Space Shuttle vet and UNC-CH alum dies

Challenger postcard with cancellations stamps noting the cards trip in space.
From North Carolina Collection Gallery. Gift of William and Virginia Powell.

UNC-CH alumnus and former NASA astronaut William “Bill” Thornton, who used his own inventions to measure and combat the ill-effects of microgravity while on board two Space Shuttle missions, has died at the age of 91. 

Born in Faison, N.C., Thornton received two degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill–a B.S.from in physics in 1951 and an MD in 1963–before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.  He was selected by NASA to be part of its second group of scientist-astronauts known as the XS-11 class in 1967. NASA told the group that they would likely wait for some time before heading into space. 

Portrait of William Thornton from 1951 UNC-Chapel Hill yearbook
Portrait of William Thornton from 1951 UNC Yackety Yack.

Sixteen years passed before Thornton launched on the first of his two Space Shuttle flights as a mission specialist aboard the Challenger on August 30, 1983.  Thornton was added to the crew primarily to observe their susceptibility to space adaptation sickness (SAS), a condition that affects the vestibular system as the human body adapts to microgravity.  Thornton’s work on the 1983 flight led him to invent a treadmill for use aboard the Space Shuttle.  The 1983, six-day STS-8 mission also deployed a weather and communication satellite and carried more than 260,000 stamped envelopes.   

On April 29, 1985, Thornton again launched aboard the Challenger for his second space flight.  The seven-member crew worked in two teams around the clock on more than a dozen experiments in the Spacelab module.  They conducted experiments using the first laboratory animals in space and exercised on the space shuttle treadmill invented by Thornton.     

Thornton served 27 years with the space agency before retiring in 1994. During the course of his two expeditions, he logged 13 days, one hour and sixteen minutes in space.  For his service to the nation’s space program, Thornton received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, and two NASA Space Flight Medals. 

New in the collection: Women’s suffrage flyer

Broadside for women's suffrage

“During the latter half of the 18th century, women’s suffrage associations formed across the Union; however, one did not form in North Carolina until 1894. That year, 45 women and men convened in Buncombe County at the courthouse and established the North Carolina Equal Suffrage Association (NCESA).

“For the first 20 years, NCESA remained almost inactive, but when it became part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1913, the association became a political influence…. In 1915, NCESA found sponsors to introduce a bill allowing women to be notary publics. The bill passed both houses, but the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. NCESA also found sponsors to introduce an Equal Suffrage Bill. Both houses defeated the bill….

“In 1920, Tar Heel women obtained suffrage because the necessary number of states (36) had ratified the [19th] Amendment and made it part of the U.S. Constitution. North Carolina, as historian William Powell writes, ‘in a meaningless action, finally ratified the amendment in 1971.’ ”

Entry on NCESA from the North Carolina History Project

This flyer from Raleigh is undated but similar to one, circa 1915, attributed to the National American Woman Suffrage Association. For whatever reason the North Carolina version omits the passage addressing “Women of Leisure.”

Here’s how the Charlotte Observer reported “Suffrage Folks” opening their Raleigh office (July 23, 1920).

 

Thorpe: A Railroader railroaded

“[C]oach Glenn “Pop” Warner directed [Jim] Thorpe and two other Carlisle athletes to play semipro summer baseball in North Carolina [for the Rocky Mount Railroaders]. Thorpe was paid a pittance — the exact amount isn’t clear — but Carlisle’s strict control over the wages of students who worked meant he probably kept nothing. And remember: Thorpe played at Warner’s instruction.”

— From “‘World’s greatest athlete’ Jim Thorpe was wronged by bigotry. The IOC must correct the record.” by Anita DeFrantz in the Washington Post (Jan. 13)

New in the collection: Newspaper club for kids

Pinback buton with image of person blowing on two horns and the words "National Sunshine Club, The Charlotte Observer."

The National Sunshine Club was part of Observer Junior, an eight-page tabloid insert in the Charlotte Observer, 1928-1934. Sending in coupons from four successive Sunday editions would bring you this pin — and if your story, joke, poem, cartoon or pen-pal letter was published, you could even win a dollar!

