Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Accident at the Heating Plant: A Campus Catastrophe in 1924

Campus Heating Plant, 1924
Campus buildings had been warmed by heating plants since 1905. The first heating plant, with the adjoining school laundry, was built in 1905 near the intersection of Walker Avenue and McIver Street. In 1924, a second heating plant was planned for the North Carolina College for Women (now UNC Greensboro). This beautiful red brick structure, designed by Fellheimer & Wagner of New York, would be located near the corner of Oakland Avenue and Forest Street. The design boasted an 18-ton, 227-foot chimney with a 12-foot bronze cap. When completed, it would be the highest structure in Greensboro - 5 feet higher than the much-admired Jefferson Pilot Building.

Building a heating plant of this size required the creation of a wooden “superstructure” over the chimney, allowing workers to navigate at great heights. Fritz Deitrick, of Richmond, Virginia, was employed as a brick layer on the project because he had experience working more than 200 feet above the ground. Local metalworkers were not skilled in working so high up and refused to go to the top of the structure; therefore, James Wacaster, of Reidsville, North Carolina, was hired. 

Deitrick and Wacaster were charged with placing the bronze rim around the top of the completed chimney. To reach the top of the edifice, an “elevator” was constructed inside the chimney that allowed workers to ascend to the scaffolding above the structure. The elevator was made of a ball of concrete on the end of a cable that was lifted by a steam engine. Workers placed one foot on either side of the ball and grasped the cable as they ascended the height of the chimney.

Seemingly, the accident occurred when one of the men reached the top of the structure, and then waited for the other man to ascend, who was transporting a long beam to be used at the top. One end of the beam was resting between his feet on the concrete ball and the other toward his head. As the man was hoisted to the top of the chimney, there was a creaking sound and the entire superstructure, called a “cat’s head” by the workmen, began to topple. The men attempted to grasp the cable – but it was too late. The immense chimney had already started to break. Both men were instantly killed as they fell from the 225-foot structure.

Campus Heating Plant, ca. 2000

Initially, the accident was blamed on the engineer who was operating the elevator, believing that he had not stopped the hoist at the top of the chimney. Yet, a coroner’s jury found that the men met their deaths because of the actions of the last man who ascended the chimney, as well as the weak pine timber used to build the superstructure.

The building was eventually completed, and stills stands as the UNC Greensboro Steam Plant, which is currently responsible for heating most of the campus buildings.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Members of the Wedding: The Tradition of the Mock Freshman-Junior Wedding

One of the many lost campus traditions is that of the mock wedding between the Freshman and Junior classes. This ritual was often seen in girls’ colleges during the early 20th century and involved the symbolic union between the two classes for the years that they were at school. At the North Carolina College for Women (now UNC Greensboro), these all-girl ceremonies were held in the fall and were intended to ease the Freshmen into their college life by joining them with more experienced students who could help them navigate the new environment. The “sister classes” would be linked for two years, until the Juniors graduated - then the Freshmen would move into the mentor position for the incoming class.

Freshman-Junior Wedding, 1925

Traditionally, the Juniors made the arrangements for the elaborate event, including the wedding music, decorations, and vows. In the early years, hand-written invitations were sent, but eventually more formal invitations announced the nuptials. The comic nature of the event was reflected by the humorous names used by the bride and groom, such as in 1919 when “Miss Ima Green” married “Mr. Oby A. Junior,” or in 1925, when the couple were named “Miss Evva Blue Freshman” and “Mr. B. A. Happy Junior.” Some years, only students from the Freshman and Junior classes and several others honorary guests were invited, but eventually it included the entire student body.  Occasionally, such as 1939, the identity of the bride and groom was kept a secret until the ceremony.

Hand-written Invitation, 1919

The Freshmen members of the “wedding party” would dress as maids of honor, flower girls, and trainbearers, while the Juniors served as groomsmen, ushers, and readers. Faculty took the role of the parents of the bride and groom, and appropriately, and comically, sobbed into their handkerchiefs. Although it was definitely a tongue in cheek ritual, the participants took it very seriously. The ceremony was held in the auditorium of the Students’ Building, and the large stage was decorated like a church, with English ivy, green ferns, palms, white flowers, and candelabras. White bunting and festive trimming created a celebratory atmosphere in the auditorium. The wedding party was dressed for the occasion with the bridesmaids attired in yellow, green, blue, and lavender dresses, and the bride wearing an elegant white dress and a corsage. Those who attended the events marveled at how “realistic” the groom and groomsmen appeared dressed in black tuxedos with their hair slicked back. Before the ceremony, the attendees were serenaded by the school’s pipe organ and bridal songs, such as “I Love You” and “Because,” as well as the school song. The Freshman “bride” was walked down the aisle by her “father” to the traditional “Wedding March” and a ring ceremony was performed by a student “preacher.”

