Monday, April 13, 2015

Early Campus Entertainments (1892 – 1935)

Actress Sarah Bernhardt
When the State Normal and Industrial School (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) opened in 1892, the young female students’ lives were very restricted. They were not allowed to travel off campus without special permission and they had limited access to visitors. It was therefore particularly important for the school administrators to provide interesting and informative lectures and entertaining performances for the students to enjoy. A variety of entertainments were scheduled, including a Shakespearean actor, a visiting professor who spoke about foreign travels and the Chicago’s World Fair, and a five year old prodigy who sang and told amusing stories. These types of performances proved so popular that in 1895, State Normal joined with the Greensboro Female Academy (now Greensboro College) and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) to offer a Combination Entertainment Course. For one dollar, attendees could see eight lectures and recitals. These programs continued for decades, with gradually increasing fees – a portion of the receivables going to the guests. Special excursions were planned when someone exceptional was performing in Greensboro. Most notable was the internationally famous actress Sarah Bernhardt, who appeared at the Municipal Theater in 1917.

Botanist and Inventor George Washington Carver

As the years passed, actors, musicians, and lecturers continued to perform on campus. Before Aycock Auditorium was built in 1927, the more popular performances took place in local churches, which provided more space than the college’s lecture halls. An amazing variety of lecturers appeared at the college, during this time, including the famous evangelist Billy Sunday who spoke on education; the first female state Supreme Court Judge, Florence E. Allen; the esteemed attorney Clarence Darrow who discussed crime prevention; and the respected botanist and inventor George Washington Carver. Prominent authors were also represented. Alfred Noyes, Hugh Walpole, and Carl Sandburg were just a few who impressed the students with recitations of their works.  Symphonies, operas, and dance troops also visited the campus, inspiring students to follow their lead. The tradition of bringing talented performers and interesting speakers to the campus continues today.

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