Monthly Archives: December 2011

Ladies of the Hill–Part III

By the early 1920s more and more co-eds were enrolling at UNC, making the issue of housing for these women ever more pressing.  In 1917, when the position of women’s adviser was created, most  co-eds lived off campus in boarding houses.  Clara Lingle wrote about this in her first annual report.

Visiting the girls in their boarding houses and meeting the people with whom they live has given me first hand information as to their living arrangements.  In three cases a change of residence was effected.  I have encouraged the boarding house keepers to get the girls to keep early hours, and to have good reading lights.

Mrs. Lingle made the following suggestions in her report, based on her observations:

A woman’s building is becoming a necessity from the point of view of health, economy of time and social life.  This building (or group of units on the cottage system) should include dormitories and dining hall and all such equipment, as gymnasium and shower baths, as can not be shared on campus.

She also suggested that a special hall be designated for joint use of both male and female students to help create a more “democratic social life.”  Her notes were the first of many made by the women’s adviser with regard to the need of on-campus housing for co-eds.

In 1919 Inez Koonce Stacy was appointed women’s adviser.  She wrote in a report that:

The students are scattered from one end of town to the other, and lose much valuable time going back and forth…They have few comforts and in their social life none of the finer things which come from contact with one another.

Inez Koonce Stacy

UNC finally responded to these reports in 1921 by purchasing two adjacent houses able to accommodate 45 of the 65 females enrolled.  Stacy was not satisfied, however.  Only one small parlor was provided for entertaining.  In addition, the university was responsible for furnishing wood to heat the houses, which they often neglected to do.  One student wrote about her experience, describing having to go out with her roommate to pick up twigs on campus to have enough wood to heat their room so they could study in relative comfort.

When the houses provided by the school burned down (perhaps due to the small tin stoves in each room), Mrs. Stacy stepped up her campaign for a female dormitory on campus.  She had the full support of UNC President Harry Chase, as well as history professor Frank Porter Graham, who stated “My belief in c0-education at the University is a part of my belief in the University.”  The co-eds had overwhelming backing by the faculty and administration, as well as from numerous female alumnae.  Mrs. Stacy’s goal was within reach.  The male student body, feeling threatened by these changes, fought back in what became known as “The Battle for Spencer Hall.”

A female dormitory would break through one of the final barriers preventing women from truly becoming a part of the university experience and campus men sought to maintain that barrier.  The Tar Heel went so far as to publish a special edition on the subject, with a headline reading “Shall Coeds Have a Dormitory Built Here?  Representative Student Opinion Says No.”  The writers of the newspaper went on to state that the co-eds’ petition for a female dormitory was “the most ludicrous assemblage of nonsensical and sentimental rubbish that could be found in the history of grammatical phraseology.”

The boys of UNC were happy with the way things currently stood, with co-eds mainly attending graduate or professional studies.  There were not enough women in these programs to pose a threat.  But if a female dormitory were to open, it would be a clear signal that women were welcome.  In the male student’s opinion, girls already had their women’s colleges, and their attending UNC would take spots away from men.  The Tar Heel stated:

This university has always been a college of, by, and for men, which fact largely accounts for its strengths of character.

Obviously the male students were a bit adverse to change.  One student wrote in an editorial to the Tar Heel:

We can think of nothing more distasteful than [general coeducation]…The women here would only prove a distracting influence, could do no possible good, and would turn the grand institution into a semi-effeminate college which would certainly have no attraction for us.

When a vote was cast among the students as to whether a female dormitory should be built, the “no’s” had it, 937 to 173.  But in the end, the students really had no official say in what happened.  The faculty continued to support coeducation, along with many influential alumni and alumnae, and $100,000 was provided by the legislature for the construction of Spencer Hall, named after Cornelia Phillips Spencer, a long-time supporter of coeducation and the university.  The building was completed in 1925.

Spencer Hall (wings added later)

The Tar Heel, admitting their defeat, wrote:

Thus ends a rather heated controversy.  We congratulate the women and commend them highly on the splendid attitude they have taken in the fight that has ensued.  We plead not guilty on all charges that we bear any grudge, and the stand that we have taken, wrong or right, has been through our sincere best wishes for the welfare of all concerned.

Mrs. Stacy remained in her post until 1946.  During her years as women’s adviser she saw many changes take place, as the number of co-eds continued to grow at  UNC, and more dormitories were constructed (none with as much controversy as Spencer Hall).  Over 1,000 women were enrolled during World War II.  The “ladies of the hill” were here to stay.

Missed the other parts of the series?  Read Part I and Part II.

