Monday, March 31, 2014

Dixie Lee Bryant and Scientific Study at State Normal

When the doors opened for the first students at State Normal in October 1892, students were able to follow three general courses of study: domestic science, business, and "normal" (teacher education). The "normal" program extended beyond pedagogy studies to include the arts, humanities, and sciences.

Dixie Lee Bryant
Leading the science department was Dixie Lee Bryant, a charter member of the State Normal faculty. Bryant arrived at State Normal with an impressive academic background. Born in 1862 in Louisville, Kentucky, her family moved to Columbia, Tennessee, in 1886, and Bryant enrolled in the Columbia Female Institute. But she wished to complete a full course of college studies, particularly in the sciences. Yet, Bryant found that no Southern universities at the time admitted women to their science programs. As a result, in 1887, she applied and was admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. In 1891, she graduated with a bachelor of science degree.

At State Normal, Bryant's course load spanned the sciences, ranging from courses in botany to geology to chemistry. In her initial year at State Normal, she taught six classes:
  • Physical Geography
  • Systemic and Structural Botany of Flowering Plants
  • General Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Zoology, and
  • Geology
In addition to this wide range of classes, she tutored many of the early students who arrived at State Normal with little to no prior education in the sciences.

Bryant also established the first scientific laboratories on campus (purported to be the first "chemical laboratory" for use by women in the state of North Carolina). In her unpublished reminiscences of her time at State Normal, Bryant wrote about building the laboratory spaces in the Main Building (now Foust). She was allotted only a small purchasing budget for the initial lab development. With that money, she was able to  purchase a few microscopes for the lab, but most of the specimens that the students studied under those microscopes were from Bryant's personal research collection. As stated in the 1892-1893 Annual Catalogue, "the department of Natural Sciences is equipped with laboratories and specimens which will be made better and more complete as the funds of the Institution will allow."

In her botany classes, Bryant and her students studied specimens, but they also went out in search of local plant life for study. As Bryant noted in her unpublished reminiscences, "the girls were delighted with the field work and made good herbaria" [collections of preserved plant specimens]. Bryant also taught the students the art of taking both field and laboratory notes.

Bryant (standing center) and students in the school's laboratory, 1896
In addition to her work at State Normal, Bryant was a member of the faculty at the 1894 Summer School for Teachers and Students, held in Chapel Hill. There, Bryant was tasked with instruction in physical geography and botany.

Bryant led the science department at State Normal until 1901, when she took a leave of absence to study at the Bavarian University of Erlangen in Germany, where she earned her PhD in geology and graduated magna cum laude in 1904 (the first woman to receive this degree from Erlangen). When she returned to State Normal for the 1904-1905 school year, she was the first faculty member to hold a PhD.

Her advanced degree, in turn, proved somewhat divisive on her return. In spite of being the only faculty member with a doctorate, Bryant received no boost in her salary -- a salary which already lagged behind many of her more recently hired colleagues. In 1905, she left to teach in the public schools of Chicago. She remained in Chicago until 1931 when she retired retired to Asheville, NC.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Personal Accounts of Charles D. McIver

The general facts of the life of Charles Duncan McIver, the founding president of State Normal, are well documented. These include his birth on September 27, 1860, his strong commitment to education, the founding of the State Normal and Industrial School in 1891, and his untimely death at the age of 45. Often overlooked, however, are the details of his charismatic personality which contributed to his success as the first president of the school. Personal accounts by students and faculty, reveal that McIver was extremely well liked and left a lasting legacy on the campus.

McIver (left) and Edwin Alderman
When describing his physical appearance, it was noted that McIver was a rather thick, stocky man with short legs, standing just under six foot tall and weighing roughly 200 pounds. His eyes were gray and he had fair colored skin with thinning light brown hair. By some accounts, he was said to always looked like he was in a hurry with a determined look on his face, leaving no doubt about where he was going.

One of the reasons that McIver was such a portly person was his insatiable appetite for rich food. It was well known amongst the students and faculty that he loved to eat and particularly enjoyed meal time. It was said that he knew all of the head waiters in all of the good hotel restaurants across North Carolina. One of his favorite foods was watermelon which he sometimes bought by the wagon load and kept readily available to eat.

