A Brief History of the Education of Women in North Carolina

    General indifferences to the education of women prevailed throughout the Colonial era in North Carolina and continued for a considerable portion of the nineteenth century. Although North Carolina developed before 1860 most creditable system of public schools to be found in any of the states which seceded from the Union, her educational growth was very slow during the Colonial period.

    This tardy development was largely due to the geography of the region. The dangerous coasts and poor harbors made the colony difficult of access. Also, for many years, the tendency was toward rural rather urban communities. This rural character of the country proved a hindrance to education generally and especially to the social and literary development of the women in comparison to conditions in the neighboring colonies. For example, Colonial Records give an account of fashionable boarding schools in the coastal towns of Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia, whereas no such schools are mentioned in North Carolina prior to the War of the Revolution.

    Educational advantages for girls in any of the Southern colonies were restricted to the families of the well-to-do. These girls were either taught in their own homes by private tutors or sent to private schools. Moreover, a small number of girls were sent to England to attend school. For instance, North Carolina records show that Frances, daughter of John Rutherford, was sent with her two brothers to England to be educated after the death of her mother in 1768. However, judging from the activities of such groups of women who attended the Edenton Tea Party or who filed petitions to the authorities in behalf of the wives and children of Tories, it is evident that the better class of women was educated.

    Here it is interesting to note that there are records of wills in which fathers provided for the tuition for the instruction of their daughters. A striking illustration is the will of John Baptista Ashe, dated November 1731. This states: “I will that my daughter be taught to write and read and some feminine accomplishments which may make her agreeable.” Yet there is no record that any schools were established to carry out these wills.

    The first effort of the Colony itself to foster education began in 1695 when William Read, an orphan boy, was bound to Thomas Harvey to serve him until Read was twenty-one years of age. At this time the general court required that Harvey teach the boy to read and write and also teach him a trade. The same law applied to girls who were apprenticed. A Pasquotank County court in April, 1752, when binding Ann Stewart, ordered that her master “learn her to read and write.”

    On the other hand, girls were admitted to the elementary schools founded by the different religious denominations. The first denominational group to send teachers to the Colony was the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, a missionary organization of the established Church of England. These missionaries served as lay readers and teachers. The German and Scotch immigrants and Quakers were especially active in founding schools for their children. Then, while the Presbyterians were particularly insistent that all their children learn to read, they were so zealous in securing education for the boys that they sometimes regarded girls “sufficiently learned if they could read the Bible, repeat the catechism and write a legible hand.”

    And yet despite the fact that the women of the more prosperous families, the girls belonging to the ambitious church groups, and the girls who were apprenticed could read and write, “a large majority of the seventeenth and eighteenth century women were totally illiterate, unable to write their names.” This was true in all the Southern colonies.

    Although it may be assumed that the mistress of the house aided the master by teaching apprenticed boys and girls to read, there is no record of such activity. The only recorded cases of women’s teaching outside of church schools before the nineteenth century are in connection with Dr. Bray’s Associates. This was an organization perfected in England “by a decree of chancery” in 1731 for the purpose of providing parochial libraries and the conversion of Negroes in the British plantations. It was closely associated with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts and seemingly took in a broader scope of work than its original purpose provided. For example, Alexander Stewart, a missionary sponsored by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, wrote in his report of 1763:

    “I accordingly baptized 6 adult Indians, 6 boys, 4 girls and 5 infants and for their further instruction (at the expense of a Society called Dr. Bray’s Associates who have done me the Honor of making me Superintendent of their schools in this province) have fixed a school mistress among them to teach 4 Indian and 2 Negro boys and 4 Indian girls to read and to work and have supplied them with books for that purpose.”

    Four years later John Bennett wrote to a Missionary Society in his hometown in England that it was his intention to start a school at Brunswick provided he could enroll fifteen pupils. He stated: “I had agreed with a widow woman here of good character…to teach the girls to Sew, knit, and Mark, but I cannot make up more than 8 or 9 therefore must for a time drop the design.”