Sources: Women on the Hill: A History of Women at the University of North Carolina by Pamela Dean, and Report by Clara S. Lingle (UNC Archives)

Photos courtesy of UNC Archives and North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Index

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Anna Forbes Liddell

In my novel, The Education of Eve, my main character attends the University of North Carolina during the years 1916-1918.  It is a time of great change at the university, as the number of female students grew each year, and these “co-eds” strove to break through gender barriers and be included in campus activities.  As I conducted my research of primary source materials, I found that one co-ed, Anna Liddell, was on the editorial staff of the Tar Heel, the campus newspaper.  Granted, she was not the first.  Mary McRae, the first female admitted as an undergraduate at UNC, was associate editor in 1898.  There were a few after her, but I modeled my main character’s achievements after Anna’s.  She was not only an associate editor, but she also earned her certificate in journalism (they did not have a degree for the subject at that time), and was awarded an honors certificate in language and literature upon graduation.

While reading through articles of the Tar Heel, I came across one in particular about co-eds that was very telling of the experience of women on campus.  None of the authors of the Tar Heel articles were named during this time period (this particular article was featured in the October 27, 1917 edition).  I cannot say for certain that this was penned by Ms. Liddell, but given she was the only female staff member, one could guess that she was, or knew the author personally.  The article was entitled “Coediquette.”  Below is an excerpt:

Are co-eds human beings?  It would seem at first thought that they are human.  They have the outer appearance; they eat, sleep, walk, and perform the other common functions of ordinary man and yet-there is an essential difference…An alien air hovers about them.  When they appear on campus, all conversations among the groups nearby ceases…furtive looks are exchanged, and there is a general tension that gives way only with the retreating foot steps of the unfortunate woman…who though she may be brilliant intellectually would gladly give her all for a drop of that milk called human kindness which seems to be at a premium so far as she is concerned.

This is a plea for a more generous spirit.  Here she is and here will probably be many more like her in the days to come.  Why not accept this fact and show the community that we are not in the shackles of conservatism and prejudice!  Be natural.  If you can’t be natural, then be artificial enough to act in such a manner that a fellow student won’t feel entirely out of place when in the neighborhood of other students.  Try to find in the co-ed something more than the girl, a curiosity, an individual, say, in search of the same thing you are–that thing which the University has to offer to those who seek truth.

Click here for the first half of the article, and here for the second half.

Recently I learned more about Anna Liddell’s life.  After graduating from UNC in 1918, she went on to earn her Master’s from Cornell, and then returned to UNC to earn her PhD in 1925.  From 1926 to 1962 she taught in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Florida State College for Women (which later became Florida State University), and served as the department head.  She passed away in Tallahassee, FL in 1979.  Florida State has her collection of papers, spanning from 1902-1961, including correspondence with friends overseas fighting in World War I while she was at UNC.

Anna Forbes Liddell, 1969


Sources: UNC Archives, Florida Memory Project

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Ladies of the Hill–Part II

In 1897, when the first co-eds were admitted to the university, the student handbook described UNC as

“a little world in itself, a sort of miniature state, where young men of all classes, conditions, faiths, temperaments and talents mingle freely together on terms of equality, breathe the atmosphere of liberal culture, and learn the lessons of self-reliance, of respect for the opinions of others and of love for the truth.”

Women were not part of this “little world,” and instead orbited just outside of it, attending classes but nothing more.  All other aspects of campus life were denied them.  Campus housing was not provided for them, and women either stayed at the homes of faculty or in boarding houses along Franklin Street.  The Swain Hall cafeteria was off-limits, as was Bynum Gymnasium.

The gymnasium pool was obviously no place for a lady, due to the lack of swim trunks.

But it was more than just the lack of amenities that isolated co-eds.  The behavior of the male students made them feel like oddities on display.  Mary Graves, class of 1906, described how she and other co-eds ran a “gauntlet of critical eyes.”

“You always have a creepy feeling that your hat is on crooked, or that your hair is coming down.”

Stares were not the only unwelcome behavior co-eds endured from their male peers.  Mary Graves continued to describe her experience in the classroom:

One of the most remarkable things about being a coed is the amount of room you take up.  You start towards an empty seat on the end of a bench and by the time you get there the whole row is vacant.

Not surprisingly, this did little to foster camaraderie between male and female students.

Well, this isn't awkward at all.

In some cases women had to show a bit of extra gumption in order to attend classes at UNC.  In 1915, when the all-male medical school voted not to allow Cora Corpening to be admitted, she chose to ignore the vote and came to class anyway.  Her persistence paid off–eventually she was formally enrolled, and when their class picture was taken in 1916, she was included, front and center.

