“Proving a Secret is Difficult”: Zora Neale Hurston at UNC

Image of the Zora Neale Hurston Hall plaque created by UNC MFA candidate Jeanine Tatlock.

On May 28, 2015, the UNC Board of Trustees voted to remove the name of Ku Klux Klan leader and Confederate Army colonel William Saunders from a campus building and rename it “Carolina Hall.” Additionally, the Board voted to place a 16-year moratorium on renaming campus buildings. The removal of Saunders’ name came after decades of work by student activists on campus, particularly the collaborative efforts of student organizations (the Black Student Movement, Real Silent Sam Coalition, and the Campus Y) in 2014.

Activists had urged the administration to rename the building for renowned black anthropologist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston. They cited a belief that Hurston attended UNC as a “secret student” in 1940, more than a decade before the first African American students were admitted to Carolina.

Even after the Trustees’ decision, student activists continued to celebrate Hurston’s life and call for a new name for Carolina Hall. In the fall of 2015, student activists held an “opening ceremony” for Hurston Hall. A statement by the Real Silent Sam coalition acknowledged the importance of naming the building for Hurston: “We named this building after Zora Neale Hurston precisely because racist and sexist admissions policies excluded her and other Black women from UNC.”

In March 2017, UNC MFA candidate Jeanine Tatlock added an additional plaque to the building, naming it Zora Neale Hurston Hall and acknowledging that “against all odds and despite a system that did everything in its power to keep [Hurston] from attending college she went on to become one of America’s most celebrated authors.”

From what we can tell, the Board of Trustees never collectively addressed the idea of renaming Saunders Hall for Zora Neale Hurston. However, in a letter to the Daily Tar Heel editor in 2017, UNC Trustee Alston Gardner argued that students never formally proposed the name change from Saunders to Hurston. Responding to the suggestion, Gardner wrote, “of course, proving a secret is difficult, so I applied a reasonableness test and came up short.” Many details of Zora Neale Hurston’s connection to Carolina are unclear, but the question of whether or not she was really a secret student here before UNC integrated in 1951 still remains on many of our minds. After an extensive search of resources in the Wilson Special Collections Library (and some from the University of Kansas’ Kenneth Spencer Research Library) we’ve established the following:

According to Cecelia Moore’s The South as a Folk Play: The Carolina Playmakers, Regional Theatre and the Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939, in 1934, Zora Neale Hurston met playwright and UNC professor Paul Green and Carolina Playmakers founder Frederick Koch at the National Folk Festival in St. Louis, Missouri (p. 167). Recruited by Koch, Zora Neale Hurston came to North Carolina in 1939 to assume a theater teaching position at North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham (now North Carolina Central University)(Moore, p. 154).

Daily Tar Heel, 7 October 1939.
Daily Tar Heel, 7 October 1939, describing Hurston’s presentation at the Carolina Dramatic Association.

Hurston is now best known for her folktales and novels telling black stories, but in the 1930s she was invested in writing and producing folk plays: plays that highlighted everyday black life. On October 7, 1939, Hurston spoke at the fall meeting of the Carolina Dramatic Association, a statewide organization of theater directors and educators. The group met in Playmakers Theater on UNC’s campus. The following day, the Daily Tar Heel quoted her as telling the group, “Our drama must be like us, or it doesn’t exist.” She wanted to create theater that better exhibited the fullness of black life. Green, drawing from the legacy of the Carolina Playmakers under Frederick Koch, was similarly interested in writing folk plays.  He wrote and produced many works and won a Pulitzer Prize in May 1927 for the play In Abraham’s Bosom

Daily Tar Heel article describing the Sunday night Radio Writing and Production course, lists Zora Neale Hurston among other students, March 30, 1940. 

In the spring semester of 1940, Hurston joined Paul Green’s small theater group. The March 30, 1940 issue of the Daily Tar Heel lists Zora Neale Hurston among the students in Green’s “Radio Writing and Production” course, meeting Sunday nights in Caldwell Hall. A class of that name does not appear in the catalog for the 1939-1940 academic year, suggesting that it may not have been officially offered through the University. Several of the class participants, including Hurston, were not enrolled at UNC at the time. There is also conflicting information about where they met: Hurston biographer Robert Hemenway writes in Zora Neale Hurston: a Literary Biography that they moved to Green’s home due to a complaint from a white student (p. 255), while Laurence G. Avery in A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916-1981 says the meetings were always at Green’s house (p. 312).  In a 1971 interview with Robert Hemenway, Paul Green said they often had to work “sort of specially separate from the class,” and she would come to his house quite often.