Smallpox upends life in Williamston

“The report of a case of smallpox [in Williamston in 1862] has been confirmed. William Hoell…  is said to have gone to New York and returned by sea. It is supposed he contracted the disease while in New York. The village has been thrown into great excitement. Several families have left…. Business is at a standstill. The school has come to a close two months sooner than planned….

“The sick man, Hoell, has been carried about one and one-half miles from town to a school house… where he is to be attended to by a nurse, and no one else but the physicians is to visit him.”

— From the diary of Elder C. B. Hassell, published in “Martin County History, Vol. I” by Francis M. Manning and W. H. Booker, 1977

h/t Northeastern North Carolina Stories 

A Shot in the Arm Against Polio

child receiving polio vaccination
A doctor vaccinates a Chapel Hill Schools student on April 18, 1955. Photograph by Roland Giduz, from the Roland Giduz Photographic Collection (P0033).

Amid this coronavirus pandemic, with two recently approved COVID-19 vaccines in the news, it’s worth noting that 100 years ago this coming summer, the poliovirus struck a then-39-year-old Franklin Delanno Roosevelt. It caused the disease poliomyelitis, commonly called polio, that permanently paralyzed his legs. Polio is a disease known to ancient worlds, with epidemics striking many cultures and countries over centuries. Outbreaks commonly occurred during the summer months.

The first documented poliovirus epidemic in the United States occurred in 1894. It wasn’t until 1905 that Ivar Wickman discovered from a Swedish epidemic that polio was highly contagious and that one could have the disease without exhibiting symptoms. By the early 1950s, polio had reached pandemic proportions.

To inoculate people against the coronavirus, the pharmaceutical industry has thus far developed two COVID-19 vaccines within ten months. As a comparison, polio vaccine development and trials took twenty years. The first polio vaccine trials began in 1935, but success was not reached until April 12, 1955 when the medical profession declared Jonas Salk’s controversial vaccine safe, potent, and effective after testing 1.8 million children during the previous spring in advance of the summer infection season. The United States Government licensed the vaccine that same day, and mass distribution began the following day. A United Press news story declared it to be “the biggest mass assault on disease in history.”

New in the collection: ISO Cherokee speakers

Pinback button with the words "Do You Speak Cherokee?"

Masking-taped onto the back of this 3-inch-wide pinback button is the notation “Patty 5-17-82,” but even that clue hasn’t helped me pin down its origin.

I suspect “Patty” and other wearers might have been participating in a conference or research project on the Cherokee language.

Thoughts welcome!

Carry Nation no fan of ‘hugging schools’

“I am opposed to gay and expensive dressing, and I am opposed to balls — or hugging schools, I call them. I warn all boys against marrying ball room girls. I tell them if the girls practice hugging strange men before marriage they are likely to have the same taste afterwards.”

— Carry A. Nation, quoted in “‘Smashes’ Everything in Sight” (News & Observer, July 30, 1907)

h/t Northeastern North Carolina Stories

Textile Strikes in North Carolina

Newspaper headline "Latest Strike News"

In the 1920s, North Carolina was ranked as the largest textile producer in the country, employing thousands, especially in the Piedmont. But as the Great Depression ushered in the 1930s, nearly one-quarter of all North Carolinians were out of work.

Textile workers who held onto their jobs faced long hours, low wages, and dangerous working conditions.  Consequently, they joined unions and went on strike for livable wages and safe working conditions. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, mill employees across the state struck until their demands were met. For example, in 1921, at Cannon Mill locations in Charlotte, Concord, and Kannapolis, an estimated 9,00011,000 people went on an 8-week strike. 

Newspaper headline "Battle Front Scenes in Great Textile Strike", a photo of President Roosevelt's Textile Mediation Board, and a photo of National Guardsmen using tear gas on strikers

Using Chronicling America, we can research these strikes and find out more about the history of organized labor in North Carolina.