In 1925, the ceremony was as follows:

“Guided hither, O happy pair, enter this portal ‘tis love that invites - Flower of beauty and youth and manhood. You have come to this sacred altar of the school tradition to form another link, strong and lasting, which will be added to that silvery chain that has been forming since the day when the world was young. It is your responsibility to keep your link pure and spotless. If it is tarnished woe be unto you. You have come to the altar of the institution of tradition, I say, to add your link to the chain. It must be one and inseparable. If there is any reason why the link should not be formed let mortal man speak now or forever hold his peace.” 

“Evva Blue Freshman, are you willing, under the laws prescribed by tradition, to tie the knot, becoming one and inseparable, and add your link to the chain, until the day when mortal joins immortal? This ring is the outward ceremony of the promise you have made. Look at it; think of it. As often as you wear it you will do it in remembrance of the link added to the silvery chain, and it has been recorded by the slowly moving hand of the god of tradition. It will last throughout the ages. Blest be the tie that binds fellow man with fellow man; friend with friend; companion with companion; and service with service. Peace, peace, peace. My peace I give unto you. Amen.”

After the “service,” the wedding party would adjourn to one of the Literary Societies’ large reception halls and join the receiving line. Then all the students danced and enjoyed refreshments, including ice cream and punch. Just like a real wedding, photographs were taken of the bridal party and a detailed description of the festive event was published in the school newspaper, including the names of the bridesmaid and groomsmen, and their hometowns. In fact, some years saw a separate student position dedicated totally to wedding publicity.

Freshman-Junior Wedding, 1940s

This tradition continued into the 1940s when the wedding ceremony was replaced by “Sister Day.” This event was sometimes held over two days, during which both classes honored each other, and were officially joined as sister classes. These festive occasions included dressing in matching outfits, fun themed events and competitions, and a celebratory dinner. In 1958, the Freshmen even wrote the Juniors a poem and served them at dinner. 

Sisters Day, 1955
Sisters Day, 1955

By 1963, the year that the school became a co-ed university, Sister Day was no longer the elaborate occasion it had once been, with the celebration mainly involving a special dinner in the cafeteria. Finally, it became one of the many school traditions that fell by the wayside to create a more welcoming environment for the male students. By the mid-1960s, the event no longer appears in campus records.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

 Virginia Land Brown (Class of 1902): The School’s First Commuting Student

Virginia Brown and Victor

Virginia Brown was one of the North Carolina State Normal and Industrial College’s (now UNC Greensboro) first students. Because State Normal did not give formal degrees in the early years of the school, Virginia and six classmates returned to the college for a fifth year to receive their degrees. Virginia majored in Zoology. Her Botany teacher was T. Gilbert Pearson, founder of the North Carolina Audubon Society, who she described as “the great bird man of the world.” His fascination with ornithology often took him out of the classroom, resulting in Virginia teaching his class and becoming an authority on birds and wildflowers. She was also very inspired by math professor Gertrude Mendenhall, chemistry professor Mary Petty, and Dr. Anna Gove, the college’s second physician. Virginia credited Dr. Gove for being the most influential person in her life.  

Virginia was always considered strong willed, more interested in outdoor pursuits than domestic duties. While attending State Normal, she insisted on riding her horse, Victor, to school every day. Victor would be stabled in the campus barn with Dr. McIver’s horse during the day, then he and Virginia would trek home every afternoon. Victor was given to her by her father, a merchant and livery stable owner. Known as “one of the wildest riders in the state,” she was often seen racing Victor around Greensboro.

"One of the wildest riders in the state!"
Virginia later married local lawyer, Robert D. Douglas, grandson of Stephen A. Douglas of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates. Robert was a match for her free spirit, and he encouraged her interests. The couple had four children: two daughters and two sons. Her son Robert Douglas, Jr. and her daughter Virginia both became lawyers. Her daughter, Helen, joined the Army and was stationed in Australia. Sadly, her son Stephen, was killed while piloting his own plane. 