Ah, sweet victory. Even if the two men on either side of you are leaning away.

While male students acted as if their female counterparts were laden with cooties and avoided them accordingly, the faculty was unanimously in favor of coeducation.  UNC President Edward Kidder Graham recognized the need for women’s inclusion in campus life, stating in 1917:

“To continue to admit…[women] in the half-hearted way, and to furnish them with classroom instruction without the other features which make up college life, is a rather doubtful kindness to them.”

To try to rectify the situation, he created the position of women’s adviser to provide a voice for the co-eds.  First to be appointed was Clara Lingle.  In her first annual report as women’s adviser, she wrote:

In taking up the work, I had no precedent to follow, and the duties were but vaguely defined for me.  I was indeed left very free to find my own place and work, and to fit in with the young women and with the officers and faculty as best I could.

One of Mrs. Lingle’s main goals was to help unify the co-eds by organizing the University Woman’s Association.  Members gathered at least once a month for a “social evening,” and then once a week for patriotic work (the association was formed during World War I).  She obtained a hall on campus where the women could meet for these events, and for use as a study hall.

Slowly the co-eds worked their way into campus activities, such as the Tar Heel newspaper and the theatrical society.  But until women were allowed a place to stay on campus, they would not be able to call UNC home.  Part III discusses the great housing debate.

Miss the first installment?  Read it here.

Sources: Women on the Hill: A History of Women at the University of North Carolina by Pamela Dean, and Report by Clara S. Lingle (UNC Archives)

Photographs from UNC Archives


Filed under Carolina history, The Ladies of the Hill

Downton Abbey Costumes

Admit it, one of the reasons we love Downton Abbey is the eye candy (and I’m not just talking about Dan Stevens, aka Matthew Crawley).

Sorry Matthew, I couldn't resist.

The gowns worn by the three sisters of Downton are not only gorgeous, but they help set the tone of the times and tell a story themselves.

Susannah Buxton is the costumer of Downton Abbey.  In an interview (which you can read here) she discusses how the costumes convey the personalities of the characters she is dressing.  Mary’s a no-nonsense sort of girl, and her wardrobe reflects this with very few lacy frills.  Edith’s dresses seem overly elaborate for her character, and after reading this interview I understand why.  She lacks the confidence of her older sister, so one would think she’d wear something that helped her blend in to the scenery.  But Buxton purposefully avoided this in order to prevent Edith’s character from becoming too cliche.  She would have had access to the same wealth as her older sister, so of course she would wear the latest fashions as well.

Sybil, Mary, and Edith

That leads us to Sybil, my favorite of the Crawley sisters.  She’s the youngest, and we see her grow up a great deal in the first series.  Buxton dresses her in a lot of floral prints to show her youth.  But Sybil’s progressive thinking and interest in women’s equality begins to shine through.  One of my favorite scenes in the first series is when Sybil enters the room, dressed for the evening meal in this:

Everyone’s jaw drops as she shows off her (gasp!) legs AND ankles.  In Buxton’s interview she explains that her inspiration for costumes came from Paul Poiret, a Parisian designer who took his inspiration from the Russian ballet company Ballet Russes.  Poiret introduced “harem” pants in 1911, a design highlighting American and European fascination with Turkish dress.  Here is a 1910 photo of a Ballet Russes costume designed by Leon Bakst:

I love how Sybil even strikes a similar pose when she shows off her new look to her family.

I have no doubt that costumes will play a major role in telling the story of the second series of Downton Abbey.  And I can’t wait to write about it!

Until then, I'll just have to wait...


Filed under Downton Abbey, Period Pieces

Book vs. Movie: Which should come first?

I read an interesting post on Book Blob yesterday about books and their movie adaptations.  The author of the post asked if it was better to read the book before watching its movie, or if it was okay to see the movie first.

My gut reaction was that of a purist–book first, allowing you to read and interpret the author’s story for yourself, rather than watching someone else’s interpretation.  Then you can go to the theater and yell at the screen every time a change in the plot is made (while your fellow movie goers are giving you the stink eye because no, they did not read the book first and have no clue what you are yelling about).

But plot isn’t the only consideration.  There are the characters themselves.  You’ve formed an image in your mind of their appearance and mannerisms.  And then these Hollywood faces appear, replacing those of your imagination.  Sometimes the casting can be so off-putting that I spend half the movie wondering who in the heck was in charge of it and what they were thinking (and that they obviously did NOT read the book first).  And sometimes for the movie’s entirety, if that movie is Cold Mountain.  Nicole Kidman, seriously?  Her character, Ada Monroe, is consistently described in the book as having beautiful thick dark hair, and is in her very early 20’s.  Not 30 something with blonde hair and a terrible fake Southern accent.