Along with his eating habits, McIver was known to be a humorous and jovial fellow with an uncanny talent for telling a joke and entertaining crowds with his speeches. This pleasant personality would also be evident in his commitment to connect with students and faculty at the school. Many recall that McIver had an exemplary ability to remember people’s names, faces, and past events. To aid his memory, he often carried a notepad with a list of all of the students. McIver would make an effort throughout the year to meet every student to learn their name and more about them. His biggest worry was not knowing each student well enough to talk with their parents.

Despite his typically friendly nature, McIver could also exemplify a very stern and strict demeanor, especially regarding discipline and order among the students. One student described her experience of being summoned to McIver’s office for taking an extra day away from school over the holiday break. She felt like she had her “heart in her throat” as she was "reprimanded severally for disobeying rules" despite her pleas. McIver ordered her to write fifty copies of the "contract" they were required to sign upon entering the college as punishment.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Speaker Ban Law and the Controversy over Academic Freedom at North Carolina Universities

On June 26, 1963, just before session adjournment, the North Carolina legislature ratified H.B. 1395, titled "an act to regulate visiting speakers at state supported colleges and universities." This bill decreed that no college or university receiving state funding in North Carolina was allowed to host a speaker who "(A) is a known member of the Communist Party; (B) is known to advocate the overthrow of the constitution of the United States or the state of North Carolina; [or] (C) has pleaded the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America in refusing to answer any question, with respect to communist or subversive connections, or activities." The act required the Boards of Trustees at these schools to enforce these restrictions.

Carolinian article regarding Student Government's
stance on Speaker Ban, Nov. 1, 1963
According to many reports, the bill and its passage came as a surprise to many, including key administrators in and across the Consolidated University of North Carolina System (which at the time, consisted of the University at Chapel Hill, N.C. State in Raleigh, and Woman's College -- soon to be UNCG). As detailed in a speech by UNCG Student Government President Anne Prince in October 1963, UNC President William Friday "was first notified of the existence of the bill just after it was introduced on the floor of the House, and before he could get to Raleigh, just 31 minutes later, a new law had been passed."

Administrators, faculty, staff, and students at the UNC System schools lambasted the bill, known as the Speaker Ban Law, as an assault on academic freedom. At UNCG, the Student Government passed numerous resolutions condemning the bill. Chancellor Otis Singletary joined President Friday and the leaders of the other two UNC campuses to speak out against the Speaker Ban Law. Faculty and key administrators across campus wrote legislators demanding a repeal of the law.

In a November 15, 1963 letter to President Friday, Herman Middleton, head of UNCG's Department of Drama and Speech, wrote about how he was unable to bring playwright Arthur Miller on campus to speak on his play The Crucible, which was being performed by the National Repertory Theatre as part of their residency at UNCG. Miller pleaded the fifth amendment during Congressional hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1957. Middleton wrote that "the educational experience would have been much greater if we could have had Mr. Miller on campus."

Farley Granger and Anne Meacham in the National
Repertory Theater's production of
Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Two years later, Mereb Mossman, dean of the faculty at UNCG, wrote North Carolina Governor Dan Moore regarding the impact of the Speaker Ban Law on faculty morale and recruitment. She wrote that "during the past two years, ... there have been many men whom we have sought to attract to positions on this campus who have questioned the Speaker Ban Law as an expression of lack of faith of the people of this State in its university." She also stresses the impact of the law on the national reputation and even its accreditation status (the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges was investigating possible violations of accreditation standards as a result of the law).

While many in academia fought the law, some North Carolina citizens encouraged legislators to continue the ban. A March 10, 1965 from a "P. Hastings" to Governor Moore declared that "any individual or group who refuses to come to the University of North Carolina or any other state supported college because Communists are not permitted to speak on the campus, indicates by their refusal that they are warped in their views to the extent that the students are better off by not hearing them." He continued, "I am positive beyond any doubt that if this matter was presented to the citizens of North Carolina and they be given an opportunity to express themselves, that 95% of them would be in favor of this law."

