Category Archives: Carolina history

Carolina Boys Go To War: Part III

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Documenting the American South is a great resource for history nerds such as myself.  The program has provided numerous images and texts that illustrate the history of the South for anyone to access from the comfort of their home computer.

One collection accessible on DocSouth is “North Carolinians and the Great War.”  Here you’ll find multiple journals and letter collections from UNC students who were part of the First World War.  These papers give us a glimpse into the life of a student-turned-soldier.

Part III: Personal Accounts

While conducting research for The Education of Eve, one of the main letter collections I focused on were those of Robert March Hanes, due to the level of detail he used when writing about his experiences.  A member of the class of 1912, Hanes attended officers’ training at Fort Oglethorpe, GA, before being commissioned a captain in the 113th Field Artillery.  His letter collection contains the original envelopes, with the censor inspection seals still easily legible.  The first of the collection is to his boss at the Crystal Ice Company, where he worked as the secretary-treasurer.  He hoped that his absence would not cause too much difficulty at the office, and asked that he be written “if anything at all turns up that you don’t understand.”  From there the letters chronicle Hanes’s time with the army, from training, to the trip over to France, to the front lines, and then, finally, the armistice.  He wrote his wife on November 11:

The greatest day in history!

        Sweetheart a deathlike stillness covers the whole front now and has since eleven o’clock this morning when the armistice went into effect. It is the most unnatural sound to us that could possibly be. All sorts of artillery has been piling into this sector for the past two weeks and things had livened up considerably. There was firing going on all the time day and night by either the Germans or us. So the stillness now seems all wrong, I keep feeling like it isn’t true.

I fired my last shot at exactly eleven o’clock this morning and am keeping the shell case as a souvenir. It is the last shot fired by my battery. I hope the last it will ever fire.

To read more of Hanes’s letters, you can find them on the DocSouth page here.

Wildcats emblem on overseas cap

The collection also includes the diary of William B. Umstead, who later became governor of North Carolina.  Images of his uniform and the equipment he carried during the war are also available to view.  Umstead was a member of the 81st division.  Known as the Wildcats division, Umstead would have been part of the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which did not end until the armistice was called at 11:00 on November 11, 1918.  You can read Umstead’s diary here, and also take a look at his military gear.

Also featured within the collection are selected letters from Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Paul Eliot Green (who wrote the outdoor drama , The Lost Colony), who began attending UNC in 1916, but left less than a year later to join the army.  Like Hanes, his letters describe his training experience, and then his service in France.  Green was assigned as “a bookkeeper of sorts,” keeping up with all of the fighting orders, ration reports, and casualty lists.

 Reporting the killed and wounded is my job also. And alas! I’ve marked up several friends whose mothers today are speaking to God about the eternal Why? But withal our losses are extremely light, it appears to me, compared to those of Germany. I must not talk tho, for there is the censor; and even the leaves have ears these days.

        Now as to the hours I work–when and how long, I may answer all by saying that I never keep track of time. Scarcely ever can I give the name of the present day. It may be Monday; it may be Sunday, I don’t know. All I’m concerned with is the day of he month, 21, 22 or 23. Foreign service already has taught me one thing–that 8 hours of sleep are not essential to good health. Yes, and I’ve learned another thing, I was forgetting: the poor tired earth has drunk enough blood within the last four years as to be offensive in the sight of God. Not long ago I was on an old battlefield. We were digging trenches. One could hardly push his spade into the ground without striking a bone of somebody’s body. Yes, horrible; but war. And a few days ago I was at another place where 54,000 men “went west” in one day. Awful! Yes, but war.

After the war, Green went back to UNC.  You can take a closer look at his letters here.

To read more accounts of the First World War, please visit DocSouth’s North Carolinians and the Great War page.

Miss the other segments of the series?  Be sure to read Part I: Training,  and Part II: Student to Soldier.

Sources: A Nursery of Patriotism: The University at War, 1861-1945, DocSouth’s North Carolinians and the Great War


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Carolina Boys Go To War: Part II

Old Memorial Hall, UNC Chapel Hill

Student life at UNC-Chapel Hill was transformed by the United States’s entrance into World War I.  The university encouraged students to become soldiers not only through military training (see Part I of the series), but also through the philosophy it adopted.  The school embraced the idea that the war was necessary for the defense of democracy, a concept that was imparted on the student body.

Part II: Student to Soldier

Soon after the United States declared war on Germany, famed journalist Frederick Palmer spoke to a packed house in Memorial Hall about his experiences on the Western Front.  Students and residents alike filled the room, eager to hear Palmer’s first hand account.  UNC’s newspaper, The Tar Heel, reported on the lecture, stating that Palmer “sketched the general progress of the war” using “many delightful anecdotes,” one of which being:

Everybody is cheerful at the front.  Bullets kill a pessimist just as quickly as an optimist.

The Tar Heel went on to state “It is rare indeed that a single man can hold an intelligent audience for three hours.”

