Monday, November 28, 2016

The McIver House: Hospitality on Campus

In 1952, just sixty years after it was built, the McIver house was torn down to make room for new construction on campus.  Located on the corner of Spring Garden Street and College Avenue, the house held a central location on campus for more than half a century.
McIver House, c. 1900

Much of what we know about the McIver residence was recorded in several articles published by Woman's College graduate Virginia Terrell Lathrop (class of 1923) in the Carolinian, Greensboro Daily News, and Alumnae News.  Recently, SCUA archivists rediscovered her articles which contain interesting stories about the house and it's inhabitants.  Here are some highlights from her account.

In 1891, while the first buildings (Administration and Brick Dormitory) were erected on the site of what would soon by State Normal and Industrial School, Dr. McIver and his family lived in Benbow hotel in downtown Greensboro.  The NC legislature had not planned for a home for the McIvers, but in 1892 the Board of Directors approved money for an addition to the dormitory to house twenty-two more students and the construction of the President's home.  It was built using left-over materials from the construction of the Administrative Building and the Brick Dorm.  The building was completed in just six weeks.

At the time the college was built, it was at the outskirts of Greensboro and had no nearby housing for faculty.  The McIver family let some of them board in their home, which raised some question as to whether it was appropriate for the McIver's to let others stay in a home that wasn't theirs.  However, Lathrop uncovered reports to the Board of Directors that showed Dr. McIver paid $15 a month in rent, and one newspaper defended him, saying "so long as he paid his rent it was his own business whether he took boarders or not."

Ms. Lathrop described the house as a "spacious two-story ten room frame house" that "stood just inside the main gate of the college."  It was a place where the McIver's hospitality could extend far and wide.  They took in anyone who needed a place to stay, from visiting dignitaries to "Valentine," a tramp who jumped from a passing freight train on the on the February 14th.  He came to the McIver house offering to cut wood for a meal and stayed for a year, leaving as mysteriously as he came.

Other more distinguished guests to the McIver home included, Walter Hines Page founder of the State Chronicle newspaper in Raleigh, who delivered a speak at the auditorium entitled "Forgotten Man," and George Peabody, philanthropist and educator for whom Peabody Park is named.  Ms. Lathrop speculated that Governor Aycock spent the night with the McIvers when he visited campus after the Brick Dormitory fire in 1904.  He came to campus the day after the fire and was pleased to find the students "fully clothed and in their right minds."

The President's home served as a gathering place, but was first and foremost a home for Dr. McIver's family.  Two of the McIver children, Verlinda, who died in childhood, and Mrs. John Dickinson, where born in the house.  Mrs. Dickinson was married in the house and a wedding reception for the McIver's older daughter, Mrs. James Young, was held in the two living rooms.

After Dr. McIver's death in 1906, the legislature offered the home to Mrs. McIver for her lifetime. Ms. Lathrop says that Mrs. McIver would offer a place every year to one or two students at the college to help defray the costs and make the college experience more affordable.  She also claimed that, "over a long period of years [Mrs. McIver] gave a room and meals to a succession of students at the Negro A and T college, always keeping in touch with them after they finished college and when a number of them became teachers of their own race."  Following Mrs. McIver's death in 1944, the house was used as a dormitory for service-women returning after WWI to attend college on the G.I. Bill.

The McIver house was demolished in October of 1952.

McIver House in 1951, shortly before demolition

Monday, November 21, 2016

“A Noble Idea:” The History of Peabody Park (Part One)

Take a look at a campus map.  What strikes you about the physical layout of the school and its use of green spaces?  It is a campus that is filled with looping walkways, clusters of enormous oaks and pines, manicured gathering places, secluded benches and gardens, and pristine playing fields.  The largest open space at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) is Peabody Park. The history of the Park’s development, design, and use mirror the school’s own growth.