Although Paul Green was the instructor for the course, his relationship with Hurston appeared to be more collaborative. In one energetic letter, Hurston writes to Green imploring him to send someone to record a spiritual she found at a black church in South Carolina. The spiritual could help them in the writing of their play, with the working title John De Conqueror. In the letter, she says, “Now, don’t sit there Paul Green, just thinking! Do something!” (p. 312). She feared a fellow student would record the spirituals and sell them before they could use it in their work. Unfortunately, the recordings weren’t made, and John De Conqueror was never finished.   

Daily Tar Heel article describing the Sunday night Radio Writing and Production course, lists Zora Neale Hurston among other students, March 30, 1940.

Despite not being officially recognized as a student, the spirit of the plaque students placed on Carolina Hall two years ago is still represented in Zora Neale Hurston’s abundant life as a black scholar. Her work initially received mixed reviews, but by the time she arrived in North Carolina, she had already earned a bachelors degree from Barnard College in 1928 and published several noteworthy books—including one of her most popular works, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Paul Green said in that 1971 interview that he remembered Hurston driving around campus in her “little red sports car” with a “jaunty little tam o shanter” on her head. Students would “jeer” as she drove by. On one occasion, he recalled, even the professors mocked her — she responded by calling “Hi, freshmen! Hi, freshmen!” It seems she never backed down from a challenge.

As Gardner noted, “proving a secret” is a challenge, and one archivists face often. Reference archivists frequently receive questions about aspects of campus history that, for many reasons, went undocumented or unpreserved. It is a struggle to find answers and adequate evidence to support them. It all depends on what has been collected and preserved. When we find these gaps in the historical record, it is frustrating but encourages us to think more deeply about what we’re collecting now and its uses in the future. In the case of Zora Neale Hurston at UNC and many parts of university history that we take extra time to research, we relish in the small crumbs we have but find ourselves hungry for more information.

Learn More: “Saunders Hall” essay in Reclaiming the University of the People: Racial Justice Movements at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Charlotte Fryar, 2019.

Sources:

Carolina Hall History

The Daily Tar Heel

Frederick H. Koch Papers, 1893-1979.

Letter to the Editor of the Daily Tar Heel

Paul Green Interview, 1971, Personal Papers of Robert E. Hemenway, PP 487, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Paul Green Papers, 1880-2009

The South as a Folk Play: The Carolina Playmakers, Regional Theatre and the Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939 [in the Carolina Digital Repository]

A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916-1981

UNC T-Shirt Archive

University Archives Web Archives

William Laurence Saunders Papers, 1712-1907.

Zora Neale Hurston: a Literary Biography

A Can for All Seasons: Quonset Huts at Postwar UNC

Quonset hut area (circa 1946-1947), from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Photographic Laboratory.

Imagine having 19 roommates instead of one.  How would you protect your belongings without a lock on your door?  What if your only source of heat in the winter occasionally spewed fireballs rivaling the Hunger Games?  Male students attending UNC immediately after World War II contended with these issues and more as residents of Quonset huts.

The G.I. Bill provided educational benefits to hundreds of thousands of veterans who served in World War II. Returning veterans flocked to UNC, raising enrollment from around 4,100 students before the war to 7,250 in the fall of 1947. (DTH, 10/10/1941, 9/25/1947)  The University simply did not have enough space to house all those students and resorted to creative measures to solve the housing crisis.  Military surplus owned by the federal government became an important source of temporary housing units such as trailers and Quonset huts.  Quonset huts were corrugated steel sheets shaped like a cylinder cut lengthwise and closed at the ends.  During WWII, the military used them for barracks or storage, but they were intended only for short-term housing.

However, UNC used Quonset huts as overflow housing from 1946 to 1950. Thirty-six Quonset huts were assembled on the old tennis courts behind the Monogram Club (now Jackson Hall), where Cobb Residence Hall stands today.  Thirty of them were designated as living quarters for single male students, three for studying, and three for latrines.  Up to twenty men lived in a single hut with a heater and primitive insulation made from rag paper. (DTH, 11/5/1946)  According to The Daily Tar Heel, rent for a bed in the Quonset huts costed $5 per month (DTH, 10/5/1946).

