Monday, October 24, 2016

“Ready for Teddy:” Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 Campus Visit

While campaigning for the 1912 presidential election, Theodore Roosevelt embarked on a 22-town whistle-stop tour of North Carolina, arriving in Greensboro on April 22nd. Roosevelt’s exuberant and charismatic personality made him a natural campaigner, and he toured the country widely.

The Greensboro stop came only two months after he decided to "throw his hat into the ring" for the 1912 election. Roosevelt served as the 26th President of the United States, from 1901 to 1909, but opted not to run for another term. Instead, he groomed his close friend William Howard Taft to follow him in 1908. Yet after Taft won the presidency, Roosevelt became increasing frustrated by his conservative policies. He decided to challenge the incumbent for the Republican nomination during the 1912 presidential election cycle. Loosing the nomination to Taft, Roosevelt ultimately ran on the Progressive, or “Bull Moose,” Party ticket. His third-party candidacy split the Republican Party, allowing the Democrats to win both the presidency and Congress.

Theodore Roosevelt in Front of the Students' Building with State Normal President Julius Foust

But on this rainy April morning, Roosevelt was still a hopeful presidential candidate. Although his train was not scheduled to reach Greensboro until 2 o’clock, a crowd had begun to gather. As if on cue, when the train arrived at the station the rain stopped and by the time he began to speak, the sun was out. Addressing an audience of over 5,000 men and women, Roosevelt made a brief speech before traveling by car to the State Normal and Industrial College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro). In anticipation of his visit, 700 students donned their best white dresses and waited patiently in the auditorium of the Students’ Building. On his arrival, “Colonel Roosevelt” was introduced by his campaign manager, John Dixon. Perhaps a bit overwhelmed by his female audience, Roosevelt immediately stated, “I always had very great difficulty in speaking to young ladies.”

Theodore Roosevelt on a Later Whistle-Stop Tour to Greensboro, 1912*

Not surprisingly, he chose to talk about women’s education. Roosevelt praised the college for not only offering a teaching curriculum, but also business classes. Predicting that education would undergo significant changes during the next fifty years, he stressed the value of practical as well as cultural coursework for both young men and women. Typical of his pragmatic nature, Roosevelt believed that the goal was to be more efficient and “more fit to do the actual work of life.” Yet he also emphasized the importance of scholarship. An ardent naturalist, he specifically used the dogwood tree to make his point. Recounting his trip through North Carolina, he described the mountains as being “aflame with dogwood blossoms.” He counseled the students to appreciate nature and when possible, to put this appreciation “vividly and truthfully on paper, in books, and in magazines.” Before he departed, Roosevelt encouraged the young women to take advantage of their great educational opportunities, reminding them, “To you much has been given, and from you much will be expected.”

Students' Building at the State Normal and Industrial College

Roosevelt's choice to visit the State Normal was an interesting one, since his audience was not comprised of voters. It would not be until the 1920 election, following the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919, that women could actually cast a ballot for a United States president. But on the afternoon of April 22, 1912, Roosevelt captivated his audience with talk of women’s education, the importance of scholarship, and dogwood blossoms.

*Image courtesy of Greensboro Historical Museum

Monday, October 17, 2016

Sports at State Normal

While competitive athletics are a major part of campus life at UNCG today, early students had to fight for their right to play ball. From its founding, the school (known at the time as the State Normal) emphasized physical activity and personal health. Curriculum in the first year of the school’s existence (1892-1893) included the Department of Physiology and Heath, which had two objectives: instruction in hygiene and an individualized program of exercise. A course in Physical Culture was actually required of all students. The work included gymnastics, calisthenics, and other exercises that were meant to promote the student’s general health and strength. 

Letter from a student to President McIver asking permission
to start a campus Athletic Association, 1898
Students, however, wanted opportunities for athletic competition, not just physical activity. The graduating class of 1900 convinced school president Charles Duncan McIver of the need for a campus Athletic Association and purposefully-built athletic grounds. The campus Athletic Association was formally established in 1900 (15 years before the students established their own student government). By 1902, it had adopted the motto “Athletics and active college work go hand in hand.” In a space that is now the site of the Petty Science Building, the women of the Athletic Association cleared and prepared playing grounds, marked the fields, and installed nets on four tennis courts and basketball goals.

The early Athletic Association, however, was purely intramural, with sponsored tournaments between the freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior classes. As a student noted, “We were taught very strongly the evils that would come from interscholastic sports. This emphasis on winning at any cost was the worst.”