Students Relaxing in Peabody Park

When the college was founded in 1891, UNCG (known at the time as the State Normal and Industrial School) was situated on ten acres of former farm land.  Recognizing the rapid growth in student enrollment and the need to construct future classrooms and student housing, the school’s administration made the decision to purchase 112 acres adjoining the property’s original footprint.  In 1895, the North Carolina Legislature appropriated monies to improve the condition of this new area, allowing for “the expansion of the institution on the only side not already occupied by residences.”  The Legislature also mentioned that a portion of the new land could be used as a park for open-air exercise, as well as for the study of horticulture.  Yet, the Legislature only approved half of the school’s request for $22,000 of improvements.  Nevertheless, the College immediately began to use this wooded space.  Under the direction of Dr. Anna Gove, the school’s physician, students were required to devote sixty minutes each day to walking in the new park.
Strolling in Peabody Park
The fortunes of the school and the newly acquired property changed in 1901 with the announcement of a gift of $10,000 made by George Foster Peabody, a distant relative of the more well-known George Peabody, whose Peabody Education Fund supported Southern public schools.  The New York financier designated $5,000 to be used for the development of an educational park and an additional $5,000 to meet other needs of the College. The donated monies were to be spent on beautifying the existing space and creating several miles of well-graded walking paths.  Moreover, the plan was that every hill, spring, or bench would be dedicated to a great educational leader or historic event.  Each location would be marked by a granite block with an appropriate description.  It was imagined that other private donors would give monies to create additional markers, as well as pavilions and rustic benches.

George Foster Peabody
In an October 1901 letter to President McIver, George Foster Peabody was pleased to hear that the Park would be officially named “Peabody Park.”  He modestly hoped that people would realize that it was in honor of his relative and philanthropist George Peabody, and not himself.  A number of North Carolina newspapers praised the construction of the educational park at the State Normal. The Raleigh-based newspaper The News and Observer declared that the Park was a “noble idea” that would forward the “civilization” of the state!  The Park project envisioned that students would be benefit from both open-air exercise and the educational content provided by the educational markers.  In turn, the well-educated women of the State Normal would enhance the civic life of North Carolina.

The next installment of “A Noble Idea:” The History of Peabody Park will cover the evolution of the Park from a place of strolling and reflection to one of recreational activities, open-air theatrical performances, and finally, institutional encroachment.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Faculty Service During World War II

On March 19, 1942, the News Bureau at Woman’s College (now UNCG) released a letter to faculty stating that the organization was “compiling information on the college’s contributions to the war effort.” The letter went on to request that faculty members respond with a list of their individual involvement in the war effort as well as the names of any relatives who were serving in the United States Military. The responses varied in their tone and complexity.

Guy Lyle
“As you know I am serving as state director of the Victory Book Campaign.” Library Professor Guy Lyle reminded crisply. “This takes up pretty much all of my leisure time.” Professor Lyle’s background as a librarian at numerous academic and public libraries made him an obvious choice for leading an organization whose mission was to boost the spirits of troops by providing them with reading materials.

Sociology Professor Mereb Mossman was even briefer in her response: “I am training chairman of the Greensboro C.D.V.O.” She was referring to the Civilian Defense Volunteer Office which was established in 1941 to keep up public morale and involve ordinary citizens in defense planning.

Mereb Mossman
Hygiene Professor Victoria Carlson wrote a long, detailed response to Nell Craig, director of the News Bureau. She explained that her brother was in the service and that she lectured to eight sections of her Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick classes. This class was modified to reflect wartime caveats. Many professors altered their classes during World War II in order to offer students and community members the skills that were needed for a nation at war.

In the same vein, Ruth Fitzgerald lamented that she was “physically unable to take on any extra work.” A professor of education, she joined Professor Carlson in increasing her work load on campus. These increases were sanctioned by Frank Porter Graham, President of the University of North Carolina System, who believed that heavy sacrifice was demanded of everyone in the university from the top down due to the war.

While some professors joined or led organizations and others taught additional classes, faculty contributed to the war effort in a myriad of ways. These paths to service could be as simple as knitting clothes for soldiers, planting a victory garden in the community, or as involved as joining the military themselves, something a few Woman’s College faculty actually did.

Victoria Carlson
This outpour of faculty support for the war effort, encouraged and facilitated by the university administration, is significant for two reasons. First, there is noticeable (public) unity among the faculty about the nation’s involvement in and goals for World War II, a feature that would be lacking in more recent wars, mostly noticeably the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the involvement of students and faculty alike at an all-girls college demonstrates the social effects that the War brought to the United States. Necessity would shatter glass ceilings as women raced to fill the positions left behind by drafted men. Additionally, involvement of faculty in reaching and helping laymen and women on the home front enforced the image of Woman’s College as a source of civic communitarianism. The school’s service as a bridge between the citizens of the community and a wealth of intellectual, yet practical knowledge helped ready the school for its transition into a co-ed university in 1963, and will guide the university’s future well into the twenty-first century.

