Monday, June 24, 2013

The Lost Legacy of Philander P. Claxton

Philander P. Claxton
Philander P. Claxton was an important member of the early faculty at the State Normal and Industrial School (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro), yet only a conference room in the Elliott University Center records his legacy.

Born in a log cabin in 1862 in rural Bedford County Tennessee, Claxton’s earliest memories were of the Civil War. The conflict affected his family deeply as he had one uncle fighting for the South and another fighting for the North. His father served on the local school board and Claxton proved himself an advanced student, eventually earning both a bachelor’s degree (1882) and a master’s degree (1887) at the University of Tennessee. He also pursued doctoral work at Johns Hopkins University and at universities in Jena and Leipzig, Germany. Claxton came to State Normal in 1893 to teach pedagogy, and after two years he found himself the head of the department.  His energy, wit, and enthusiasm made him popular with the students, but members of the faculty were jealous of the high regard in which he was held.

The female students were immediately taken with the handsome professor and christened him their “beau ideal.” Many thought him the most attractive man that they had ever seen and wasted no time in casting him in campus plays and productions.  He once famously appeared on stage in a kilt.

During his time at the college, Claxton initiated correspondence courses for students and continuing education sessions for public school teachers. He was also the driving force in the formation of the “practice and observation school” on campus, giving students hands-on experience in the teaching field.  Claxton agreed with the school’s president Dr. Charles McIver in the philosophy that “a normal school without a practice school is like a swimming school without water.” He was so closely associated with this endeavor that there was a great deal of surprise when the new practice school, opened on College Avenue in 1902, was not named after him, but instead named in honor of Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, an early supporter of the college.

A passion for promoting interest in public schooling in the South instigated his departure from the State Normal School in 1902 to serve as chief of the Bureau of Investigation and Publication of the Southern Education Board. Subsequently, he held positions at various colleges and public schools, constantly campaigning for improved education for all children. He was considered very progressive for the time, undertaking a survey of black schools and holding several conferences regarding the education of black children. He continued his advocacy for the education of all Americans after his appointment as United States Commissioner of Education by President William Howard Taft, writing the legislation that would authorize rehabilitative education for World War I veterans.

Claxton died at ninety-four and was lauded as a dynamic crusader in the “great educational movement of the South,” yet his legacy on this campus has almost been lost.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Elizabeth Cowling: Cellist, Musicologist, Teacher

Elizabeth Cowling, Early 1940s
In the culture of classical music, instruments are more than objects that produce sound. Instruments have names, personalities, and even gender. Within the family of stringed instruments, the relationship between the performer and the violoncello infers an even more romantic dynamic. The curves of the instrument combined with the straddling poise of the musician in performance suggests an intimate relationship between the cellist and cello in which the cellist is typecast as the masculine partner. Certainly, it is not until the 20th century that the status of the woman cellist transitions from performing oddity to acknowledged musician, although it is not until the 1950s and 1960s in which women were accepted as concert performers and soloists. Considering the distinctive masculine tradition of the cellist, it is fascinating to note that the archive with the single largest holding of cello music related material in the world began at the Women’s College with a female cellist by the name of Elizabeth Cowling.

Elizabeth Cowling (1910-1997) accepted the position of assistant professor in the School of Music in August of 1945 with a salary of $2500 for nine months of instruction. She came to the Women’s College after earning a Master’s degree in Economics from Columbia University as well as a Master’s degree in Cello Performance at Northwestern University (she received her PhD in Music History and Literature from Northwestern in 1960). As a faculty member, Cowling earned a reputation as a demanding instructor, challenging her students with lessons described as “bone-chillingly frightening.” As one of Cowling’s former students remembers her,

“She simply demanded our best… always…and all us little Southern girls, in starched cotton dresses, had never met anyone quite like her. We all agree now that she was the one who made is aware of our minds…and forced us to use them.”

The intimidating standard of industry Elizabeth Cowling expected from her students applied to her own efforts. The course load Cowling maintained as a professor required the hiring of three full time professors in Music History within four years of her retirement.

