Monday, March 25, 2019

Cornelia Strong: An "Unforgettable Individual"

For 43 years, Cornelia Strong served as a professor of mathematics at the school now known as UNC Greensboro. During her time on campus, the school changed from State Normal to the North Carolina College for Women to the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina. She saw tremendous growth in the physical campus as well as the educational offerings for students. And when she passed away in 1955, she left behind a legacy that continues on the UNCG campus today.

A native of South Carolina, Strong joined the State Normal (now UNCG) faculty in 1905, and worked diligently to prepare the women under her tutelage for a variety of careers. While most alumni entered into teaching, many mathematics majors found roles as "human computers" in the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) and later the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (see this story about 1930 graduate Virginia Tucker, who served as the "head computer" at Langley in the late 1940s).

Strong received her educational training at Cornell University, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1903 and was elected to membership in Sigma Xi, the national honorary society for distinction in science. Soon after, she arrived in Greensboro to begin teaching at the State Normal. But she continued her education through summer schools at a number of universities, including California, Colorado, and Wisconsin. In 1931, she completed her Master of Arts degree in Mathematics and Astronomy at the University of Michigan.

That same year, she began teaching the first courses in Astronomy at the North Carolina College for Women (now UNCG). Dorothy Yarbrough Zimmerman (Class of 1935) was one of six students in Strong's astromony class in 1934. She noted, "visions come to mind now of the frail but dynamic body of Miss Strong, ever clad in her characteristic shoe top length skirts and plain black lace shoes, meeting us on campus at 4 am, lugging and setting up the telescope in order that we might feel the thrill of observing Saturn's rings, Jupiter's moons, and craters of our own moon."

In addition to teaching, Strong served on a number of critical campus committees. Perhaps the most significant was her role as chairman of the Committee on Advanced Standing, a position she held from 1913 through 1937. This committee was tasked with evaluating the academic records of alumnae from the earliest years of the school (before accreditation) to determine how much work would be needed to meet current degree requirements. As noted in one tribute to her after her death, this leadership position was particularly difficult as "it required good judgement, patience, and tact to maintain the standards of the college and at the same time preserve happy relations with these older alumnae."

Strong was also known across campus as someone who would go out of her way to help or cheer up her students and colleagues. She was frequently known to pick flowers from her own yard and deliver a small bouquet to new faculty members. Barbara Mangum Bowland (Class of 1951) recalled that, upon learning about her upcoming wedding, Strong made a special heel for Bowland's wedding slipper - a blue satin heel with a four-leaf clover pressed into it. Strong also enclosed a note that read "a bride must have something old - and something new - and a four-leaf clover in the heel of her shoe."

Upon her retirement in 1948, Strong was recognized by students and fellow faculty members as an "unforgettable individual," a "resolute and brilliant woman," and "a truly remarkable person." On June 3, 1955, at the age of 78, she passed away at Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro. In a tribute to Strong read before the Faculty Council in November 1955, three members of the mathematics department noted, "in the hearts of her many students and friends, in the Mathematics Department and in the entire college community, Miss Strong will live for many years to come, an inspiring and gracious influence."

Moore-Strong Residence Hall
In 1960, a new residence hall opened on the Woman's College campus and was named in memory of Strong (as well as Mary Taylor Moore, a member of the Class of 1903 who served as registrar from 1909 to 1948). The building was renovated in 1994, and Strong College was officially established by the University's College of Arts and Sciences. Strong Colleges continues today (although it has been relocated to Guilford Hall) with a focus on "sustainability through hands-on research and fieldwork."

Monday, March 18, 2019

Educate a Woman: Virginia Terrell Lathrop

     The 1920s was an age marked by dramatic social changes, rejecting traditions, huge economic growth, and, for many, an exhuberant lifestyle of drinking and dancing. Though many of the women of the 1923 graduating class of North Carolina College for Women (NCCW, and now UNC Greensboro) adopted the bobbed hairstyle of the day, for the most part, they were starting the decade by focusing on getting an education rather than embracing the habits of the flapper generation. Within months of their graduation, in August of 1923, President Warren Harding died suddenly, and Vice President Calvin Coolidge was catapulted to the oval office. A year later, he would run for president and win. The class of 1923, aged at least 21 years, were of legal voting age at the time, and the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 meant that they were eligible to vote in their first national election. They would begin life after graduation in a world full of new opportunities for women.