    The women of the Moravian settlement were the first to take up teaching in a formal way. The Moravian records state that in 1778 “Sister Osterlain had charge of the school for several years until she married.” And a little later: “The teacher of the girls’ school has been getting three shillings a week and it is recommended that she be paid an additional shilling from the congregation.” The school for little girls which was established at Salem in 1772 developed into Salem Academy and finally into Salem College.

    The first organized movement by women themselves toward an educational cause came in the first decade of the 1800’s. At that time groups of women in various towns began to organize Societies for the education of “poor female children.” The first of these groups was the Newbern Female Charitable Society which was incorporated in 1812. This was soon followed by similar Societies in Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Wilmington. These groups usually rented a house which they turned over to a woman teacher. While this movement took place at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the work characteristically belongs in the eighteenth.

    It is evident thus far that provision for the education of women came slowly in North Carolina and that their participation in teaching and other educational activities was in keeping with their opportunities for training. Educational opportunities for women and their contribution to the cause of education have gone hand in hand. The history of women in education in the State falls roughly into three periods from 1800-1860, 1860-1900, 1900-1950.

    1800 -1860

    From the standpoint of public education, the nineteenth century opened without emphasis being place on the education of girls. Of the 177 academies chartered by the State before 1825 only thirteen were for women. The State provided a small sum for the chartered academies which enabled these to admit pupils who were unable to pay tuition. However, educational opportunities for girls were left largely to private schools.


    In the period between the establishment of the Raleigh Female Academy in 1800 and 1840 no less than seventy-five schools for women were started in North Carolina. Many of these private schools flourished for only a few years yet others continued for quite a period of time or even became permanent institutions. A striking example of one of these private schools which became permanent is Salem College whose development has been previously mentioned. Among those established during this period and which continued for a considerable length of time were Warrenton Academy, Hillsboro Female Academy, Louisburg Academy, and Charlotte Female School.


    Since North Carolina had provided no facilities for educating women for teachers, many of the women who taught in these early schools came from the North, having been trained in Emma Willard’s famous Female Seminary at Troy, New York. However, several other states were represented. A few specific names and teaching positions will serve as illustrations.


    Among the teachers from New York were: Miss Beze at Newbern in 1809; Miss Nye at the Raleigh Female Academy in 1810; Miss Haskins who opened a female school at Wadesboro; Misses Elizabeth Slater and Mitchell who assisted the principal of Liberty Hall Academy at Salisbury in 1818; Miss Salmon at Smithfield Academy in 1827; Mrs. Harriet J. Allen, principal of Warrenton Female Academy about 1830; and Miss Harriet A. Dellay, assistant in the school at Jackson in Northhampton County in 1837.


    From Connecticut came Mrs. Terrell to take charge of the Warrenton Female Academy in the 1820’s. Miss Eliza Rea of Boston taught in the Asheboro Female Academy in 1839. Miss Abigail Mason of Pennsylvania came to Lincolnton to take charge of the girls’ school. In fact, the phrase “from the North” is used frequently in the reports of the period. Miss Martha R. Richardson, “a young lady from the North,” taught at Pleasant Grove Academy in Wake County; Miss Louise Moar, “a lady from the North,” was conducting a school in Northhampton County in 1838. And Miss M.C. Street served in the Raleigh Academy in the late 1820’s as “an experienced preceptress from the North.”


    Also, there are records of English women who taught in the State at this time. For instance, Mrs. Sarah Faulkner accompanied her husband to Warrenton and here she set up a school in 1802 and ran it continuously until her death in 1819.


    Charles L. Coon lists the names of ninety-five women teachers in the period 1790-1840.