Inside a Quonset hut (1947) from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Image Collection.

The biggest issue with the Quonset huts was exposure to the elements. While summers turned the Quonsets into ovens, interruptions in regular fuel delivery during the winters left residents out in the cold.  A nationwide oil shortage in the winter of 1947-1948 forced the University to conserve fuel by closing six of the Quonset huts.  Still, during a frigid week in February 1948, half of the remaining Quonset huts ran out of oil.  The Daily Tar Heel reported that “siphoning of oil from the few huts with any left was apparently going on again last night.” (DTH, 1/7/1948, 2/12/1948)  After some rainy weather in April 1948, the Daily Tar Heel marveled at the mud surrounding the Quonset huts, “It was amazing and disgusting to see all of the mud.  Old-time Quonset hut residents merely sighed, rolled up their trousers, displayed their hip-boots and paddled through the goo.  It was a test of the old theory of survival of the fittest.” (DTH, 4/3/1948)

Clambering for scarce resources and wading through a veritable swamp were not the only tests of Quonset residents’ animal instincts. They also had to defend their territory after a robbery during a football game.  As Carolina faced off against the University of Georgia on September 27, 1947, thieves pilfered items and money from the Quonsets. To prevent another burglary, the RA, Ray Jeffries, had the huts padlocked beginning at 2 PM on game days. (DTH, 10/3/1947, 10/11/1947, 10/12/1947)

The Daily Tar Heel (11 October 1947)

As if cold, mud, and robberies weren’t punishment enough, Quonset huts dwellers contended with fire as well. After a fire in February 1947, the University installed fire extinguishers in each hut to prevent such a blaze from getting out of control. (DTH, 2/23/1947)  In November 1947, a malfunctioning oil stove exploded into flames before a student managed to extinguish it.  Though the fire caused minimal damage, the Daily Tar Heel pointed out that next time the University might not be so lucky as the Chapel Hill Fire Department’s soap guns could not reach the fire without access to the Quonset hut area, which was closed to all vehicles except oil trucks.  The Daily Tar Heel suggested that the University “mount an emergency in a glass front box, of the fire alarm variety,” so that the fire department could reach the affected hut in case of emergency. (DTH, 11/18/1947)

By January 1949, the fire extinguishers were long gone when an “oil heater began leaking, formed a pool of oil on the floor and leaped into flame.” A student attempted to call the fire department, but found that the page with their phone number had been torn from the telephone book.  The student attempted to reach the operator, but met silence at the other end.  Finally, the student called the police who contacted the fire department.  (Such was the drama of communication before cellphones and Siri.) The fire department put out the fire, apparently reaching the hut without difficulty. The heater and a pile of dirty clothes were the only casualties.  (DTH, 1/16/1949)  A year later, the Quonset huts were razed to make room for Cobb Residence Hall.

Razing the Quonset huts (1950), from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Image Collection.

Quonset huts were crowded, uncomfortable, and unprotected. The Daily Tar Heel wrote of the Quonset hut residents, “in order to receive an education, they are living under conditions similar to that of an East side slum.” (DTH, 12/2/1947)  The comparison to poverty aside, the willingness of UNC students to live in these temporary structures for years indeed testifies to the importance they placed on education.  For many returning veterans, the GI Bill offered the chance of a lifetime.  To seize that opportunity, they baked through the summer, shivered through the winter, and waded through mud.  If nothing else, the Quonset huts certainly put the modern experience of dorm living into perspective.

 

References:

“Quonset Huts, 1947 and undated” and “Quonset Huts: Demolition, circa 1949,” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Image Collection, 1799-1999, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Finding aid: http://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/P0004/

“Quonset Huts, circa 1946-1947,” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Photographic Library, 1946-2000, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Finding aid: http://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/P0031/

“Sanitary Conditions: General, 1938-1952; 1957; 1963,” Student Health Service of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1932-1998, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Finding aid: http://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/40127/

Various articles from The Daily Tar Heel cited above.

