Monday, January 28, 2013

A Most Deserving Student

Phoebe Pegram
Today's post was written by Jessica Howard, a senior history major. Jessica interned in Special Collections and University Archives during the fall semester. Here, she writes about a special medal given to Phoebe Pegram, a student in the first class of the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG).
Currently kept in the Adornments and Medals Series of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Archives Collection, the Peabody Medal, won by Phoebe Pegram, is an object with an undeniably intriguing history. One of over 350 objects in the collection, it is one of four medals currently in the artifacts collection. This medal is one of a small amount of objects in the artifacts collection from the period when the university was called the State Normal and Industrial School and presents a fascinating study into school’s early history.

The medal is one of the most unique in the collection, and at first glance, an observer would not even think that it was a medal. The Peabody Medal is fashioned in the casing of a pocket watch. It is unknown if the medal came to Pegram like this, or if she later had the plates set into the pocket watch casing. It is most likely that Pegram had the plate put into the pocket watch, as other recipients only received the two plates. The bronze plates commemorate Curry presenting the medal to Phoebe and the man the medal is named for, George Peabody.  Peabody is regarded as the first great education philanthropist and donated to many different schools.
Phoebe Pegram's Peabody Medal

On May 17, 1897, the medal was given to a student at the State Normal that had never given before and has never been given since. J.L.M. Curry awarded the Peabody Medal to Phoebe Pegram of Surry County. In her autobiography, Pegram recalls how the event occurred, stating “J.L.M. Curry announced that he wanted to give a medal to the girl whom Dr. McIver and the faculty would name as deserving. Dr. McIver said that he thought that he spoke the minds of the faculty when he named Phoebe Pegram of Surry County.” She stayed at the State Normal and Industrial School for six years, two of which she spent being a teaching assistant in physical culture.  Although she struggled with her schoolwork, Phoebe was very well liked by faculty and students alike. 

Phoebe stayed at the school for six years, and taught in the physical culture for two of those years, as she became better at the Indian clubs than the instructor.  She was very well loved by her peers and by the subsequent classes of students, as she always made time in her schedule to come back for reunions. The University Archives has video of her at one reunion demonstrating the Indian clubs and how fit she was. This video was taken when she was in her eighties.  One thing is for certain, she never forgot the honor and treasured it above all the others that she received. In a letter to the University’s archivist at the time, Phoebe Pegram’s daughter, also named Phoebe, tells Marjorie Hood what the medal meant to her mother. “I do not exaggerate when I say it was her most prized possession.”  And Phoebe, herself, wrote “I cherish it more than any of my treasures.”

While looks can be deceiving when it comes to the medal disguised as a pocket watch, it was once one of the greatest achievements in a young woman’s life. The Peabody Medal is among many great and interesting artifacts from the university’s history, but it as unique as its recipient.

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