    In the records of these schools there may be found an account of the everyday school life. For example, Jacob Mordecai who conducted a school for girls in Warrenton was assisted by his daughters Rachel and Ellen. Each girl was required to go to the well every morning with her tin basin and towel and bathe her hands, face, and neck, even though the weather might be so cold that the water would freeze as she bathed. Each girl reported daily to a Negro mammy for a hair dressing. She carried with her a comb and brush. After her hair was dressed, she dropped her name into a box. The names were checked by Miss Ellen and any delinquents were called to task. There were ninety girls enrolled in this school.


    Frances Ormond Gaither gives in Little Miss Cappo an authentic description of life at Salem Academy about the first quarter of the nineteenth century. She tells that the girl arrives at the school riding horseback, is met by a man whose specific duty is to place her saddle in the saddle room for safe keeping until the time from tow to four years hence when she will need it to ride home. He sells her horse and deposits the money for the purchase of another horse when needed. The author gives a picture of the rooms in the dormitory, tells how the girls adapt their clothes to their physical growth over a period of time, and give the strict rules by which they must abide.


    In 1836, the State was able to add directly to the Literary Fund, which had been established in 1825, the sum of $500,000 from the total sum received from the Federal Government’s distribution of surplus revenue. Therefore since the Literary Fund now amounted to nearly $683,000 and was receiving considerable annual revenue, the Literary Board recommended to the Legislature a plan for beginning a system of elementary schools. The report was accepted and the Legislature of 1838-39 provided for an election to be held whereby the counties might vote on a plan of furnishing $20 for each school district within their respective borders and thus receive $40 from the Literary Fund. Accordingly public or common schools were established in the State, and in 1840 the State reported 141 academies and grammar schools and 623 elementary or common schools. The State had now provided a foundation in education for both sexes.


    After 1840 a number of the leading schools for women began to adopt the name of college although their courses of study were little more than those offered in the female academies and boarding schools prior to that date.


    In the decades 1840-60, the churches were very active in the education of women. A group of Methodists founded Greensboro Female College, now Greensboro College for Women in 1846. At. Mary’s School in Raleigh was opened in 1842 by the Episcopal Church. Chowan Baptist Female Institute was founded in 1848 and closely following this were: Oxford Female College, sponsored by the Baptists, in 1851; Statesville Female College, now Mitchell College, established by the Presbyterians, in 1857; Davenport College, founded by the Methodists in 1858; and Peace Female Institute founded by the Presbyterians in 1857. In 1860, Governor John W. Ellis stated that there were thirteen female colleges in the State. These denominational schools supplemented the public schools of that era and served to bridge a gap until a system of secondary and higher education was developed.


    A few parents sent their daughters to school outside of the State. For example, in 1841, Judge John Bryan sent his oldest daughter, Mary, to Miss Breshard’s School in Washington, D.C. Later, the second daughter, Isabel, went to school in Reirstown, Maryland, whereas Charlotte, the third daughter, attended Miss Carpenter’s School in Philadelphia.


    However, the number of women who taught upon leaving school was a small one. These few who were interested in teaching went into the private schools to teach. There were two reasons for this. First, women teachers were looked upon with disfavor by the general public since it was thought that they could not discipline; and, in the second place, the public schools were not socially favored. The State report of the public schools in 1846 showed only nineteen women in a total of 1,487 teachers. Yet, on the other hand, Calvin H. Wiley who became State Superintendent of Public Schools in 1853 believed that women were in every sense equal to men teachers and that they were even better than men in controlling and teaching small children. He favored employing them whenever they were available. He encouraged poor girls from small farms and from factories to educate themselves through the common schools and by self help to take the examinations and become teachers. However, women came slowly into the public schools prior to 1860.


    Such was the picture of women in education in 1860 when the War Between the States, followed by the Reconstruction Period, disrupted the entire school system of the State.