This post was written by UNCG alumni Joseph Winberry (Class of 2013).

Monday, November 7, 2016

William Jennings Bryan and His Unlikely Connection to UNCG

William Jennings Bryan was a politician and orator from Nebraska, but his name would become inextricably linked to the history of the State Normal and Industrial College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro). His connection to this Southern women’s college may seem unlikely as Bryan is best known for his role as a perennial presidential candidate for the Democratic Party (he was the nominee for the 1896, 1900, and 1908 elections), as well as his involvement with the “Scopes Monkey Trial” (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes).

William Jennings Bryan, ca. 1896
His deep, commanding voice and passionate delivery, contributed to his reputation as one of the most celebrated orators of the era. But Bryan is associated with the College’s history because he delivered the commencement address to the class of 1894, and more importantly, because he witnessed the death of the school’s founder and first president, Charles Duncan McIver. The two men had met in 1894, two years before Bryan gave his famous “Cross of Gold” speech, securing him the Democratic nomination for the 1896 presidential election. McIver was so impressed with Bryan, that he asked him to speak at the school’s commencement exercises in May. Although McIver truly admired Bryan, he also believed that this “advertising scheme” would result in increasing student interest in his new college. His plan was successful, as the following semester State Normal received hundreds more applications than the previous year.

For the 1894 commencement ceremony, Bryan would share the stage with John B. Gordon, a Confederate General who had seen action at Antietam and Gettysburg and had led the last charge at Appomattox. Greensboro was thrilled at the news that the “silver-tongued orator” was coming to their town, and bedecked homes, storefronts, and streetcars in the school colors of yellow and white. The College’s flower, the daisy, was also used liberally for decoration.

Bryan spoke to an over-capacity crowd in the auditorium of the campus’ Administration Building (now the Foust Building). The stage was decorated with the Seal of North Carolina, and on either side of it, the seals of Nebraska and Georgia, honoring the speakers’ home states. Bryan’s political celebrity, charismatic personality, and reputation for dramatic speeches drew a record audience. The young women who attended the College were particularly thrilled with his appearance, as they thought that there was a strong resemblance between Bryan and McIver, their college president. Bryan spoke for almost two hours on one of his favorite themes – the reinstatement of silver coinage.

William Jennings Bryan (center) and Charles Duncan McIver (far right), ca. 1896

During the years after the 1894 commencement, McIver and Bryan continued to keep in contact. The men always met when Bryan visited North Carolina, and McIver made a point of being present at his friend’s speaking engagements when possible. In August of 1906, McIver traveled to New York to attend a reception honoring Bryan at Madison Square Garden hosted by the Commercial Travelers Anti-Trust League. It was at this event that McIver suggested that Bryan visit North Carolina in September for a whistle-stop tour of the state in September. Bryan had made whistle-stop campaigning popular during his presidential campaign of 1896, and his previous visit to the state had included over twenty North Carolina towns, where he gave political speeches from the back of a train.

Commercial Travelers Anti-Trust League Badge

On September 17, 1906, McIver caught the early morning train to Raleigh to meet the group who was traveling with Bryan back to Greensboro. The train stopped in Durham for Bryan to make a campaign speech and for the party to have lunch. After lunch, McIver complained of indigestion and acute chest pains, and returned to the train to rest. He died shortly afterwards. Bryan rushed to him when he heard the news and he, like his other companions, was “paralyzed with grief.”

Death Mask of Charles Duncan McIver

From the time that McIver died until the train reached Greensboro, the planned politically-based whistle-stop tour became a funeral procession. As there were many people awaiting Bryan at each scheduled stop, it was decided to continue the tour, but instead of campaign speeches, he spoke of McIver’s legacy to the state and to education.  When the train finally reached Greensboro, Bryan visited Lula Martin McIver to pay his respects and gave a memorial tribute for his friend that evening at the city’s opera house. The eulogy included an admirable portrait of McIver as an advocate of women’s education, and pointed to the college that he founded as his greatest monument. From that day on, Bryan’s name has been linked with McIver’s, and with the history of the College.