Monday, June 26, 2017

WC Theatre's International Tour: Taking the Pajama Game Overseas

From October 21 through December 3, 1962, the Woman's College Theatre participated in a series of college student productions that toured overseas Army, Navy, and Air Force installations and provided free entertainment for servicemen and their families. WC was one of 29 American colleges and universities participating in the tour, which was sponsored by the USO (United Service Organizations) along with AETA (American Educational Theater Association).

The WC Theatre chose the musical "The Pajama Game" as its performance for touring. Based on the novel 7 1/2 Cents by Richard Bissell, "The Pajama Game" tells the tales of individuals working in a pajama factory. The WC company was assigned a six-week route throughout the Northeast Command area, which included Greenland, Labrador, Newfoundland, and Iceland. The route, which covered nearly 12,000 miles, included a performance at Thule, Greenland, approximately 500 miles away from the North Pole. 

Competition to join the touring group was fierce, and students were required to not only perform but also serve as production technicians. Selection was limited to juniors and seniors due to "the sophisticated nature of the clubs which the Company would frequent during the tour." Only drama majors, members of the student drama organization The Masqueraders, or former performers in WC productions were allowed to audition. Additionally "because of the arctic climate, students free of allergies and of proven physical stamina were chosen." Eleven WC students were selected to be part of the touring company. Five students from UNC Chapel Hill and one from Greensboro College also joined the company to take on the male roles.

The lead female role of Babe in "The Pajama Game" was played by WC senior Shirley Bosta of Hampton, Virginia. The performance notes describe her as "a fiery red head with an even temperament," and adds that "she is the only Woman's College student ever to have two leading roles in musical comedies."

Student selected to join the company were required to enroll in a special nine-hour drama course entitled "Woman's College Theatre North Atlantic Tour." In addition to this nine-hour course, various departments having student majors participating in the tour arranged for the students to take an additional three hours during the early part of the semester, before the touring began. For example, Drama and Speech Department majors took a course in playwrighting. English majors did special honors work. Additionally, a special seminar room in the College Library was reserved for students to read books on "the arts and crafts, people, history, and geography" of the areas they would be visiting.

Of the 31 performances in the tour, 11 were to full houses with most of those including standees. Attendance at the others was near capacity. In his final report on the tour, Herman Middleton, head of WC's Department of Drama and Speech and director of the touring production, noted that the bulk of the audiences consisted of young enlisted men between the ages of 18 and 25. The audience was enthusiastic with "many flash photographs and movies made during performances."

This successful overseas tour of "The Pajama Game" was actually the second time WC was asked to perform as part of the USO-AETA tour. In the summer of 1959, WC Theatre was the first college theater in the south to be selected for tour. They traveled to Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Hawaii to perform Clare Boothe's comedy "The Women." In 1966, after WC transitioned to UNCG, a group once again participated with a touring production of "L'il Abner."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mereb Mossman: An Administrator and Leader

Today's blog post was written by Ashlie Brewer. Ashlie is a rising junior, majoring in music education. She currently works as one of the 125th Anniversary Student Researchers, helping conduct archival research in anticipation of the university's upcoming celebration.

Mereb Mossman was born in Winfield, Kansas on December 1, 1905. She attended Morningside College where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1926, then her Master of Arts from the University of Chicago two years later in 1928. Mossman taught sociology at Ginling College in China from 1930-35, then came back to the States for a year of graduate study. She went back overseas to teach and travel in Asia and Europe. In 1936, Mossman taught at the Alabama Women’s College and then joined the Woman’s College (now UNCG) faculty in 1937 as a professor of Sociology. Mossman was quickly recognized as a critical member of the WC faculty. Her peers frequently described her as a hard-working, model administrator.