Now Available: Records of the UNC Cardboard Club

University Archives is pleased to share a newly processed collection – the records of the UNC Cardboard Club. The Cardboard Club, started in 1948 by UNC cheerleader Norman Sper, coordinated and produced displays at UNC football games, using colored cardboard squares to form words and images in the stands.

unc_cardboard_023
Animated GIF made from photos from a 1967 football game between UNC and Wake Forest, in the Records of the UNC Cardboard Club (#40354), University Archives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Members of the club planned out their designs on gridded paper, and placed cardboard squares and cue cards listing the upcoming “stunts” on the seats of the “card section” of Kenan Stadium the night before football games.

GIF made from photos of a 1966 UNC versus Duke game from the Cardboard Club Records (40354), University Archives.
GIF made from photos of a 1966 UNC versus Duke game from the Cardboard Club Records (40354), University Archives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The club was funded by the Carolina Athletic Association. It was discontinued in 1987, in part due to safety concerns–students often sent their cardboard panels flying towards the field at the end of games, hitting fellow spectators.

See more photos of the Club’s game day stunts in the collection finding aid.

 

The Inauguration of Frank Porter Graham, 1931

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Daily Tar Heel, 11 November 1931

Today in Chapel Hill, Margaret Spellings will be formally installed as the eighth president of the University of North Carolina System. As a proud UNC student and for my first blog post as a graduate assistant in the University Archives, I decided to look back at the inauguration ceremony of the first UNC System president, Frank Porter Graham.

Graham’s appointment as President of the UNC System followed just a year after he was inaugurated as President of UNC-Chapel Hill. There does not appear to have been a separate ceremony when he became system president, but his inauguration as UNC-Chapel Hill President was an elaborate event.

President Graham was officially sworn into office November 11, 1931.  It was no casual affair, either; according to the Daily Tar Heel, five thousand people came out to witness the ceremony.  The ceremony itself was planned to coincide with Armistice Day and the annual meeting of the Association of American Universities. 

Footage of Frank Porter Graham’s inauguration procession. From the North Carolina Collection.

The ceremony began with a procession from Bingham Hall to Kenan Stadium. As bells chimed from South Building, ten different divisions of marchers assembled at Bingham Hall, including student body representatives, the class of 1909 (Graham’s own graduating class), North Carolina state officials, and representatives from other universities across the United States. A trumpet signaled the beginning of the procession. As everyone took their place in Kenan Stadium, two minutes of silence were observed to honor the World War I armistice and the thirteen years of peace since then. North Carolina Governor O. Max Gardner opened the ceremony, and due to the absence of North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice W. P. Stacy, the Honorable W. J. Adams administered the oath of office. The whole ceremony was specially amplified so everyone in the large stadium would be able to hear the proceedings.   

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Caption reads: “W.J. Adams, associate justice of the North Carolina supreme court, in the left of this photograph, is administering a formal oath inducting Frank Porter Graham into the presidency of the University, yesterday morning. Immediately behind the president is Governor O. Max Gardner. Other dignitaries concerned with the occasion appear in the background.” From the Daily Tar Heel, 12 November 1931

After the official swearing-in ceremony, the day continued with more events – a luncheon, official meet-and-greets with various university representatives, and musical performances by the music department and the glee club.  Since the 33rd annual meeting of the American University Association began the day following Graham’s inauguration, a large number of university officials were present for the ceremony and following events.  These officials included deans and presidents from Harvard, Columbia, Northwestern, and more.

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Caption reads: “Pictured above are five distinguished men in the educational world who will be among the sixty-seven delegates attending the thirty-third annual meeting of the Association of American Universities which opens at the University of North Carolina Thursday, November 12. They also represented their institutions at the inauguration of President Frank Graham. Top row, left to right: Dean Howard Lee McBain of Columbia university, President Walter Dill Scott of Northwestern university, and Dean W. Whatley Pierson of the University of North Carolina, who is chairman of the committee on arrangements. Bottom row: Dean George H. Chase of Harvard university, and Dean H. Lamar Crosby of the University of Pennsylvania.” Daily Tar Heel, 12 November 1931

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Daily Tar Heel, 11 November 1931

The Daily Tar Heel‘s dedicated inauguration issue didn’t skimp on descriptions of the event and praise for Graham and the future of the University, and so I end this post with a couple of my favorites quotes — ones that seemed to sum up the student body’s and the larger academic world’s opinion of the event and President Graham himself.

“Frank Porter Graham, who more than any other by his peculiar qualities of absolute impartialness, sincere support of the Ideal, unusual humanity, and indefatigable energy on behalf of the University and the state personifies that which education in its usefulness and inspirational service to the community and the commonwealth strives to accomplish.”