The North Carolina legislature, however, refused to repeal the law. In 1966, the UNC Chapel Hill chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) invited two known communist speakers to campus. In accordance with the Speaker Ban Law, the Board of Trustees rescinded the speakers' invitations. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the SDS filed suit in federal court challenging the Speaker Ban Law and its implementation. A three-judge federal court in Greensboro heard the arguments, and, in 1968, declared the Speaker Ban Law unconstitutional.

If you are interested in learning more about the speaker ban law in North Carolina (not just at UNCG), the State Archives has digitized a sampling of their archival records dealing with the Speaker Ban Study Commission.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Melville Fort, Early Advocate of Art Education

Melville Fort
Miss Melville Vincent Fort taught art. She may not have been as fashionable as Latin professor Viola Boddie or as majestic as Lady Principal Sue May Kirkland, but she was witty, intelligent, and friendly - a favorite with the faculty and students. Yet while many members of the original faculty have had buildings and conference rooms named in their honor, Miss Fort seems to have eluded the campus recognition gained by others.

Originally from Starkville, Mississippi, Miss Fort graduated with honors from Mississippi Industrial Institute and College, considered the first public women’s college in the United States. She then acquired additional training in New York. Hired as a professor and head of the art department at the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG), Miss Fort was paid a significantly lower salary than other teachers at the college. Even though she was qualified for the position, her salary was $450 per year, as compared with Dixie Lee Bryant, who taught Natural Science with a salary of $900. This may reflect the attitude, held by many in education, that art was only a vocational subject, included in the curriculum because it was considered necessary for every future teacher to master. The industrial art department offered classes such as architectural and mechanical drawing, but it also recommended courses in decorative design, art history, china painting, woodcarving, and clay and plaster modeling. Miss Fort was known as an exacting teacher who expected, “respect for order and truthfulness of representation” in her classes. * Art classes met twice a week, and students were required to take a year of training to earn their diploma.

Melville and Her Bike, 1893

During a time when few teachers could afford their own home and many found themselves living in the dormitories with students, Miss Fort lived with Miss Gertrude Mendenhall, the professor of Mathematics. The teachers lived in “Green Cottage,” a small house directly off campus, entertaining both faculty and students with parties, games, and teas. She was also friends with the wives of the male faculty, especially with Effie Joyner, wife of James Y. Joyner, who taught English at the college from 1893 – 1902.

Miss Fort enjoyed riding her bike through campus and was active in the faculty photography club, but her true love was art. She was a sincere advocate of appreciating art through nature. Miss Fort wrote a moving article about Peabody Park, five miles of graded drives and walkways on the North side of campus, which appeared in The Decennial. It includes the following sentiments:

If the mission of art is to cultivate the power to perceive and to appreciate the beautiful,  and, if nature is the source of all art, can  there be found a more natural or a more  pleasing method of cultivating this power than to lead the student into the beauties  of nature?

Faculty Photography Club, 1895
Melville Fort is seated at right
Her love of art led to interesting travels in her free time. In 1900, Miss Fort took a trip to Europe – all the more amazing given her meager salary. She toured the great art galleries of Europe and came home with many tales of her adventures. The expense of the trip may explain why a few years later, her summer would be spent teaching at the University of North Carolina (now UNC Chapel Hill). Subsequent trips included visiting campus physician Dr. Anna Gove at her family’s New Hampshire home and a pilgrimage in the summer of 1915 to Evangeline Country in Nova Scotia. The Longfellow heroine made quite an impression on Miss Fort and while she was impressed with the history of the poem, she was surprised that the “forest Primeval” and “murmuring pines and hemlocks” were no longer existent in the Canadian countryside described by Longfellow. As a souvenir, Miss Fort took a clipping of a willow tree thought to have been planted by the French Canadians. She wrapped it in a damp cloth and brought it back to the State Normal where Dr. Foust gave her permission to plant it by the entrance of the college.