Mossman was an active member of the WC campus community, the Greensboro community, and her professional community. During her first couple of years on campus, she was asked to lecture on China to civic organizations as an aftermath of the Japanese invasion of the country. From 1946 to 1948, Mossman served as president of the Greensboro Council of Social Agencies, and in 1947 to 1951, she was a member of the National Committee on Preprofessional Education of the American Association of Schools of Social Work. In 1951 she was named WC’s Dean of Instruction. She was promoted to Dean of the College, then Dean of Faculty soon after that, then was named Greensboro’s Woman of the Year given an honorary membership to the Greensboro Junior League in 1954. Two years later, in 1956, she received the Max Oliver Gardener Award. Then in 1960, she was awarded an honorary degree of Humanities at Queen’s College and Morningside College. In 1963, Mossman was elected executive council of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of College and Schools. Finally, in 1969 she was promoted to Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Making her the first woman to ever hold this position at the university. However, she only held the title briefly before stepping down in 1971 to resume teaching full time.

As an administrator, Mossman was a woman who always got the job done. However, she worked a small team consisting of herself, an assistant and a secretary. Unwilling to delegate, there were many times that the team had to stay long hours and weekends in order to get necessary paperwork completed. She was able to master virtually every detail of the college’s operations which kept her as a pivotal member at the university. Mossman always looked to the future for the university -- from bringing in more professors, being a familiar face as chancellors rotated in and out, and bringing more education to UNCG (she was a driving force in creating masters and doctoral programs in several departments). Mossman looked at adding as many learning opportunities to the university as possible.

During her years 20+ years at WC/UNCG, Mossman held several positions but valued her time as a teacher more than any other of her titles. She viewed higher education as not only a place to develop curious minds of students and to place them into the working force, but as two continuing education programs. The first being the workshops and seminars that are being held across the country for professionals, and the second being the continuing programs for people interested in their own personal development as a human being. She pushed this idea onto her students. One of Mossman’s student’s recounted, "She held us to the highest standards and never, never relaxed that. She was one of the finest, a fascinating professor who got to you. Years after you left her class you didn’t want to let her down. She is one of the life’s very special people."

Mossman retired in 1976 with a resume listing over 10 pages of educational groups and community service work. A year after her retirement, the campus administration building was named in her honor. Mereb Mossman died in 1990 at the age of 84.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Flu Pandemic of 1918: The "Fourth Horseman" Comes to State Normal

In 1918, an influenza pandemic began to spread across the globe. In the U.S., about 28% of the population became infected, and 500,000 to 675,000 people died over the course the next two years. The campus of the State Normal and Industrial College (now UNCG) was, of course, not immune to this easily-transmitted disease. In October 1918, the disease found the College, and campus administrators had to made quick decisions on the best course of action to protect the students and limit the spread of the flu.

Instead of suspending operations as some schools did at the time, State Normal President Julius Foust made the decision to instead quarantine students to the campus. From October through December, students were unable to leave campus, and guests were not permitted to visit. One alumnae wrote:

Wooden Dormitory (approximate site of the Alumni House today)
"It was that fall when the Fourth Horseman on his livid steed was abroad in the land. Pestilence, in the form of deadly influenza epidemic, was sweeping the country. No city, village, or hamlet was spared. It reached the campus as I remember in October. Several hundred girls contracted it ... A rigid quarantine was enforced. No one was allowed to leave the campus, no going to town, no weekends at home, only walks into the country were permitted."

Several hundred students were infected -- so many that the campus infirmary could not hold them all. Wooden Dormitory (also known as Guilford Hall) was converted into a makeshift hospital. But fortunately, none of the students contracted pneumonia, and no deaths resulted. As President Foust wrote in his unpublished history of the College, "This was remarkable in view of the fact that many more people died from flu in this country than were killed in the war [note: Foust is referring to World War I]. Both faculty and students had relatives and friends in the army and frequently a report would come that a loved one had been killed or died from influenza, but these sorrows were endured with Christian fortitude."