“Long now has education been satisfied to rest in conservatism restrained by tradition, when it should be the intellectual beacon guiding men onward into unknown but knowable. Too long have universities been sepulchers for the imprisoned culture of past ages. The time is at hand to loose Wisdom and Culture from their dungeons that they may serve mankind.  The presidency of Frank Porter Graham by its enlightenment can be the single greatest factor in lifting North Carolina from the intellectual rear guard of the forty-eight states to that position of preeminence which its long and illustrious history deserves.”

Daily Tar Heel, 11 November 1931

The International Program in Sanitary Engineering Design

IPSED 2nd Session, October 1963. Photograph by Pete Julian.
IPSED 2nd Session, October 1963. Photograph by Pete Julian.

We recently received a group of photographs documenting the International Program in Sanitary Engineering Design (IPSED), a program established by the School of Public Health in 1962. The program attracted participants from all around the world to attend classes and complete internships in North Carolina, before returning to their home countries. Application materials show that some of these engineers were responsible for delivering potable water to entire regions and cities in their home countries, which included Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Libya, Mauritius, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Sudan, Taiwan, and Venezuela.

IPSED participants and faculty, 4th Session.
IPSED participants and faculty, 4th Session.

According to a report found on the website of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), IPSED was developed to fill a gap in sanitary engineering education for engineers from “developing countries.” Prior to the creation of IPSED, promising sanitary engineers from these countries would attend schools in Europe or the United States. The design concepts taught at these schools had little practical application in the engineers’ home countries, where they would face radically different socioeconomic and technological conditions. The classes and internships offered by the IPSED program were oriented toward the unique sanitary engineering challenges that these engineers would face when they returned home.

The photographs shown here give a glimpse into the lives of a diverse group of sanitary engineers, learning and collaborating in Chapel Hill in the 1960s and 1970s.

IPSED participant visiting the Ohio State Department of Health, 11th Session, 1969.
IPSED participant visiting the Ohio State Department of Health, 11th Session, 1969.
IPSED participant at the Durham Water Filtration Plant, 11th Session, 1969.
IPSED participant at the Durham Water Filtration Plant, 11th Session, 1969.

See the finding aid for the Records of the School of Public Health for more information about this recent acquisition.

“The Planet Mars – Is It Inhabited?”: A. H. Patterson’s 1902 Speech

In researching Professor Andrew Henry Patterson for my last blog post, I came across an interesting document among his personal papers. In 1902, while still a professor at the University of Georgia, Patterson delivered a speech at the centennial assembly of Salem Academy and College in Winston-Salem, N.C. titled “The Planet Mars – Is It Inhabited?” Following this address, the speech was supposed to be stored in a sealed envelope in the Salem Academy archive and reopened in 2002 “to  compare theories in 1902 with those 100 years later.” However, attempts to find the speech at the Salem Academy archives in 1964 were unsuccessful. The speech now held by UNC is a copy of a draft of the original, acquired from Andrew Patterson’s son Dr. Howard Patterson.

It is now fourteen years after Patterson had intended the speech to be reopened, and our knowledge of the planet Mars far surpasses what was theorized in 1902. The most compelling evidence for life on Mars discussed in the speech was the existence of canals on the Martian surface, first observed by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877. Patterson devotes a great deal of his speech to corroborating the existence of these canals by citing other astronomers, concluding that “On the whole, I believe we may consider the existence of the so-called ‘canals’  as proved by most careful and reliable observers in many parts of the world.” Patterson proposes the theory that these canals are artificially created for irrigation. Astronomers of the period also observed that the polar caps of Mars appeared and disappeared according to the Martian season, theorizing that these could be sources of water for the vast irrigation networks. Patterson even imagines just how differently life might have evolved on Mars, stating “what manner of beings thet [sic] may be we lack the data even to conceive.” In his conclusion, Patterson stated his belief “that Mars seems to be inhabited is not the last but the first word on the subject.”