As was required of Woman’s College School of Music faculty, Cowling regularly performed in concerts locally, though her legacy is as a researcher and author of music history. Her passion of music history, specifically the history of the cello, led her to Luigi Silva, the acclaimed cellist and musicologist whose collection is the foundation of the UNCG Cello Music Collections. Her correspondence with Silva began in 1946, and the support of Silva as a mentor (and later, a colleague), combined with Cowling’s exhaustive research, would lead to the publishing of The Cello, the most comprehensive biography of the instrument to have ever been written in English at that time. The acclaimed work is still standard reading for music history and has, since its publication in 1975, been revised and published in Japanese.

Dedication of the Luigi Silva Library, 1964
(from left to  right: Janos Scholz,
Mrs. Brett Armfield,
Elizabeth Cowling, and Charles M. Adams)
The research materials for The Cello were derived from Cowling’s research trips to music archives in Europe, but also, in part, from the impressive library of Luigi Silva. When Silva’s widow made the library available for sale after his death in 1961, Elizabeth Cowling urged the Library to consider the investment. With the blessing of Charles M. Adams, the University Librarian, the Friends of the Library purchased the Luigi Silva Cello Music Collection in 1963, with the official dedication of the collection in 1964. Given the value and rarity of items in the Silva Collection, and since there was no separate music library or music librarian at the time, the Silva Library was initially housed in its own room in the Library under the care of Special Collections and University Archives.

The School of Music and the University Library collaborated in a Luigi Silva tribute event in 1964, publicizing the acquisition of the collection. Immediately, the Library received letters inquiring about research access and the content of the collection, questions that were generally forwarded to Elizabeth Cowling. The Silva Library remained the only cello music collection until 1977, when Cowling donated her personal score collection to the Library. With the combined cello music collections of Silva and Cowling, the Library could claim an archive of nearly 2450 scores, predominantly featuring the cello.

Elizabeth Cowling’s influence does not end with the donation of her collection in 1977. Her professional acquaintances and friendships with cellists around the world, combined with the prestige of sharing an archive with Luigi Silva, encouraged established cellists to donate their collections with the result that the Rudolf Matz Cello Music Collection was donated in 1986. By the time of Elizabeth Cowling’s death, Special Collections and University Archives housed the collections of Luigi Silva (1963), Elizabeth Cowling (1977), Rudolf Matz (1986), Maurice Eisenberg (1989), and Janos Scholz (1994).

Elizabeth Cowling died February 18, 1997, leaving a $190,000 gift to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, $20,000 of which was dedicated to the Library for the processing and cataloging of the collections into the OCLC online database, making the Cello Music Collections more accessible to cellists and music researchers worldwide.

Luigi Silva Collection Cataloging Project Completion
Celebration, 2001 (Left: Sarah Dorsey, Music Librarian;
Right: Joan Staples, Cello Music Cataloger)
October 23rd of this year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UNCG Cello Music Collection, beginning with the acquisition of the Luigi Silva Collection in 1963. Presently, the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections & University Archives boasts the collections of ten cellists: Luigi Silva, Elizabeth Cowling, Rudolf Matz, Maurice Eisenberg, Janos Scholz, Fritz Magg, Bernard Greenhouse, Laszlo Varga, Lev Aronson, and Lubomir Georgiev.

Although Elizabeth Cowling’s impact on the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and music research is substantial, perhaps one of her former students articulated her legacy best when they wrote, “this woman exudes the mystique of music from her very being. Its joy and beauty permeate her soul, and are reflected back to those around. She is a pied piper for music students, luring them into the adventure of musicianship.”

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sue May Kirkland: lady principal and referee in all things social and domestic

Of all of the early faculty and staff of the State Normal and Industrial School (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro), Susan Mary Kirkland was one of the most formidable. “Sue May” was born in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and educated at the Burwell School and the Nash and Kollock Select Boarding and Day School for Young Ladies which were located in her home town. She taught briefly at Peace College in Raleigh, and it was there that she met Charles Duncan McIver. When the State Normal and Industrial School opened in the fall of 1892, Miss Kirkland followed him there to take the position of Lady Principal. She held this position for twenty-two years.