But, in spite of potential evils, a “College Team” was created in 1905 to bring together the best athletes regardless of class. That team, however, didn’t play outside of campus until 1907. Then, they traveled across town for basketball and tennis match-ups against teams from the Greensboro Female College (now Greensboro College). According to the student newspaper, “Fine playing was done by both teams … [but] both the games of Basket Ball and of Tennis resulted in victories for our teams.” This, however, was a one-time event.

Freshman hockey team, 1913
For the most part, team sports were limited to on-campus competitions between the classes. And the Athletic Association led the way in sponsoring these activities. By 1914, the group offered events in basketball, tennis, field hockey, baseball, cricket, golf, camping, and gymnastics. They also sponsored May Day, Field Day, and various sports tournaments throughout the year. Through their dedication and persistence, the women of the Athletic Association ensured that athletics would be a strong component of their college life.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Bringing a Little of Paris to Petty

Do you know of a prominent UNC Greensboro campus structure that incorporates features from a Parisian landmark into its overall design and function? Any ideas? Hint—think of a structure that connects to College Avenue. Still not sure? Take a look at the ninety-five foot bridge that links the Petty Building with the College Avenue pedestrian walkway. The bridge, completed in 2007, is a replica of the Pont des Arts that spans the Seine River in Paris.

Design for 2007 Bridge
The Petty Building (known at the time as the Science Building) was opened to students in 1940. Facing a growth in programs and students, this Public Works Administration-funded building was designed to meet the needs of the College’s Chemistry, Biology, and Physics departments. The building also contained dark rooms for the Photography Department and x-ray equipment for the X-Ray Department, as well as space for animals that were used in experiments. A wing was added to the original structure in 1952. In 1960, the building was named in honor of Mary Petty head of the Chemistry Department from 1893 to 1934.

Science Building, ca. 1959

In 2006, UNC Greensboro embarked on a $15.4 million dollar renovation project of the Petty Building. The primary focus of the project was to renovate the building’s electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems. Besides upgrading key systems, the project also sought to convert the science building to classrooms and offices for the departments of Physics and Astronomy, Mathematics and Statistics, and Computer Science.

During the planning phase of the project, members of UNCG’s Facilities, Design, and Construction Department and architect Jody Peer (Jenkins-Peer Architects) considered different options to improve access to the nearly 70 year old building. The design team struggled with the fact that the building stands ten feet below the road grade of College Avenue. Additionally, access to the building’s main entrance required walking up one of the two matching curved staircases. The planner’s dilemma was how to maintain the original neo-Classical features of the building while providing special needs access for students, faculty, and visitors. During one of the design team’s brain-storming sessions, Jody Peer showed the group a photo that he had taken of a pedestrian bridge that he had seen in Paris. After a review of some sketches, the design team embraced this creative and visually striking solution.

Pont des Arts

Between World War One and World War Two, the University experienced a massive building boom. A great deal of the expansion occurred along College Avenue and Spring Garden Street. By the late 1930s, space along College Avenue was filling up with dorms, administrative offices, and classrooms. One of the remaining open spaces was the school’s athletic fields, which were designed for both the College and the Curry Training (Practice School). The actual playing fields were surrounded by earthen berms that served as open air seating. Visitors could sit and view student teams compete against each other. After selecting this space for the new science building, the College inexplicably decided not to raise the overall level of the building site to meet College Avenue. While other school building were built at the level of College Avenue, this building’s first floor would be constructed well below the level of the roadway. As a result, students were forced to walk down a flight of stairs from College Avenue to access this new building.

During the fall 2007 term, workers prepared the ground for the new bridge that would connect College Avenue and the renovated Petty Building. Huge steel tresses to support the bridge’s walkway were lifted into place by a crane. Unlike its Parisian cousin, the “deck” of the UNC Greensboro bridge would not be made of wood, but instead it would be constructed of translucent glazed glass bricks. Below the walkway, lights were installed pointing up towards the under-belly of the bridge. At night, these lights shine up towards the glass pathway and create a wondrous glow.
You might be wondering why a nineteenth-century French bridge was selected over other bridge designs. It seems to have been driven by functionality and elegance of design. The Pont des Arts was the first metal bridge to be installed in Paris. This 1804 pedestrian bridge links the Institut de France and the Palais du Louvre. Unlike the heavy Paris stone bridges that span the Seine River, this metal bridge exudes a lightness and simplicity. For many visitors to the city, it is a quiet sanctuary from the bustle of traffic and a wonderful spot for expansive views of the city. Interestingly, around the time of the installation of the UNC Greensboro bridge in 2007, Parisians began to see tourists attaching padlocks to the railings and side grates of the Pont des Arts and throwing the lock’s key into the river. The locks had the names of each couple written or engraved on them. This new “tradition” was to represent a couple’s committed love. By 2015, the city of Paris citing safety concerns began to remove the estimated one million locks from the bridge.