UNC students were already engaged in military training, but the United States’s entrance into World War I intensified the war fervor spreading across campus.  This desire to be part of the war effort was fully supported by UNC faculty.

At the opening of the 1917-1918 school year, Dean Stacy addressed the students, stating:

Hitherto, the University has thought and existed as a community practically independent and uninfluenced, but now the University must think in terms of world thought, and govern its course, not by our own desires, but by the needs of our country.

UNC President E.K. Graham commented on the drop in student body numbers:

Youth is the raw material used by both the colleges and the war.  Whatever losses we sustain, we accept as the necessary consequences of this grim fact.

During the previous spring and summer, many students had attended officer’s training at Camp Oglethorpe, in Georgia.  UNC faculty voted to give full credit to students who enrolled in the camp before finishing the term.  Former UNC students made up one-tenth of the overall number attending the camp, and over 200 of them received commissions.

In addition to the students, eleven faculty members enlisted over the summer.

UNC Professors

The war impacted the school in other ways.  Due to the amount of time devoted to military pursuits, varsity football was cancelled for the season.  The Tar Heel reported:

A vast change has come over our athletics since last year.  The time necessary for military training has made it impossible for inter-collegiate football to be carried on, and so our team will not have a chance to repeat last year’s most successful season. Practically the whole student body, however, has registered for the course in military science.

President Graham also noted this in his President’s Report:

In order to get the time for the drill and the ground space necessary, and to enable the students to concentrate their interest on the military training, the major athletic schedules were cancelled.

It is high praise for the genuine worth of the military instruction and the spirit in which it has been conducted to be able to say that the college community has apparently not missed the previously absorbing interest of intercollegiate football.

A September 28, 1917 Tar Heel article expressed this new attitude adopted by many UNC students soon after beginning their military science courses:

There is a spirit of seriousness which strengthens the morals of the whole student body seriousness bred of responsibility.  It has expressed itself in a constructive manner in campus customs.  College might strike a new and deeper note than had been sounded before.  Tardiness at meetings and classes has been reduced by half.  Fun and pleasure there is in plenty; but it is rid of its boisterousness.

This spirit cannot be called the result of military training.  But military training has disciplined it, and directed it into constructive channels.

Uniforms soon replaced civilian clothes, though the university did not provide them.  Students went out and purchased their own so that they could look the part of a soldier while drilling.  Bonfires and pep rallies were still held, but instead of “Beat Duke” rallies, there were “Beat Germany” rallies.  The Carolina boys took part in Liberty Loan parades, demonstrating the skills they had gained through their military instruction.  At least one Liberty Loan parade had a collegiate feel, with a large bonfire outside the Franklin Street post-office.

As the school year progressed, more and more UNC students enlisted to join the fight in Europe.  The Tar Heel kept the student body informed of which Carolina boys, both past and present, had joined up.  Carolina’s yearbook, the Yackety Yack, decided to devote their annual issue to the school’s military training, and reiterated the university’s philosophy towards the war.  Fortunately for historians, this book provides a great deal of source information about this era at UNC, as well as a wealth of photographs (which are not found in the Tar Heel).

When graduation day arrived in June, 1918, the graduating class had been “cut to fifty or sixty due to the men leaving for service,” according to the Tar Heel, which added “still they will all be here in spirit and will have all the regular exercises.”  Men who had gone off to fight were mailed their diploma and Bible, which were given to each student during commencement.

Class of 1918 in front of South Building

A total of 2,240 UNC students, faculty, and alumni served in the First World War.  Out of that number, 15 men were killed in action, 18 died of disease, and 21 were wounded.  By the spring of 1919, UNC-Chapel Hill had returned to its normal school schedule, and military training was abandoned.  But the Great War had left its mark on the history of the university, and on its students.

Part III of the series describes the war experiences of some of UNC’s students.

Sources: Carolina Goes to War: A Lesson from Campus History, 1915-1919 by Glenn Hutchinson, A Nursery of Patriotism: The University at War, 1861-1945, UNC Archives/North Carolina Collection


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Carolina Boys Go To War: Part I

When I began forming the idea for The Education of Eve, I knew I wanted to set it in the First World War, and to chronicle the early days of women attending UNC-Chapel Hill.  I learned during my research that the history of UNC during World War I is a fascinating story in its own right.  This series will chronicle the transformation the university underwent during the Great War.


UNC student battalion, 1917

The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.  But war fervor struck the campus even before the country officially entered the conflict.  In January a petition had gone around campus declaring the need for military training.  500 students signed it and by the end of March they were receiving military instruction.  Drills were led by faculty and alumni who were members of the National Guard, and were held for two hours every afternoon on the athletic field. Students also volunteered for additional training in flag signalling and wireless telegraphy.

Two weeks after the US entered the war, the students gave their first exhibition drill.  A crowd of 1,000 packed into Memorial Hall to hear UNC President Edward Kipper Graham speak, so they could learn what UNC’s involvement in the war would be.