Readers can see the same reasons  behind the strikes. Many mention wage reductions, especially impactful during the years of the Great Depression. Sometimes these wage cuts were documented to be as high as 25%

Over a dozen strikes occurred in the state between 1931 and 1933, many related to how much employees were being paid. In December 1931, a small strike at the Klumac Cotton mill in Salisbury was called. In July 1932, 6,000 struck in High Point for three weeks, and in August, roughly 500 at mills in Rowan County walked out, all in response to wage reductions.

Newspaper headline "Hosiery Mill Strike Ended"

One of the other common reasons for strikes was because of “stretch-out.” Officially called “scientific management,” it was a time management system that was designed to save companies money by making workers more efficient, leading them to do more in less time.

However, mill workers saw it as a way to cut jobs and have fewer people do more work without an accompanying rise in pay. Mill workers called it “stretch-out” as they felt they were stretched to their limits. In August 1932, over 1,000 workers in Rockingham and Spindale walked out, demanding an end to “stretch-out,” and restoration of their wages to pre-cut pay levels.

Newspaper headline "Strike Now Seen As Endurance Contest"

Textile workers struck for other reasons as well. Hosiery mill workers in High Point demanded the same pay for a 40 hour week that they previously received for a 55 hour week. One Spindale strike petitioned for the removal of a specific superintendent. Mill strikes persisted well into the 1930s, with hundreds or thousands of workers often stopping work for weeks on end.

Most strikes were nonviolent, although there were exceptions. The most infamous strike occurred in Gastonia in June 1929 where violence broke out and strike organizers were killed. In February 1932, a strike of 500 cotton mill workers in Bladenboro ended after three officers were shot, although “[n]o one was wounded seriously.One fearful 1937 editorial wrote that striking inevitably meant violence and death – “Bloodshed follows a Southern textile strike almost as inevitably as night follows day.”

Newspaper headline "County Board Appeals To Governor In Strike"

State and national governments often intervened in settling or ending strikes. In 1921, National Guard troops were ordered to Concord to “take complete charge of the textile strike situation,” which only broke after a visit by Governor Cameron Morrison. In 1929, it cost the state over $27,000 and $12,000 to again put National Guardsmen on duty during textile strikes in Marion and Gastonia, respectively.

Newspaper headline "Girl Pickets Taunt Troops" and a photo of women and National Guardsmen looking at each other

Morrison was not the only governor to involve himself – in 1932, Governor O. Max Gardner persuaded 5,000 strikers in High Point to submit to arbitration. The following year, the State Department of Labor stepped in to settle strikes in Concord and in Forest City.

A strike’s success was not always guaranteed – neither was positive reception. In 1934, mill workers in Mecklenburg County were “hot” for a strike, but those in Rutherford County, Gaston County, Marion, and High Point all responded negatively. One editorial in The Independent (Elizabeth City) asked why people across the state were striking, and if the cause was “hunger, communism or a general state of dissatisfaction…” 

Newspaper headline "Local Cotton Mill Workers Not Expected to Take Part in Nation Wide Textile Strike"

In 1933, President Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which set minimum wages for textile workers in the South – about $12 a week. In September 1934, a massive national strike was held, but many textile workers felt that because of a lack of union support, membership was not important, and union numbers in North Carolina never recovered.

New in the collection: 1910 Charlotte convention

Pin featuring a tar heel in the center, the North Carolina and US flags on the side, and the words eighth annual convention of the U.S. League of Local and Building Loan Associations, Charlotte NC, 1910.

“It was a wonder to me….  how popular these associations were in your city. Of course we naturally feel that there cannot be any town equal to Philadelphia in building association matters, but I am afraid that if we were to make a careful comparison, to use classical language, ‘you would have us beaten to a frazzle.’ “

— From a letter from George W. Clippe, delegate to the convention of  the U.S. League of Local Building and Loan Associations, published in the Charlotte Observer

North Carolina, especially the Piedmont, was indeed a hotbed of building and loans in 1910.

An image not often seen: North Carolina’s tar heel overlaid on Mecklenburg’s hornets nest.