Despite the wide gap in astronomical knowledge between 1902 and today, the accuracy of some theories is impressive. With regards to the difficulty many astronomers had in observing Schiaparelli’s canals, Patterson cites a Dr. Fison, who argues “that these canals have not been seen at the Naval Observatory, Harvard Observatory, Yerkes Observatory and others having far better telescopes than those used by Schiaparelli, who had an 8 1/3-inch glass, and by Lowell, who had a 24-inch, and therefore the canals must be optical illusions.” Fison was ultimately correct about the canals being optical illusions. Patterson also quotes Fison accurately describing the surface of Mars as “a succession of bleak arid deserts over which the rays of the vertical sun would seem to struggle in vain to mitigate the blasting chill of attenuated air.” However, Fison then went on to suppose the existence of “elementary forms of vegetation capable of withstanding the rigors of a climate more than artic [sic] in character.” Patterson addresses the question of polar ice caps by citing scientists who believed “the snow caps to be composed of solid Carbon Dioxide, instead of water. . . . the spectroscope shows no trace, or at least very little, of water vapor on Mars.” We now know that the polar caps are composed of both frozen carbon dioxide as well as water-ice.

114 years after Andrew Patterson delivered his speech on Mars, it is now possible to view the surface of Mars in 360 degrees through a web browser. Using virtual reality technology, it is even possible to see what it would be like to stand on the “bleak arid deserts” of Mars from a first-person perspective.

Exam Spoilers…for Fall 1885

Could you pass finals in 1885?

While looking through the University Papers this week, I found these exams administered at the end of the fall semester in 1885. There is one for Chemistry, Astronomy, Physics and English. Some of the questions would be familiar to a student today, but others, not so much. Can you tell us “what are the defects of our Alphabet?”

Exams administered December 1885 (from the University Papers, #40005, University Archives).

Update: The Curious Case of the Cuban Club

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the Cuban Club, a short-lived club for Cuban students at UNC in the early 20th century. This week, I came across a letter written just months after the Spanish-American War in which Major General Joseph Wheeler, president of the Cuban Educational Association, tells UNC President Edwin Alderman that he “note[s] with pleasure that you state that the University of North Carolina would easily give scholarships, remitting all tuition to several [Cuban students].”

The Cuban Educational Association operated from 1898 to 1901 and partnered with colleges across the United States to send Cuban and Puerto Rican college-age students to school in the United States. Universities and colleges offered one to two students a full scholarship to cover books, tuition and fees. The students and their families had to cover the cost of living, usually $200 – $300 annually. Therefore, most of the students coming to the United States were from the middle and upper classes. The scholarship mandated that the students return home after graduation.

Over the four years it was in operation, the Cuban Educational Association and its over 50 partner institutions helped to send over 2,500 students to school in the United States. When these students returned home, most became teachers, doctors and lawyers in their communities.

This letter was written 10 years before the Cuban Club appeared in the Yackety Yack, but it suggests that the influx of students from Cuba in the early 20th century may have been related to work begun by the Cuban Educational Association.

Letter to Dr. Alderman from Joshua (from the University Papers, #40005, University Archives).

Original Post: The Curious Case of the Cuban Club

“All Dances Will Be Suspended”: The Effect of Prohibition at UNC in 1925

While national prohibition was voted into law in 1919 with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, North Carolina had been dry since it passed a state-wide prohibition law in 1908. As the sale and consumption of alcohol in North Carolina had already been banned for twelve years when enforcement of the 18th Amendment began in 1920, prohibition had little direct effect on the University.

German Club Executive Committee, from the 1926 Yackety Yack, http://digitalnc.org
German Club Executive Committee in the 1926 Yackety Yack, from DigitalNC

However, a 1925 German Club dance held around Thanksgiving prompted a harsh response from President H.W. Chase. Despite its name, the German Club was not related to the nation of Germany or the German language. Rather, the club, organized in the late nineteenth century, planned formal dances and other social events for its members. A ‘German’ was a kind of social dancing that became popular following the Civil War.

The incident caused by this dance was investigated by Andrew Henry Patterson, a professor of physics and Dean of the School of Applied Sciences. In his report to President Chase, Patterson noted that the conditions for illegal drinking were perfect as there were, “hundreds of visitors brought here by the game, and many of them with liquor. The wonder is that more drinking was not done[….]” The game to which Patterson referred was the annual Thanksgiving Day game against the University of Virginia. According to Patterson, “no estimate on the part of anybody as to the number of men who had taken a drink would run over 20 or 25% of those present,” and that “no shadow of a rumor that any girls were drinking has been found, which is encouraging.”