    1860 –1900


    The War Between the States caused an increase of women in the public schools. Superintendent Wiley’s report for 1863 showed that within four years the number of women teachers had increased from 7 ˝ percent of the total number in 1859 to 40 percent of the total number. The leaders in education were now beginning to realize the importance of women teachers in the schools. They saw, also, that instead of depending upon the North, the State must provide her own teachers. In 1862, the Reverend Dr. Kilpatrick, president of Davidson College, addressed the young ladies of Concord Female College on “The Duty of Females to the Future Education Interest of Our Country.” In his address he asked the question: “Who is to teach the children when the bloody war shall close?” He answered this by saying that “for the first generation and possibly for more than one the work of teaching must be done by our educated women.”


    Through the help of women teachers, Wiley was able to report to Governor Jonathan Worth on January 18, 1865, the “the common schools had lived and discharged their useful mission through all the gloom and trials of the conflict; and when the last gun was fired the doors were still open and the teachers numbered their pupils by the thousands.”


    During the period of the War between the States and Reconstruction, many academies and private schools and those sponsored by churches were opened in various communities for both elementary and high school education. Private schools taught by women sprang up in many towns. Then, in the late 70’s, graded schools were provided. Thus women soon dominated the elementary field. The Summer Normal and Institute for teachers during the 80’s and 90’s gave women an opportunity to prepare for the teaching profession. The private high schools were generally coeducational. And tax supported high schools in many towns offered opportunities for those women who were not financially able to enter the newly established State Normal and Industrial School, church colleges, and the like.


    In the last decades of the nineteenth century and in the first decade of the twentieth century, the female academies, institutes, and colleges for women which had been established before the middle of the 80’s began to make their influence felt in teaching circles. At least seventy of the 112 women whose biographies are included in this book were born prior to 1860 and were educated in one of these institutions. These women generally made a contribution to education by teaching in private schools in the years following Reconstruction and many of them transferred to the public schools as soon as these were reestablished. A striking example is Miss Margaret Hearn who was educated in private schools, at the age of eighteen founded her own private school which she conducted for eleven years, then in 1881 began teaching in the public schools of Wilson and continued here for fifty-three years.


    It was in 1860-80 that women began to play a part in higher education. An illustration is Mary Mendenhall who joined the faculty of Guilford College in 1878 and through her teaching, writing, and lectures promoted the cause of higher education for women.


    Yet while women were teaching on all levels in these decades, private and church schools furnished the only facilities for higher education of their sex in North Carolina. Twenty-four such schools were reported at this time.


    The State made a beginning of the professional training of women as teachers in 1877 when women were admitted to the Normal Summer School held on the campus of the University. That women were eager for this work was shown by the fact that 107 attended the six weeks’ session. The number of men enrolled was 128. At this time over 600 women were teaching in the public schools of the State.


    While the entrance of women to the University marks the beginning of large numbers to come, North Carolina as a state, made no general provision for the higher education of its women before the establishment of the State Normal and Industrial School in Greensboro in 1892. The State Normal numbered among the charter members or early members of its faculty a number of women who had received their basic education at private or church schools in the state and their advanced education out of the state. Among these were Gertrude Mendenhall, a graduate of Guilford College with a B.S. Degree from Wellesley; and Viola Boddie, a graduate of Littleton College with a degree from the Normal School at Nashville, Tennessee, now Peabody College. The second year came Mary Petty, a graduate of Guilford College, with a B.S. Degree from Wellesley. The Misses Mendenhall, Boddie, and Petty remained on the faulty during the rest of their teaching careers. Other names listed in the faculty of early years were; Annie Petty, a graduate of Guilford College; Mary Settle Sharp from St. Mary’s; Bertha Marvin Lee from Greensboro College; Sue Mae Kirkland, the first Lady Principal, a product of Nash and Kollocks’ Select School for Young Ladies at Hillsboro; and Laura Hill Coit, a graduate of the Statesville Female College, (now Mitchell College) who remained on the faculty more than forty years.


    The 1890’s were outstanding in the establishment of institutions of higher learning for women. In 1891, the Baptists founded Meredith College in Raleigh and one year later the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America opened a normal school for girls in Asheville.