I don't believe Botox was in vogue in the 1860s either.

However, after all that, I think something can be said for seeing the film first.  Not only will you spare your companions the constant prattle of “Can you believe that?  They just skipped over the most important part!”, but you might be able to enjoy the movie in its own right, separate from the book.  After all, it is an adaptation.  (But I’ll never be able to accept the way the Cold Mountain adaptation changed Inman’s final stand off with the blue-eyed boy of the Home Guard)

No Jude, it didn't happen that way. Go read the book.

What do you think?  Which should come first, the book or the movie?


Filed under Historical Fiction, Period Pieces

Downton Abbey returns

It’s been almost a year now since we were first introduced to the Crawley family and their servants who inhabit the sprawling British estate known as Downton Abbey.  It is one of the finest works of historical fiction created directly for the screen that I have seen in a very, very long time (no wonder it was just nominated for 4 Golden Globes, including best miniseries).

While the characters may be fictional (from the imagination of Julian Fellowes, screenwriter of Gosford Park), the Edwardian world in which they live is very accurately recreated.  From the organized chaos in the kitchen to the lavish dining room where the family and their guests adhere to rigid societal rules (and those who do not are subject to severe scrutiny), it is easy to lose yourself in their world.  But Fellowes has also managed to convey in his characters the kinds of human emotions that are timeless, and thus we can all relate to one character or another, even if they lived nearly a hundred years ago.

Now Downton Abbey is returning for a second season on PBS, and this time we will see the world as they know it fall apart with the onset of World War I.  This time period is one that I’ve always been drawn to, but more on that later.  If you have not seen the first season, PBS is giving you a chance to catch up starting this Sunday.  The new season begins on January 8.   I will be posting my thoughts on the episodes as they play out, and I’d love to hear your opinions too.  Until then, I will be anxiously counting down to Downton’s return.

Visit PBS’s Downton Abbey website.


Filed under Downton Abbey, Period Pieces

The Ladies of the Hill–Part I

Old East ca. 1797

Attending UNC Chapel Hill is a history geek’s dream.  Not just because of the libraries chock-full of historical collections, but because the university is a historic site unto itself.  Founded in 1795, UNC is the country’s oldest public university.  Old East, Carolina’s oldest building, was constructed just two years later.  As a student, I walked past it every day.  And while many UNC students didn’t give it a second thought, I did.  I wondered about those students who had come before me.  What was attending Carolina like for them?

Well, if you were female, it was completely off-limits until 1897.  That is, unless you were a daughter of a faculty member, in which case you might have the privilege of sitting in on the occasional lecture.  This caused quite the distraction for the all-male student body, as one student wrote in 1841:

“The Ladies of the Hill…attended our lecture on Wednesday morning, and it is useless to add the interest of the proceedings was greatly enhanced…The Lecture was not very interesting, however, and my eyes were on the fair faces far oftener than on the experiments.”

As a result, women were moved to an anteroom when attending lectures, so the students could focus on their academic studies.

As the 19th century wore on, schools in the North and West began admitting female students, so that by 1870 the number of co-educational institutions outnumbered female colleges by more than 2 to 1.  But the South clung to the old concept that educating a woman was a bad idea–not only was it not necessary for their role as wife and mother, but it might cause physical harm like sterility or madness.  And we wouldn’t want that now, would we?

All that changed in 1897, when UNC President Edwin Alderman convinced the Board of Trustees to allow women to attend post-graduate courses (they did so reluctantly, noting that they caved to “satisfy envious tongues”).  Alderman decided to interpret this to mean junior and senior level courses as well, because the female schools in the South simply did not have the resources to prepare their students for post-graduate work.  Women therefore enrolled after first attending women’s colleges such as Salem, Meredith, Guilford, or St. Mary’s.  By the way, women were not allowed to enroll as freshmen at UNC until 1963.

President Edwin Alderman

Five women enrolled as Carolina’s first co-eds.  On paper they were now accepted at the university, but in practice they still had a long way to go.  Part II explores the co-ed struggle to be accepted by the male students of the university.

Source: Women on the Hill: A History of Women at the University of North Carolina by Pamela Dean.  

Photos from the UNC Archives.


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Hello and welcome to my little spot in cyberspace.  Here you will find my musings on history, on writing, and maybe a little bit about life while I’m at it.  I’ll also post about my current writing projects, along with comments about historical fiction I’ve read or watched.

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