Virginia Terrell, senior yearbook picture, 1923
      Virginia Terrell Lathrop (1902-1974) was the 1923 class president, majored in History and English, and was awarded the superlative for wisdom in her senior yearbook. It was only natural that she continued to be a clever trailblazer in the years following graduation. 

     Lathrop was a product of her education and chose to focus her career in journalism. A trendsetter, she became a reporter and feature writer for Raleigh's News and Observer, Greensboro's Daily News, New York's Evening Post, London's Express, the Paris edition of the New York Herald-Tribune, and Asheville's Citizen. In later years when asked if she used her college major in her career, she wrote, "Yes - in a better understanding of people and events; and in the skills of communication through writing and talking and reading." Indeed, her numerous articles and two books conveyed her keen interest in and understanding of the world around her.


     In a 1935 questionnaire sent to members of the class of 1923 prior to their reunion, Lathrop was asked to summarize her professional and personal life during the twelve years since graduation. Aside from the newspaper work described previously, she wrote, "Roving about as secretary to a playwright in Switzerland; handling mail in a tourist agency in Paris; press agent for a professional stock company in Asheville; free lancing, with a few accepted magazine articles; marriage & housekeeping; and since then free lancing, with occasional publicity work for stock companies, theatres, Chamber of Commerce, and last year for the celebration of first English settlement on Roanoke Island." 

Virginia Terrell, "Wisdom", Superlatives, 1923 yearbook
     In just over a decade since her college graduation, Lathrop had managed to live abroad for a stint, work as a journalist for several highly respected publications in the US and abroad, as well as find time to meet and marry her husband in 1928. Albert Lathrop was educated at the Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland, Ohio and resided in Asheville at the time of their marriage. A few years later, the Lathrops welcomed their only child, a son, Terrell "Terry" Lathrop. Terry Lathrop would continue in his parents' footsteps by attending college and obtaining a B.S. in Civil Engineering from North Carolina State College (now North Carolina State University) and an M.A. in City Planning from Yale University.

     Just prior to WWII, in 1938, Virginia Lathrop returned to her alma mater to serve on staff to begin the University News Bureau. By that time, she was an experienced journalist and had remained committed to the college as well as to freedom of education for all. She also was very active in her community by serving on boards or committees of the Red Cross, YWCA, Friends of the Library, Parent Teacher Association, and the Cub Scouts. During the war, Lathrop served in a civilian capacity as a regional director for the North Carolina War Finance Committee, a role in which she organized war bond sales for western North Carolina counties. War bonds were sold to finance the war and were advertised as a way for average citizens to protect liberty and democracy; no doubt this work was an extension of Lathrop's commitment to protecting freedom of education. In addition, Lathrop's first book, Educate a Woman: Fifty Years of Life at the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina, was published in 1942.


Lathrop's first book published in 1942
     After the war, Lathrop continued to invest her time and effort in the interest of education as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Consolidated University of North Carolina. She became a member of its Executive Committee in 1953. In 1972, the organization became UNC Board of Governors and Lathrop continued to serve until her death in 1974. She also remained faithful to UNC Greensboro and visited the university many times during her tenure as a trustee and for reunions of the class of 1923.

     Lathrop was known as the unofficial university historian. Her second book about the university, Bricks and People: A Walking Guide to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, was published in 1973. She even was invited to present a brief history of the university as the 1966 Commencement speaker, in which she extolled the virtues of the founder of the State Normal and Industrial College (later NCCW and now UNC Greensboro), Dr. Charles D. McIver. 

Virginia Terrell Lathrop
     Like Virginia Terrell Lathrop, McIver was an unflagging supporter of the education of women. Lathrop quoted McIver who expressed his purpose of creating the institution as follows, "...to give such education as will add to the efficiency of woman's work in whatever walk of life her lot may be cast." Lathrop's lot was cast into a walk of life characterized by service to a cause - freedom of education for all people - a movement she served her whole life.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Chancellor Patricia A. Sullivan: Encoded in the DNA of UNCG

UNCG opened its doors in 1892 as a publicly-supported school for women from across North Carolina (and beyond) to receive a higher education. But it would not be until the 103rd year of the school's existence that a woman would serve as the university's highest-ranking administrator. On January 1, 1995, Dr. Patricia A. Sullivan officially became the 9th Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the first woman to hold the chief executive position on campus.