From all accounts, Virginia was a very unconventional mother for her time. Their house often smelled like scuppernong wine, which she made in the attic. One of her children commented about their mother, “She could never cook worth a dern. Rather than being the sweet little mother who stayed home and took care of the household, her interest was in birds, flowers, and mountains. She was always encouraging us to get involved in the study of nature.” 

Virginia and her children traveled all over the state, studying wildflowers in 76 out of North Carolina’s 100 counties. The children recall traipsing through the swamps of eastern North Carolina looking for unusual flowers or wild birds. Closer to home, they collected leaves and built birdhouses. Their father also helped fuel the children’s imagination by reading them exciting tales of adventure, such as The Jungle Book, and by looking the other way as they slid down the banister of their family home in Fisher Park.

Virginia Brown

Virginia never lost her love of learning. In 1928, she returned to her alma mater and earned a degree in English, from what was then called the North Carolina College for Women. Virginia’s journeys led her further afield than North Carolina, traveling around the world twice. She remained active into old age, riding horses, mowing her own lawn, and even trekking across the world to visit her daughter in Tasmania in her nineties. Virginia lived to be 101 and when she died, she was one of the two oldest surviving alumnae of the college. She is still referred to as the school’s first commuter student and the image of Virginia and Victor arriving on campus for class figures prominently in the history of the early campus.

Monday, May 4, 2020

The Dolphin-Seal Club: Aquatic Adventures on Campus

Even before there was a pool on campus, swimming was an important part of the college’s curriculum. Early lessons were given at the downtown Greensboro YWCA facilities, but when the Rosenthal Gymnasium was completed in 1925, classes were held in the new 25 ft. by 75 ft. swimming pool, which included a shallow end and separate lanes for lap swimming. The addition of the pool, strongly endorsed by Mary Channing Coleman, enabled the school to offer a more convenient on-campus option for students who were interested in the sport. 

Dolphin-Seal Club Members, 1946
In 1926, the Dolphin Club was formed, boasting six charter members. The purpose of the group was to help students improve their stroke techniques and become expert swimmers and divers. To be a Dolphin, a student was required to pass a rigorous admittance examination which tested “speed and perfection” in swimming. The successful candidates had to excel in “two strokes for form, three standard dives, a speed record of two lengths of the pool in 45 seconds with the crawl, and [swimming] 12 lengths of the pool.” Dolphins met once per week for practice and to work on earning special badges for swimming accomplishments. Members also performed yearly “water festivals,” during which students staged choreographed routines and stunts. 

Diving Exhibitions by Dolphin-Seal Club Members, ca. 1948

In 1930, the Club decided to allow students who were less technically proficient than the “Dolphins” to join. This group of students were called the “Seals” and subsequently, the “Dolphin-Seal Club” was formed. Continuing the tradition of providing elaborate campus entertainments, the Club held yearly events featuring synchronized aquatic performances, as well as technical swimming and diving demonstrations. These elaborately choreographed events included festive and sometimes very elaborate decorations, props, and lighting. Live music was integral to the performances and often became an important part of the annual themes. 

Club Members Participate in "A Tale of the Toys" (1963)

Yearly festivities had creative themes, such as the 1940 pageant “20,000 Leagues under the Sea,” during which student swimmers, representing “all marine deities and animals,” payed tribute to Neptune, the god of the sea. “Rhythm Americana,” produced in 1953, guided the audience through water-based versions of tangos, duets, ballads, and waltzes. The mid-1950s saw aquatic productions that were less fantastical and more modern, such the “Underwater Times.” This 1955 pageant program featured “headlines” such as “Escaped Murderer Captured” and “Democrats vs. Republicans,” and performances divided into Editorials, Travel, Sports, and Theater. The 1960s embraced more whimsical themes, including “The Tale of the Toys” (1963) and “Spring is a New Beginning” (1967). Sadly, by the early 1970s, the Dolphin-Seal Club was no longer included as a student group in the university’s handbook. Although UNCG still has a swim team, the Dolphin-Seal is now considered one of the university’s lost clubs.