    While the Asheville normal expanded little in size or numbers of student it could accommodate, its academic standard was revised to keep pace with the demands of the State. In 1925, the institution was authorized to confer the degree of Bachelor of Education upon its graduates, and in 1929 it became a member of the North Carolina Conference. In 1933, it was place on the list of accredited American Teachers Colleges. This institution trained hundreds of teachers for the western part of the State in a period when they were most needed. It was discontinued in 1944.


    By 1920, the State Normal and Industrial School which had opened its doors in October, 1892, with an enrollment of 176 had become a standard four year college and its name had been changed to the North Carolina College for Women. Throughout these years the institution had enrolled over 10,000 women, 565 of whom had graduated. Numbers left without graduation yet went into the rural schools and small towns to teach. Later, the college was made a part of the Greater University of North Carolina and was given the name Womans College of the University of North Carolina. It has granted 10,070 degrees, and a large per cent of these graduates have entered the teaching profession.


    In the same decade that Womans College was established at Greensboro, two State Normal Schools had their beginning: the State Normal School at Cullowhee and the Appalachian Normal at Boone. Both of these schools are coeducational and both have become accredited teachers colleges. In 1907, a third Normal School was established at Greenville. This is now an accredited teachers college.


    As to the State University: the trustees first made women eligible to the regular session in 1897. The statement was to the effect that women should be admitted for graduate work. Edwin A. Alderman, president at that time, interpreted the ruling to mean that a woman who had finished any kind of college including junior colleges, was eligible. In the fall of 1898 six women were admitted: Sallie Stockard, Dixie Lee Bryant, Mary L. McRae, Alice Jones, Martha Latham, and Susan Williams Moses. Sallie Stockard was the first woman to register and the first woman to graduate. An interview with Alice Jones in 1951 has given a glimpse into the life of these early “coeds”:


    “We dressed just as if we were going to church – hat, gloves, and the like. We pulled off one glove to take notes in class. It was wonderful in Chapel Hill in those days. We were invited to many social functions and the girls who danced had a wonderful time dancing with the boys. The boys resented our being there, but in the evenings and during off-school hours we were very popular socially. Some of us felt a great responsibility in that we realized that we were making history. The professors were hard on us and we studied diligently.”


    1900 – 1950


    This is a period of rewards and fulfillment. Women have become leaders in significant movements and have achieved success in many field of education.


    About the turn of the century the number of women teachers in the public schools increased rapidly. In 1920, Dr. J.Y. Joyner, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, reported a total of 11,156 white teachers of which 6,431 or 55 per cent were women. As this number increased and as advantages for higher education expanded, women gradually entered supervisory and administrative positions, served in the Department of Public Instruction, or became instructors in the various colleges and universities. They were admitted as students in practically all of the institutions of higher learning in the State.


    The attitude of the professors at the University of North Carolina toward the capabilities of women for learning has changed to a marked degree. Despite the statement of Dr. Cain, head of the Department of Mathematics, that the entrance of women into the University would not trouble him since they could not learn mathematics, Marcia Latham in connection with her A.B. degree in 1900 was awarded the Cain prize for the best work in mathematics.


    In the fall of 1917, the University opened its doors to freshmen women who were living with their parents or with relatives in Chapel Hill. The School of Pharmacy was opened to women regardless of where they lived. In the academic year 1917-18, the number of women exceeded any previous enrollment. In 1924, Ann Forbes Liddell of Charlotte and Irene Dillard of Clinton, South Carolina, had the distinction of receiving the first earned doctors degrees granted to women at the University. Mrs. Marvin Stacy was officially made the first Dean of Women in the spring of 1919 and began her duties that fall. Spencer Hall, the first dormitory for women on the campus was opened in 1923. Women continued to enroll in all departments. By 1945 the University had granted 742 graduate degrees to women, and by 1950 the enrollment of women had reached 944. These were housed in six dormitories erected especially for women. Three national sororities are maintained by women on the campus.