Locks Attached to the Pont des Arts

Monday, October 3, 2016

The W.C. Informer: Read, Think, and Act!

"This is a personal letter to every Woman's College student. The Informer has talked to you before about action: it isn't enough to read and think. We must act. You have written you congressmen. You have spoken as a citizen. Here is your chance to get other citizens to act with you ...

"Soon you yourself will be able to vote. And you will be able to influence your family to vote, to exercise their duty as citizens in a democracy. Do you know how to go about exercising that privilege? By distributing this information, you will acquaint yourself as well as others with the procedure of voting. It has been said that the youth of today is the last home for a peaceful world today and tomorrow. We have been talking too much and sitting in our ivory tower too long. Here is something concrete and immediate that all of us can tackle."

Political cartoon in issue #4 of the W.C. Informer
This statement -- typed in all capital letters -- was distributed by the students who produced the W.C. Informer in the Spring 1946 semester. The W.C. Informer, a newsletter published between March and May of 1946, was created and distributed by the Woman's College chapter of the Committee for North Carolina, a progressive organization affiliated with the Southern Conference for Human Welfare.

Founded in 1938, the Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW) was an organization based in Birmingham, Alabama that "tried to bring long-overdue New Deal-inspired reforms to the South" (for more, see the SCHW entry in the Encyclopedia of Alabama). Meetings of the SCHW included both white and African American Southerners and focused largely on issues such as labor relations, education, and civil and constitutional rights. Many of its stances, however, led to accusations of communism and communist sympathies, and, in 1948, the organization disbanded due to internal schisms over whether to support Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace or Democratic nominee Harry S. Truman in the presidential election.

The W.C. Informer published only 11 issues of its newsletter, but these issues highlight many of the topics of concern to progressives in the South during this time period. The second issue highlights the organization's chief political concerns: "fair employment practices, extension of Social Security, wider education - higher standards, equal suffrage rights for all citizens, a statewide health program, higher minimum wages, better living standards, federal and state aid to agriculture."

Issue #5 includes a piece about an African American military veteran in Columbia, Tennessee, who was assaulted by "a white man over an insult to the veteran's mother" and then arrested. The piece tells the story of the aftermath of "an armed mob of 50 to 75 whites [who] stormed the jail on a lynching party." The piece concludes as many of the W.C. Informer pieces do -- with a call to action. "Citizens of Woman's College! Can we afford to let this happen in America? The tragedy in Tennessee must not be shrugged off! Civil rights of American citizens have been violated! Write the Attorney General demanding an investigation."

While the issues were not necessarily published anonymously (it was made clear that the publication was affiliated with the W.C. chapter of the Committee for North Carolina), it was not until issue #6 that the names of the editors were included in the publication. This issue notes that they had "been asked to publish the named of the editors of the W.C.I. formerly revealed in the Cary [referring to The Carolinian student newspaper]." Those listed as editors include "Nancy Siff, Marjean Perry, Lyn Brown, Gracia Broadbooks, Edda Mae Trostler, [and] Nina van Dam." Most were members of the Class of 1947 or the Class of 1948.

Masthead of issue #8, featuring the tagline "Read, think and act!"
The recurring tagline for most of the W.C. Informer issues is "Read, Think, and Act!" This is a mindset that the student activists who produced the newsletters tried to encourage. Issue #6 stated, "The main purpose of the W.C.I. is to present the facts which would arouse student interest and activity in world affairs, whether the specific opinions of the editors are agreed with or not." Through their publication of the W.C. Informer, these students actively worked to engage their classmates in discussion of these important world-wide topics.

***The 11 issues of the W.C. Informer have all been scanned and are available online.***
***The deadline for registration to vote in North Carolina in the November 2016 election is October 14th. For more information on how to register to vote in North Carolina, please see the State Board of Elections website.***