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Kaleidoscope Mime Troupe on the UNC Greensboro Campus

Kaleidoscope Mime Troupe, 1979
Founded in 1973 as an innovative and experimental drama group by acting instructor Jamey Reynolds, the Kaleidoscope Mime Troupe was established to give student mimes an opportunity to practice their art on and off campus. The tradition of Mime is thought to have had its origins in Ancient Greece, when a masked dancer, or Pantomimus, performed to honor Dionysus, the god of theater. In both the Greek and Roman dramatic tradition, mimes created a comical break between acts of more serious plays and performed for weddings and important events. The performers of the Middle Ages adapted the early art into “mummer plays,” or “guisers,” which evolved into the “dumbshow.” Pantomime, or Mime, saw its modern incarnation in France with performers portraying a character through silent, creative movements or gestures, usually in costume. Mimes such as Etienne Decroux, Jean Louis Barrault, and Marcel Marceau set the bar in France, while American Mime was made famous by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Emmett Kelly, and Buster Keaton.

The oldest Mime group in the US is The American Mime Theatre, which was founded in 1952. By the 1970s and 1980s, mimes mainstreamed into television, street performances, and even onto the UNCG campus. As part of the university’s Department of Communication and Theatre, UNCG undergraduates, as well as graduate students, could enroll in the Kaleidoscope Mime Troupe.

Alamance  County Arts Council Performance, 1981
Professor Reynolds taught his students that Mime was “the art of gesture, of making the body’s movements express a dramatic scene.” He incorporated elements of French, American, and classical Mime to develop routines that required mental and physical control to reach the optimal performance level. Their programs ranged from magical and mystical tales to abstract and representational interpretations of our society.

Pensive Student Mime, 1975

Sound, light, and costumes were also utilized to accentuate their programs. The costumes were often very imaginative in their use of bright color and design to re-mold the mimes' human shape into new forms. Describing their performances as “a combination of comedy, fantasy, mystery, and satire,” the Troupe performed at school and community events. They entertained with traditional miming, as well as juggling, acrobatics, magic tricks, music and dancing. The mimes continually re-configured their shows to suit their audiences, which ranged from elementary school students to retirees. Most performances were free, but when they would charge, all monies were channeled to a theater scholarship fund.

While The American Mime Theatre continued to produce mimes, the art form's popularity dwindled. By the 1980s, the Kaleidoscope Mime Troupe seems to have disappeared completely from campus.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Day Students on Campus

When the State Normal and Industrial School opened its doors in October of 1892, there was barely enough room for the 176 students who came through them. By the end of the year, the girls’ school had 223 students spilling out of the dormitories. This overflow resulted in some students rooming in auxiliary dormitories, while others boarded with neighborhood families. Most of these students dined at the college’s dining hall, which was located in Brick Dormitory. The only other students who lived off of the main campus were the small number of girls who lived at home. Initially, there were very few of these “Day Students.” In 1904, there were forty-six students attending classes at State Normal, but living at home.

Town Students, ca. 1953
Because the “Day Students,” or “Town Students,” did not live in the dorms, they tended not to be as involved in groups, and often felt that they had second class status on campus. As Day Students had their own particular needs and concerns, they were encouraged to start their own organization, in the hope that it would encourage them to become more involved on campus. In the early years, these students were represented in the school’s Student Government Association, but they were not given formal recognition until 1929. In that year, the Day Students Association was founded, which allowed the students more representation in the school’s student government. At this time, the group was given a special room in the Students’ Building that was designated for study and relaxation. Unfortunately, the space had very few amenities which would have made life easier for students who lived off campus. It had sparse furniture and no lockers, resulting in the students having to carry their books all day. There was also a parking problem for commuting students, who had to compete for a limited amount of spaces with faculty members.

As the college continued to grow, students continued to live both on and off campus and there continued to be an organization for commuting students. In 1933, the Day Students’ Association changed its name to the Town Students Association. Membership included all women who lived off campus, and the group’s constitution reflected their desire “to participate more fully in college activities, and believing that student government develops self-control and instills loyalty in students.”

President of the Town Students Association Choosing Tunes on the Jukebox

In the years after World War II, college enrollment began to swell. At that time, almost ten percent of the student populations lived at home. By 1949, 220 town students were enrolled at Woman’s College (now UNC Greensboro). Although these young women had only minimal participation in campus organizations, they occasionally would socialize together in the Day Students’ Room. In an attempt to draw these students further into college life and create deeper connections with on-campus students, administration allowed each town students to join a residence hall. This plan was not a great success and most town students preferred to return home after class or to gather in the Day Students’ Organization room, which was now located in Elliott Hall. Instead, to further the feeling of inclusion in typical campus activities, the Organization decided to hold a dance. This type of activity allowed the students to have a typical college experience without living on campus.