Her formal responsibilities ranged from “custodian of manners and morals” to” referee in matters social and domestic,” but these descriptions belie the true impact that Miss Kirkland had on the school. On arrival at the college, the girls were immediately impressed by their Principal’s education, ladylike demeanor, silver tea set, and personal maid, Amanda. The general awe with which she was viewed caused students to liken her majestic appearance to Queen Victoria, but her strong character, compassion, and caring nature inspired admiration and love from the many students in her care. One student, Phoebe Pegram, who had only had five days of formal education, recounted how Miss Kirkland had helped her learn how to talk and dress, even providing tutoring with her lessons. Valuable advice such as button your gloves, walk straight, and come back right after church, was also dispensed.

Although Miss Kirkland was a stickler for formalities such as proper dress and decorum, she also had a good sense of humor. Constantly correcting those who called her “Mrs. Kirkland,” she often reminded the uninformed that she was “Miss Kirkland, by choice.” Not that she was unsympathetic to the plight of her young charges to gain access to male company. Although school regulations determined that male visitors were restricted to holidays and other structured times, girls managed to develop romances under her care. On one occasion, Miss Kirkland and Miss Viola Boddie, another unmarried faculty member, were visiting in a parlor across the hall from where students were entertaining several young men. Miss Boddie commented disapprovingly that when she was young, she was never allowed to receive gentlemen callers without a chaperone. Miss Kirkland pointed out, “My mother did the same thing - and see what it did for us!”
Sadly, Miss Kirkland died unexpectedly on June 8, 1914 while visiting her sister in Raleigh. Subsequently, a campus dormitory was named in her honor. This Craftsman style building, located at the current site of the Moran Commons and Plaza, was torn down in 1964.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Celebrating “Service” with a Park Night Tradition

From 1920 through 1935, the Friday evening of commencement weekend at the North Carolina College for Women (later Woman’s College and now UNCG) featured a ceremony known as Park Night. This allegorical drama typically took place outdoors in an outdoor theater constructed in Peabody Park. The production featured a character named Service (meant to represent the ideals of the school) as well as her attendants Mind, Body, and Spirit.
A scene from the 1923 Park Night ceremony
In a July 25, 1927 letter, alumnae Julia Cherry Spruill discussed the origins of Park Night. Spruill had been appointed chairman of a committee to promote school spirit amongst students. She was asked to highlight particular features of the school that made her most proud. Spruill recalled deciding “our park was our peculiar possession of which we were particularly proud, and that we could have some symbolical exercises down there which would represent the highest ideals of our college.” She consulted with President Julius Foust, who agreed to sponsor the production and to clear some land in Peabody Park for a theater.

Selection of the student to portray Service was conducted by secret ballot. A 1929 Carolinian article noted, “this is the highest honor that a student can win at this college and goes each year to the girl in the senior class who in the opinion of her associates has rendered the most outstanding service during her college career.” For example, the role of Service in 1926 went to Georgia Kirkpatrick of Efland. Kirkpatrick was class president, a charter member and president of the Alethian Society, member of the Faculty-Student Council, cabinet member of the Athletic Association, member of the Playlikers, and a staff member of both the Carolinian newspaper and the Pine Needles yearbook.

Prologue dance from the 1923 Park Night ceremony
The script for Park Night was written by the students, with the intent of it becoming a yearly tradition. The production began with a prologue in the form of a dance. It was followed by a dramatic processional featured fifty students dressed in white robes, carrying lit torches, and singing the college song. Service and her attendants then entered, and each attendant presented Service with allegorical gifts, often through a solo dance as well as a lyrical Grecian-style poem.  After the individual presentations, Service spoke, accepting the gifts and giving a dramatic monologue. The production concluded with an epilogue featuring “a Dance to the Future.”

Although the tradition of Park Night ended in 1935 when graduating seniors decided to forgo the production in favor of honoring a number of leading classmates in a formal ceremony, “Service” remains the motto of UNCG today. From the words of Service’s concluding monologue, “when full liberty, sweetness, and joy have driven out misery and night, we shall live in the light of the glorious day when Service has won all the earth.”