Patricia Sullivan was born in Staten Island, NY, and received degrees in biology from Notre Dame College of St. John's University (B.A., 1961) and New York University (M.S., 1964 and Ph.D., 1967). Her work experience included research positions with the National Institutes of Health as well as faculty positions at Wagner College, Wells College, Texas Woman's University, and Salem College. She also served as Dean of the College at Salem College from 1981 to 1987, and as Vice President for Academic Affairs at Texas Woman's University from 1987 until her hiring at UNCG.

During her time at UNCG, the campus underwent a number of major changes that helped it become the institution it is today. Under Sullivan's leadership, enrollment at UNCG reached an all-time high, while academic standards for admissions also increased. Enrollment of students from underrepresented communities also increased significantly during this time. As JoAnne Smart Drane, one of the first African American students to attend the school, noted in a tribute to Sullivan, "she valued the University's diversity as strength."

Sullivan also led a charge to move UNCG to its current classification as a Research University with High Research Activity. Funded research grew 180% during her years as chancellor, from $12.7 million to $36 million. Additionally, numerous doctoral programs were established during this time, including Ph.D. programs in nursing, geography, economics, information systems, special education, community health, communication sciences and disorders, history and medicinal biochemistry. UNCG also established partnerships with North Carolina A&T University to found both the Gateway University Research Park and the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.

Not only did the academic landscape of UNCG change under Sullivan's leadership, but the physical landscape changed as well. Sullivan diligently advocated on behalf of the North Carolina Higher Education Improvement Bonds, which was the largest bond referendum for public education in United States history. Ultimately, the passage of the bond referendum provided $3.1 billion for construction at state universities and community colleges across North Carolina. UNCG received $166 million from the referendum for construction and renovations. The Science Building that would later be named in Sullivan's honor was constructed as a result of that referendum. Numerous other buildings - including the Brown Building, Forney Building, and the UNCG Auditorium - were also renovated and modernized.

Sullivan with former Chancellor Moran at moving of Chancellor's Residence
Through the bond referendum, successful fundraising campaigns, and other donations, approximately $500 million total in new construction and renovations were added during Sullivan's time as chancellor. In addition to the Science Building, the Gatewood Studio Arts Building, the Moore Humanities and Research Administration Building, and the Spring Garden Apartments residence hall were constructed during her tenure. Also, in a collaboration with Preservation North Carolina, the historic Chancellor's Residence was moved, renovated, and reopened as the Armfield-Preyer Admissions and Visitor Center.

On December 6, 2007, Chancellor Sullivan announced that she would retire, effective July 31, 2008. At the time, she was the most senior chancellor among the UNC System. In remarks to the UNCG Board of Trustees upon announcing her retirement, Sullivan noted, "as with any journey, each year during which I've served as chancellor has been marked by great strides and great successes. Many inspiring challenges and surprises. Times when my heart felt great pain from the tragedies we had to overcome. And times when my heart swelled with pride at the accomplishment of our people. It has been, after all, a very beautiful voyage ... and I shall always understand what UNCG means."

Following the Spring 2008 Board of Trustees meeting - her final meeting as chancellor - a ceremony was held in which the Science Building constructed with the bond referendum funds that she diligently worked for was renamed the Patricia A. Sullivan Science Building. Board of Trustees Chair Steve Hassenfelt noted, "I think we found a way to encode Pat Sullivan and her tremendous leadership into the DNA of UNCG for many years to come." During the ceremony, UNC President Erskine Bowles also presented Sullivan with The Old North State Award, which recognizes "dedication and service beyond expectation and excellence to the Great State of North Carolina."

At her retirement, Sullivan was also fighting a battle with pancreatic cancer. On the morning of August 20, 2009 after a two-year battle with the disease, she passed away at the age of 69. A campus-wide service was held in her memory on September 14, 2009, with remarks from numerous UNCG alumni, faculty, and administrators. As the following Chancellor Linda Brady remarked in closing the ceremony, "there is a void on our landscape. But it is just a physical void. Pat's engaging smile and encouraging spirit - her intellect and reason - is on every hallway, in every building - in each classroom, studio, and laboratory. It's in the Weatherspoon, the library, the Elliott Center, on the athletic courts and fields ... Her spirit lives on in the hearts of all of us who hold UNCG dear ... and who continue the commitment to advancing the University that she dearly loved."