Town Students Association Dance, April 1949

When Woman’s College became a part of the University of North Carolina system in 1963, the school became co-ed and the commuting community grew even larger. Indeed, most of the rise in registration was due to local enrollment. Two years later, the Town Students’ Association had its first male officer, Anthony Thompson. This was not popular with many of the female members who were still becoming accustomed to male students on campus. The organization’s new handbook set their goals as: “to inform the Town Students of student government activities; to unite the town students, and to link more closely community students with dormitory students.” Recognizing that meeting attendance was one of the most challenging aspects of the organization, members were requested to check their mailboxes every day for organization news and to attend all meetings, which were held in Elliott Hall.

By the 1970s, the organization attempted to appeal to a broad and diverse range of members by sponsoring a car rally and book exchanges. The early 1980s saw a population of approximately 6000 off-campus and commuter students at UNC Greensboro, and the Town Student Executive Board planned engaging and creative activities. Dues payed for activities included breakfasts and lunches for the members, as well as trips to local breweries and dinner theaters, as well as career planning events.

In 1983, the Town Students Association became the Commuting Students Association, incorporating students who traveled to campus from out of town. The average age of this group was twenty seven years old. Sadly, the renamed organization never really garnered support from the student body, and by 1993, their main function was to supply monthly deli lunches for its members. As the commuting population grew larger, there became less of a formal need for an organization to help the students assimilate to campus life. These students would now help to shape the culture and personality of the school.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The 1959 Commencement Home

In an earlier blog post, the collaborative effort between architect Edward Loewenstein, Woman's College of the University of North Carolina students, and professionals in the building and construction professions, was detailed in the creation of the first Commencement Home. This post will continue to look at that effort as it moved into its second year.

Although there seemed to be less publicity for the second Commencement Home, the second home designed and built collaboratively by students, architects, professionals, and Woman's College was featured in the October 1959 issue of Living for Young Homemakers.
Cover of the October 1959 issue of Living for Young HomeMakers

The article (titled, "a house with a college DIPLOMA"[sic]) describes the course in Residential Design as giving Woman's College's "art and home economics students the practical experience of planning a home from foundation to furnishings." The students were "assigned to committees undertaking specific study in orientation, space planning, electrical, mechanical and plumbing potential." Because the houses were always meant to be sold, students were given budgets that were realistic and marketable. The target budget for the 1959 Commencement House was placed at approximately $24,000. Apparently the price was right, since the house was immediately sold to Mr. and Mrs. Hinsdale in 1959.

Design principles laid out by the WC students included: areas zoned for family activities, stepsaving traffic pattern, visual spaciousness beyond actual square footage, easy maintenance, dramatic lighting, and climate-conditioning. Some of these principles are apparent in the house plan, which show well-separated living and sleeping areas, as well as a sunken living room, which helps to delineate the more formal dining room from the living room.
1959 Commencement Home Plan (p. 159 Living for Young HomeMakers October, 1959)
In keeping with the Modernist feel of the home, the interiors are decorated with period-appropriate furniture. Note also, the use artificial and natural lighting, which is both practical and fulfills the stated design principle of "dramatic lighting."
Living and Dining Rooms (p. 158 Living for Young HomeMakers October, 1959)

The exterior of the home also exhibits the design principles of dramatic lighting, easy maintenance, and climate-conditioning.
(p. 183 Living for Young HomeMakers October, 1959)
Like the 1958 Commencement Home, The 1959 Home featured measured advancements and innovations. One of those accomplishments which both the 1958 and 1959 home shared was the "Live Better Electrically Gold Medallion" an award from Duke Power Company for "electrical excellence." A wonderful announcement (sponsored by Duke Power) for the open house taking place on May 30-31, 1959 showed the electricity mascot, "Reddy Kilowatt," with the medallion and invited the public to view the Home.
Greensboro Daily News March 30, 1959

We are fortunate to have in our archives a picture of the student designers alongside their 1959 Commencement Home.
1959 Commencement Home with WC students with Edward Loewenstein (UNCG University Archives) 
Although the first Commencement Home has been demolished, the 1959 Commencement Home still stands.

1959 Commencement Home in a 2010 photograph (photo from Guilford County Tax Department, Real Property Search website: