Monday, June 6, 2016

A "Most Unfortunate Experience:" Cars on Campus in 1928

The 1928 Student Handbook, which was distributed to all students attending the North Carolina College for Women (now UNCG), clearly listed the regulations that heavily impacted student life on campus. From mandating quiet hours to setting curfews to limiting students’ ability to travel off campus, these regulations were enforced by the Student Government Association along with the campus administration. One section of the regulations made clear the rules regarding riding in cars. Section VI, Rule 1 stated that “no student may ride at any time without permission from her Counselor, and a riding permission from her parents or guardian.” Further rules in Section VI of the regulations stated that “no student may keep a car on campus except Seniors during commencement” and that “no student may drive a car in Greensboro except when the car belongs to her immediate family.”

College Avenue (circa 1930) with a few cars that definitely didn't belong to students
In February 1928, an incident occurred which resulted in six NCCW students coming before the Student Government Association with charges of violating these regulations. According to the investigation that was carried out by SGA and a May 3 letter from President Julius Foust, six students pooled their money and purchased a “Ford machine” (likely a Model T or possibly a new Model A). They “hid it somewhere in Greensboro, taking rides occasionally in it without the consent or knowledge of the authorities of the college.” They were able to hide their automobile ownership for an undisclosed period of time.

It was only when they were in involved in an accident that their rule-breaking was discovered. On February 9, 1928, the students were travelling outside of Greensboro when they were involved in a serious wreck. According to a February 14 letter from college Vice President Walter Clinton Jackson to the mother of one of the students involved, “five of the girls were in the car on a road some seventeen or eighteen miles from Greensboro when they lost control of the car while going at high speed and it crashed into a telephone pole … One of the girls was rather seriously injured, and all of them I understand were shocked and more or less shaken up. It was only by a miracle that any of them escaped fatal injury” (side note: none of the reports mention alcohol being a factor and, as this was at the height of Prohibition, that certainly would have caused additional scandal).

President Julius Foust
The Student Government deliberated about their wrongdoings and decided to impose a thirty-day suspension for all of the student involved. But President Foust determined that their offense warranted a greater punishment. He surveyed the faculty members who worked with the students, asking them to provide him with a statement addressing each of the students’ “ability, her attitude towards her work with you, the character of work she has been doing for you, and whether or not she can probably or possibly pass the semester’s work under you if she is permitted to return to the college at the end of a month’s suspension.” In regards to one of the students involved, Professor J.C. Laird of the Department of Romance Languages replied, “I have thought that she was rather indifferent … To be perfectly frank, she is a girl that I have wondered about and haven’t been able to make out or understand.”

In the end, the five students who were actually involved in the wreck were suspended for the remainder of the semester. The sixth student who was a co-owner of the car but was not present for the accident was allowed to return to campus after the thirty days. Vice President Jackson wrote to the parents of the suspended students on March 8, stating “the whole incident is most distressing to him [President Foust] and also to me, and our sympathies are all with you and your daughter in this serious trouble, but we have a responsibility to the college that we cannot overlook. We hope that this most unfortunate experience will in the end make her a stronger and better woman that she otherwise could have been.”

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