The single thought of the University is to cooperate in every intelligent way with the government.  To this end it offered several weeks ago its all–every resource and equipment, means and men.  It organized military training under competent instruction…Our larger task is peace; our immediate task is war. ~E.K. Graham

That summer President Graham sought an officer who had experience with the war to head the newly formed military department in the 1917-1918 school year.  He finally found the man he was looking for in Captain James Stuart Allen, who had fought in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in France before an injury put him out of active service.  Captain Allen would be responsible for instructing students signed up for military classes in musketry, bayonet fighting, trench warfare, signalling, bombing (grenade throwing), and military engineering.

Out of 820 students attending UNC in the fall of 1918, 565 enrolled in the military courses, along with 8 faculty members.  Those not enrolled were either women, men who were disqualified for physical reasons, or men who had to devote so much time to lab work that they could not participate.  Captain Allen requested that Graham acquire as many rifles as possible to use while training.  250 Civil War-era carbines, courtesy of Julius Cone, were used at the beginning of the school year, and later, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (a UNC alumnus) donated 25 up-to-date rifles.  Land for a rifle range was donated by a Mr. C.L. Lindsay.

The university’s school schedule was altered to fit in large-scale training.  In the President’s Report the new schedule was laid out:

In order to provide the time in what already appeared to be a crowded schedule, we now begin the college day at 8 a.m., the first period for all the six days being given to military work, and two hours every other day from 4 to 6 p.m.  This additional work gives a full day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for practically all undergraduates.

The Report went on to detail the courses offered in the fall ’17 semester:

The courses covered from September 15 to December 20 [1917] included: (1) close-order drill, (2), open-order drill, (3) manual of arms, (4) maneuvers of attack by day and night, (4) construction of trenches, wire obstacles, and shelters.  The lectures dealt with these and other essentials of modern warfare.

Perhaps the most noteworthy accomplishment of the military department was the construction of a trench system for the students to use in practice.  Land was donated by the Order of the Gimghouls (a secret student society formed in 1889) and was located near Raleigh Street, where many of the boarding houses catering to the school were situated.  In the university newspaper, The Tar Heel, an article entitled “Trenches Beginning to Look Quite Warlike” gave details on the work being done:

Capt. Allen says these trenches will be exact duplicates of those in Flanders with not the slightest detail omitted.  The parapets and paradoes will be supported with planks to prevent caving in, “A” supports will be placed and “bath mats” [duckboards] put in.  When all is done modern trench warfare will be practiced and will include relief, which comes at night.  An attack will also be launched at night when sky rockets, lights, and search lights will be used to signal, adding a touch of realism.

It took approximately one month to complete the trenches.  No detail was spared, including barbed wire and dug outs “furnished with all modern conveniences.”  The students staged mock engagements, practiced grenade throwing, and even had local Red Cross relief stations set up to serve coffee and donuts at the “front-lines.”  The Tar Heel reported:

It doesn’t take a strong imagination for one to believe that he is standing in a sector of the front line trenches around Ypres and that the Boche is liable to come charging out of those woods at any moment.  It can’t be helped; the thing looks so real…that particular spot of the erstwhile corn field is now really “No Man’s Land:” even little Judge’s dog keeps away, for his former haunts now look so unfamiliar.

Trenches were not the only location for staged attacks.  Professor William C. Coker (of the botany department) wrote a letter to President Graham complaining of a UNC company that ran through the arboretum one afternoon, doing considerable damage to the shrubbery and other plants. Graham assured Coker that such an act would not happen again.

Bombing practice involved dummy hand grenades hurled at various targets.  The Tar Heel wrote that “grenades of the Mills type which the Canadians have used on the western front with such great success will be used here and every man will be taught the correct way to lob the little machine.”  Bombing practice was often observed on the quad near Franklin Street.  However, students also used their lobbing skills during a snowfall in the winter of 1918, “bombing” the walls of Gerrard Hall with snowballs.

"Bombing" Gerrard Hall

While the 1917-18 school year was military-intensive, it was only a prelude to what would follow.  At the start of the following school year, UNC became a government camp as the Student Army Training Crops (SATC) took over the campus.  Over 150,000 men in 500 colleges across the country were a part of the SATC in the fall of 1918.  Lieutenant G.W.S. Stevens of the US Army took over the university, and under his leadership, dormitories were renamed barracks, the dining hall became the mess hall, and Memorial Hall became known as the Armory.  The liberal arts curriculum was thrown out, and the courses students enrolled in depended on the branch of service they planned to enter.  11 hours of military training and 3 recitation hours in the study of war were required.  A course in military French was even added by the French department.

On November 11, 1918, the First World War ended.  The rigorous military training at UNC finally came to an end in December 1918 when the SATC was demobilized and the university campus finally returned to normal for the spring 1919 semester.

Part II of the series focuses on the changing atmosphere on the UNC campus and how it impacted student life.

Sources: Carolina Goes to War: A Lesson from Campus History, 1915-1919 by Glenn Hutchinson, A Nursery of Patriotism: The University at War, 1861-1945, UNC Archives/North Carolina Collection


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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


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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.


Filed under Carolina history, The Ladies of the Hill