In 1919, the changing focus of the school and resulting curriculum shifts, resulted in the resignation of Miss Fort and the two other vocational art teachers. Little is known of the details of Miss Fort’s life after leaving the college. She moved to Raleigh where she held part-time positions with the State architect and in the State Revenue Department. Interestingly, she moved in with the Joyner family and lived in their home until Mrs. Joyner died in 1930. Ultimately, Miss Fort was buried in the Joyner family plot in Raleigh after her death in 1939.

* As recalled in 1964 by Mrs. Julius Foust, a student of Miss Fort

Monday, March 3, 2014

Votes for Women! Suffrage on the State Normal and Industrial College Campus

Harriet Elliott
The suffrage movement on the campus of the State Normal and Industrial College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) had its start in the early years of the college’s history. It reflected the larger interest in the vote for women, which was spreading throughout the state. The North Carolina Woman’s Suffrage Association was founded in 1894, only two years after the school first opened its doors. Initially, the State Normal students were against the prospect of the vote for women. In 1909, the Adelphian Literary Society held a debate on the merits of suffrage, after which the students agreed that the side speaking against the vote had won the day. 

Interestingly, the first “recorded” pro-suffrage statement on campus was found in a 1914 State Normal Magazine editorial. In the article, the student author mentions that reading about current events in newspapers would be a necessity when women finally got the vote. This editorial would have been very relevant to the girls of the State Normal as their young political science professor, Harriet Elliott, required them to read the newspaper every day in lieu of a textbook. Many alumnae credited Elliott with helping them gain a fundamental understanding of the suffrage movement and its relationship to the political and economic climate of the day.

The first true suffrage event on campus took place in 1915 when 250 students participated in a march during their regular afternoon “walking period.” This march, led by members of the orchestra and girls with makeshift instruments, paraded down College Avenue with “Votes for Women” banners flying high. The protest ended at Spencer Dormitory where the girls listened to speeches on women’s rights given by their fellow students.

The growing interest in suffrage on campus continued with a rather surprising incident that took place during the 1915 commencement exercises. The girls refused to applaud the speaker, Governor Locke Craig, because he spoke against women’s suffrage. It was only after Governor Craig conceded that he would support women’s right to vote if that is what they desired, that he received a positive response from his audience. The students were not always so passive in the way they showed their displeasure toward legislators who spoke against suffrage at the college. An alumna from the class of 1915 recalled that after one particularly offensive speech during which the speaker suggested that women leave the vote to men, the students created an effigy of the unfortunate legislator and burned it in Peabody Park. The same year, the students formed a suffrage group on campus, which is thought to have been the first of its kind in the South.
In 1918, 575 of the 650 students on campus signed a petition to be sent to their senators advocating women’s suffrage. This petition received a great deal of publicity resulting in one state paper commenting, “The action of these young women have had much to do with bringing the North Carolina State Normal College into prominence as representatively progressive and reflecting Twentieth century ideals and revised standards.” Several months later, Julius Foust, president of the State Normal, wrote to Senator Lee Overman supporting the movement, reflecting the sentiment of most of the faculty.

Anna Howard Shaw
During these politically active years, the State Normal was fortunate to have many strong suffrage advocates speak to the student body such as Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to serve in the United States Congress and Dr. Anna Shaw, president of the National American Suffrage Association and personal friend of Harriet Elliott. Shaw spoke at the school on three occasions between 1917 - 1919. She felt that the spirit of the Normal students was “inspiring and unique.” Her connection to the State Normal was such that she would ultimately leave the college scholarship funds in her will. The college would reciprocate by naming a dormitory in Shaw’s honor.

Students Rally for Women's Rights, 1919
North Carolina College for Women
When it became apparent that achieving the right to vote was imminent, Harriet Elliott expanded her efforts to inform the women of North Carolina of their rights. In June of 1920, she offered “A School of Citizenship for Women” which was open not only to her students, but to “all the women of North Carolina.” The program included lectures and round table discussions regarding the government’s structure and purpose. On August 18, 1920, the requisite number of states passed legislation ratifying the 19th Amendment, officially granting women the right to vote. Just months before, the State Normal and Industrial College had become the North Carolina College for Women. When the vote came - the students were prepared!