Monday, March 4, 2019

The First Day of Class at State Normal, ca. 1892


When a current UNC Greensboro student walks down College Avenue, they see quite a different campus than an earlier student would have experienced. On October 5, 1892, the State Normal and Industrial School welcomed 176 students to the new girls college. There were only three building on the grounds – Main Building (now Foust), Brick Dormitory, and founder Charles Duncan McIver’s home. When the young women arrived, the buildings were new and unfinished, and the campus was not landscaped. It had just recently been a 10-acre corn field surrounded by farms and wood

State Normal students arrive at their new school
That first year, all of the students roomed in the large Brick Dormitory. One girl later remembered that she and her fellow students were collected at the train station and dropped off at the dorm, sitting on either side of the main hall until they were given their room assignments. They students slept four to a room, sharing two double beds. Hailing from all corners of the state, almost 80% grew up on farms. In some cases, it was their first trip out of their own county, and they were both excited and anxious.

Early students spill out of Brick Dormitory

On the first day of class, the girls gathered in Main Building and were asked to form a line according to their height, with the shortest at the front. Then, they marched to the assembly room, which also acted as a chapel, filing uniformly into each row. This allowed the taller students in the back row of desks to have a clear view of the proceedings, as they only had shorter classmates in front of them. This routine continued every morning at 8:45 after the morning bell was rung. President Charles Duncan McIver addressed the students, leading a chapel period, during which he read from the Bible and made general announcements. Dr. McIver also conducted the morning ritual of “mail call,” announcing letters and packages received from home. The students would eventually move to classes, which related to their choice of academic track - pedagogy, home economics, or business. All of the classrooms were located in Main Building. The students also took science courses, such as physiology, which included the study of a real skeleton that the girls named “Miriam” in honor of Miriam Bitting, the first campus physician. 

Dr. McIver with his students
In the early days, the buildings on campus were lit first by oil lamps, then by gas lamps, and finally by electricity. Each student was responsible for her own lamp, as well as for keeping her room clean and her bed made. As there was little money from the state to hire additional kitchen workers, the girls also helped in the large dining hall that was located in Brick Dormitory, taking turns setting the tables, serving the meals, and washing the dishes. 

State Normal students had very little personal freedom during the first years at the school. They had to receive special permission to leave campus and only after passing the inspection of Miss Sue May Kirkland, “lady principal.” Kirkland was “custodian of manners and morals” and “referee in matters social and domestic.” Wearing hats and gloves was mandatory and acting in a proper demeanor was expected at all times. Although Miss Kirkland was committed to decorum, she was also kind and sympathetic and the students were devoted to her.

Miss Sue May Kirkland
Some of the most popular activities on campus were memberships in clubs (such as the YWCA, the bird club, the glee club, the drama club) and literary societies. Although McIver did not allow social sororities on campus, he gave the girls the opportunity to join either the Adelphian or the Cornelian literary society, which hosted debates, plays, dances, teas, and other campus entertainments. The students also valued sports, especially tennis, basketball, and field hockey, which they played in blousy black serge gymnasium outfits with black cotton stockings and leather shoes. Special events were also planned, such as the “County Fair,” which was held in 1894. The outdoor pageant featured students from each county in the state putting on a skit representing a unique characteristic of the area. The fair proved so popular, it was held several times, especially for visitors.

Students participating in the "County Fair"
 As the student population grew during the next few years, the campus began to expand, adding Guilford/Midway Dormitory, the Students’ Building (incorporating classrooms, a large assembly hall, and space for the literary societies), and the Carnegie Library (now the Forney Building). Other buildings disappeared, such as the first barn and Brick Dormitory, which burned to the ground in 1904. As expected, new faculty came to the school, and others moved on. Other changes were unforeseen. The school’s energetic and charismatic founder and first president, Charles Duncan McIver, died in 1906, just a few weeks short of his 46th birthday. 

Yet, on October 5, 1892, the campus crackled with excitement! The students were thrilled to be a part of the first class of State Normal. They knew that Dr. McIver and Miss Kirkland were at the helm and all was right with the world.