Patterson to Chase
Report on German Club dance incident by A.H. Patterson, from  University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), University Archives

On the day this letter was sent to President Chase, December 4, 1925, he delivered an address to students in chapel discouraging the use of alcohol. Chase emphasized “the problem of the influence of drinking on the future business and social relations of the young men who make up the student bodies in our colleges today.” He went on to state “his opinion that drinking is now a thing for the vulgar and lower classes to indulge in” and that alcohol use was something “invariably leading to unmannerly and indecent conduct.”

This incident and its investigation prompted President Chase to suspend all dances at the University until the end of Easter holidays. This suspension also extended to “the giving of any dance by any University organization or student at any place outside the University campus.” When the suspension ended in April of 1926, the German Club adopted new bylaws that made its executive committee responsible to the University for the conduct at all dances, regardless of the clubs or groups hosting them. According to the Daily Tar Heel on April 15, 1926, these bylaws also imposed regulations on dances. These included no smoking on the dance floor, no girls leaving the dance hall without a chaperone, and strict end times for dances. Most dances were required to end by 1:00 AM, while Saturday night dances had to end by midnight. Some German Club dances were permitted to last until 2:00 AM. The German Club continued to organize dances and concerts until the late 1960s.

[President Chase’s letter to the German Club suspending all dances, from the University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), University Archives]

Training Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) at UNC

“Opportunities for Defense Training at Chapel Hill" brochure,” UNC Libraries, accessed February 23, 2016, http://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/items/show/2686.
“Opportunities for Defense Training at Chapel Hill” brochure,” UNC Libraries, accessed February 23, 2016, http://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/items/show/2686.

In March of 2015, the Army stated that women who had served as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in World War II were not eligible for burial in Arlington National Cemetery. This was a  reversal of the 2002 decision that allowed them to be interred at Arlington with full military honors. The Senate and the House now have bills on the floor  to overturn the Army’s decision. This controversy has sparked a renewed interest in who the WASPs were and what they did during their service in World War II.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots were a group of over 1,000 women that ferried aircraft around the country, towed dummy aircraft during live artillery training, taught as flight instructors and tested new planes.  This freed up qualified male pilots for combat duty overseas. The program began in 1942 as two separate branches, which then merged under the WASP name in 1943. During their time, the WASPs flew every military aircraft available and were trained in everything the men did, except combat exercises. The very first female pilots in the program had to enter the program with at least 200 hours of flight time. That is where the story brings us to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[CAA requirements for a Civilian Pilot Training Program, from the Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records, 1932-1949 , #40007, University Archives]

The UNC System was home to a Civilian Pilot Training Program. N. C. State was the first school in the system to host the program. Later, UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina A&T started their own versions of the program, along with Duke and other colleges around the state. Any student, male or female, was allowed to take the ground portion of the classes for college credit. These classes taught basic aviation theory as well as airplane maintenance. Ground classes were known as primary training. Women students took these classes and anticipated that they would be allowed to continue into flight training.

[Letter inquiring about allowing a female student into flight training, from the Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records, 1932-1949 , #40007, University Archives]

However, actual flight training, or secondary training, was limited to a quota imposed on the university by the Civilian Aviation Authority. The CAA provided most of the funding for flight training and was therefore able to dictate who could participate in secondary courses. The entire purpose of the Civilian Pilot Training Program was to feed the graduates directly into military service and women were not allowed to fly at all in a military capacity before the WASPs program. Therefore, women were only allowed into flight training when the total number of qualified male pilots was less than the quota allotted.

Memo explaining CAA quotas, from the Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records, 1932-1949 , #40007, University Archives
Memo explaining CAA quotas, from the Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records, 1932-1949 , #40007, University Archives

The UNC administration did all they could to prove that discrimination was not the reason female trainees had a difficult time getting into flight training, and celebrated the women who made it through both parts of the program. The first woman to complete the entire Civilian Pilot Training Program at UNC, including both ground and flight training, was Virginia Broome. She graduated from UNC in 1942 and became a WASP in 1943. As a ferry pilot she, ferried completed military aircraft from factories to the point of embarkation.  Only four women completed the entire course of training at UNC. Of these four, only Virginia Broome (later Virginia Broome Waterer)  became a WASP.

For more information about the University of North Carolina during World War II, see the online exhibit A Nursery for Patriotism: The University at War, 1861-1945.