    In the closing days of 1924, a second university for North Carolina was suddenly announced to the people. In 1838, the Methodists and Quakers of Randolph County established a school to which the Reverend Brantly York, leader of the movement, gave the name Union Institute. Four years later it was chartered as Normal College, and in 1859 with its named changed to Trinity College it passed into the service of the Methodist Church. In 1892, the College was moved to Durham where it at once entered upon a new life. In December, 1924, James B. Duke offered to the trustees a building fund of $6,000,000 with the stipulation that the name be changed to Duke University. Later he added $2,000,000 to the building fund for the creation of the Duke Foundation carrying a trust fund of $40,000,000. Within a few years the new Duke University was built about a mile west of the Trinity campus and the latter was developed into a great coordinate college for women. These women students share all the advantages of the entire university on equal basis with men, and a goodly percent of the faculty are women.


    Since the opening of the century the entrance of women to the faculties of the colleges in the State has been phenomenal. An examination of the catalogs of 1952 for thirty-two accredited junior and senior colleges shows an approximate total of 660 women on the faculties, and about 100 of these hold the Doctor’s Degree.


    Women have entered the area of urban and county supervision on a large scale. This work began in 1910 under the stimulation of L.C. Brogden, State Agent for Rural Elementary Schools. At first the work was on an elementary basis financed by a grant from the Peabody Fund. In 1920, the State made a substantial allotment for rural supervision and the work began in earnest. In that year thirty counties employed supervisor all of whom were women. While supervision experience a hard struggle during the depression of the 1930’s and during World War II, the work has continued in the State exclusive of those in specific subjects.


    In chronological order, L.H. Jobe, Director of Division of Publication in the State Department of Education, has made a survey of First’s among women in service of a State-wide nature and through State government commission and boards whose work was in the field of education, particularly in educational administration. His report is as follows:


    ·         1915. Miss Mary O. Graham of Charlotte was elected first woman president of the North Carolina Education Association. She was followed by Miss Elizabeth Kelly of Franklin who served in 1924 and Miss Annie M. Cherry of Enfield who served in 1930.

    ·         1916. Miss Hattie S. Parrott of Kinston was appointed by the Governor to serve for five years on the State Textbook Commission, the first woman to serve on this Commission. Members of the Commission took the oath of office as administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina. The record shows that Hattie S. Parrott was the first woman to take the oath of office to serve on an education commission in the State.

    ·         1917. Miss Elizabeth Kelly of Franklin was the first State Director of School for Adult Illiterates in North Carolina.

    ·         1917. Miss Hattie S. Parrott was appointed and elected first chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Examiners and Institute Conductors. Other members of this Board to serve for four years with Miss Parrott, 1917-21, were two women also pioneering in State educational programs: Miss Susan Fulghum of Goldsboro and Mrs. T.E. Johnston of Salisbury.

    ·         1921. Miss Ethel Terrell of Asheville, now Mrs. Guy Weaver of Asheville, was Superintendent of Buncombe County Schools, the first woman to be elected to that office in North Carolina. During the same year, Miss Mable Evans of Manteo, now Mrs. O. Jones of Manteo was elected Superintendent of Dare County Schools.

    ·         1921. Miss Mary Arrington of Rocky Mount was the first woman to serve on the North Carolina State Board of Vocational Education.

    ·         1929. Miss Elizabeth Kelly of Franklin was the first woman to serve on the State Equalization Board.


    Looking in retrospect over the years one may conclude that women may justly feel proud of the contribution they have made to the cause of education in North Carolina and of the advancement they have made. Now that all avenues in the profession are open to them and the State has provided opportunities for women equal to those for men, the next half century will doubtless be marked by great professional advancement on the part of women. Quite likely they will produce and hold a greater number of administrative positions. Above all; women are in a position to do a higher quality of teaching on whatever level they may choose to work.


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