The pledge signed by students prior to leaving campus in December 1918
By December, the influenza outbreak on campus had subsided enough that Foust decided that the students should be allowed to return home for the holiday break. But each student was required to sign an agreement pledging to report any illnesses in their home, avoid possible sources of the disease, and reporting to the infirmary for a health assessment immediately upon returning to the school.

When the holiday period end and student returned to State Normal, they faced a week of final exams. But, as soon as those were complete, they began to celebrate the end of the semester and of the full campus quarantine by planning a large gala event for the evening of February 3, 1919. As reported in the Greensboro Daily News:

"Memories of long, dreary weeks of quarantine were forgotten, and mirth reigned supreme through the spacious dining hall, when at 7:30 o'clock last evening students of the State Normal and Industrial College participated in one of the most elaborate entertainments in the history of the college.

The first event of the evening was, perhaps, the most impressive when 700 young ladies, dressed in quaint costumes, formed a long, gala procession and passed in review before the judging members of the faculty ... After the procession had ended a unique program, arranged by Misses Clarence Winder and Lula Martin McIver, was given, including farce scenes of "what might have been" and "what actually happened" during the quarantine. A liberal sprinkling of humor was traced through the numerous sketches given, and the effect was indeed ludicrous.

During the latter hours of the evening a delightful dance was given in which the majority of the young ladies participated. Between dances several vaudeville sketches were presented, including aesthetic dancing, ballet scenes in which the students were dressed in colonial costumes, "buck and wing dancing," and other forms of the Terpischorean art."

Monday, June 5, 2017

The First Reunion of the Class of 1585

In 1926, the alumnae of the North Carolina College for Women (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) were making plans for their class reunions. As these preparations were being made, it occurred to some of the alumnae that the celebration should include those students who had attended the woman’s college but had never graduated, or were never officially associated with a reunion class. This honorary group was christened the “Class of 1585.” This unusual name was a reference to the state’s early history, when Sir Richard Grenville’s English ships landed on the coast of what is now North Carolina.

The first “reunion” of the Class of 1585 was held on June 5, 1926, during the celebration of Alumnae Day. To mark the occasion, there was a luncheon given in the Spencer Residence Hall dining room. In keeping with the 1585 theme, large centerpieces were fashioned in the image of Elizabethan ships. The tables were decorated with vases of daises (the school flower), with individual blossoms spelling out 1585 – 1926. For a special remembrance of the day, guests were presented with a small booklet created by students in the college’s art department. On the cover was a hand-drawn representation of a ship being greeted by a young Native American woman, while the interior contained the day’s program and a photograph of the guests of honor. Those being honored were administrators, professors, and staff members associated with the college’s early history. They included Miss Viola Boddie, Miss Laura Coit, Mr. Edward Forney, Dr. Julius Foust, Dr. Anna Gove, Miss Minnie Lou Jamison, Mrs. Lula McIver, and Miss Mary Petty.

Over ninety guests were entertained with a program which paid tribute to the eight guests of honor. Continuing the theme of settling a new land, these educators were represented as champions of learning and “rescuers of the maidens” held captive by ignorance. In thanks, their former students presented them with “love, loyalty, reverence, and gratitude.” The luncheon’s entertainment also included a song by Miss Molly Matheson Boren and a commemorative verse by Miss Eleanor Watson Andrews, as well as Miss Vaughn White Holoman’s “series of word pictures sketched with the delicacy and precision of a cameo, [of] the eight ‘founders’ of the ‘settlement.’”

The moving program ended with each attendee drawing the name of one of the eight honorees and completing the phrase, “What we really want to tell you…” on a small sheet of paper. These kind thoughts were later collected and incorporated into a commemorative book. The event concluded with the guests toasting the Class of 1585 with best wishes and the hope that the tradition would persist.  For the next several years, the Class of 1585 continued to hold alumnae luncheons with the other college classes, but by the 1930s, this seems to have come to an end. Only one of the hand-drawn booklets survives as a testament of the class’s first reunion held on that June day in 1926.