmed with the picture and suggested to the committee that it would be perfect, when enlarged and hand colored, to display as a mural over the fireplace mantle. The image he presented to the group was of a painting originally given to the North Carolina State Historical Commission in April 1930 by National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in The State of North Carolina. Mr. Jones also suggested finding a second painting that could be a companion piece to the Virginia Dare mural.
The committee members were very impressed by the beauty of the picture and thought that Mr. Jones’ idea was an excellent recommendation. At the following meeting on March 16, 1936, Dr. Julius Foust, the Chancellor of Woman’s College, presented to the committee a letter by Mr. Jones. In it, he recommended using the Baptism of Virginia Dare and The Croatan Tree as companion mural pieces in the Alumnae House. It was of his opinion that both images were visually decorative and of historical value. He further noted that he had found an artist willing to paint them for $150 each, which he described a “ridiculously low.”

After a short discussion, the committee formally voted and approved the commission of the murals at the recommendation of Mr. Jones. However, rather than using state funding for the project, which would have resulted in a formal competitive bidding process, Dr. Foust suggested that outside monies should be raised for the paintings.

Although the two large murals have hung in the Virginia Dare Room since the House opened, the room was not always identified by them. Originally, the room was referred to in meeting minutes and in correspondence as the “large reception hall.” It was not until the May 29, 1948 meeting of the Alumnae Association that the name Virginia Dare Room first appears. The reasoning for this nomenclature shift is absent from the minutes, however it was likely done to recognize the importance of the mural in the room. Today, the Virginia Dare Room hosts many UNCG activities including lectures, board meetings, and public forums as well as external events such as weddings.