Robert Herring Wright
EAST CAROLINA TEACHERS COLLEGE, GREENVILLE 1907 NORTH CAROLINA.
East Carolina Teachers College Official Seal]
VOLUME 29 DECEMBER, 1938 NUMBER 4
ROBERT HERRING WRIGHT
EDUCATOR, EXECUTIVE, AND LEADER IN
PRESIDENT OF EAST CAROLINA TEACHERS COLLEGE
“He was as true a man as I have ever known—unpretentious and sincere, a man for whom I had the utmost respect and in whom I had unguarded confidence. In character and to some extent in appearance he reminded me of Abraham Lincoln. I recall no better characterization of him than Edwin Markham's poem in which the poet refers to Lincoln as a lordly cedar going down and leaving a lonesome place against the sky.”
T. WINGATE ANDREWS.
GREENVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
Robr. H. Wright.
ROBERT H. WRIGHT belongs to the period of educational awakening in North Carolina ushered in by Aycock; and he became a part of the period of educational growth that followed. From the time he returned to the State in 1909 as president of East Carolina Teachers Training School to the time of his death he participated in every major educational movement in the State.
As an educator he possessed constructive wisdom and the courage to lead in the face of adversity. The type of fearlessness and indomitable integrity which he displayed commands respect whether it be found in friend or foe. His idealism was an inspiration to thousands who came under his influence. He had abundant faith in mankind and a strong hope in the ultimate triumph of righteousness.
As an executive he gave sympathetic encouragement that led his co-workers to their best efforts; and he was wise in the freedom he allowed for their activities. His confidence in his associates served as an inspiration to those who strove with him to coöperative endeavor. He made up his mind within the calm of his own soul and expected no cheering multitude to inspire his purpose.
He had a public mind and gave himself to the service of his fellow-man with a singleness of purpose excelled only by his enthusiasm. He conceived of life, duty and religion as a series of relationships and obligations to his fellows. He belonged to that great aristocracy of them that love and serve their fellow-men. He achieved mightily for mankind.
We, his colleagues, representatives of the faculty of East Carolina Teachers College, as a memorial to him herewith present a record of his life and works, with some interpretation of the principles for which he stood and the ideals he translated into objectives. In tracing his career as an educational leader, we have added to our conception of his contribution in the improvement of the public school system of the State, the appraisal his peers have placed upon him and his services.
Twenty-five years of his life, the best of his thought and efforts, went into the building of this institution. It was, in truth, his life work for which all else seems, in retrospection, to have been preparation. Within the following pages we have attempted to let his works speak for him.
THE COMMITTEE FROM THE FACULTY.
MAMIE E. JENKINS, Chairman
RALPH C. DEAL
M. L. WRIGHT
KATE W. LEWIS
SALLIE JOYNER DAVIS
|I. A SON OF NORTH CAROLINA||9|
|II. BUILDING UP A GREAT INSTITUTION FOR TEACHER TRAINING||18|
|Beginning of East Carolina Teachers Training School||18|
|Jarvis, Joyner, Ormond Strong Executive Advisers||27|
|Well-Equipped for His Life Work||30|
|Tasks the New President Faced When He Took Charge||34|
|Faculty Stability an Important Factor||37|
|Purposes and Aims Carried Out in Courses of Study and Curricula||40|
|Meeting the State's Demand for Better Teachers||46|
|Practice Teaching Essential for Acquiring the Art||48|
|Summer School Never a Teacher's Holiday||51|
|Faculty Coöperation Brought Unity in Spirit and Purpose||54|
|Student Activities and Campus Life||57|
|Alumnae and Their Alma Mater||65|
|Development and Growth Shown by Figures and Expansion of Plant||67|
|III. CONTRIBUTIONS TO EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS AND THOUGHT||71|
|Equality of Educational Opportunities||73|
|Education as the Safeguard to Progress||75|
|Education for Leisure||78|
|His Conception of the Function of a Teachers College||79|
|IV. “HE STOOD FOURSQUARE TO ALL THE WORLD”||83|
|Tributes from His Fellowmen||94|
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
|1870, May 21||—Born in Sampson County.|
|1888-1890||—Taught in “Hungry Neck,” Bladen County.|
|1890-1892||—Student at Oak Ridge Institute.|
|1892-1894||—Taught in Marlborough County, South Carolina.|
|1894||—Entered University of North Carolina.|
|1897||—Graduated with A.B. Degree from U. N. C.|
|1897-1898||—Principal of Stanhope High School.|
|1898-1901||—Instructor in Oak Ridge Institute.|
|1901-1903||—Studied at Johns Hopkins University.|
|1901, Dec. 31||—Married to Charlotte Pearl Murphy.|
|1902-1904||—Instructor, City College, Baltimore.|
|1904-1906||—Head of Department of Social Sciences, in City College, Baltimore.|
|1906-1909||—Principal Eastern High School, Baltimore.|
|1909-1934||—President of East Carolina Teachers College.|
|1915||—Vice-President of North Carolina Teachers Assembly.|
|1916||—President of North Carolina Teachers Assembly.|
|1917-1922||—Chairman State Educational Commission.|
|1925-1926||—President American Association of Teachers Colleges.|
|1928||—Doctor of Education conferred by Wake Forest College.|
|1934, April 25||—Died.|
A SON OF NORTH CAROLINA
“It is a story of East Carolina on the march. It is the story of a leader,” said Dr. Frank Graham of Robert Herring Wright and his life of service. “Already tested, he came back to his native state and became a great leader of the people.”
“We see him on his way, this North Carolina youth, tall and lean and strong as those North Carolina pines among which he grew to manhood; this leader in educational life, this builder of this college through which more than twenty thousand students have passed, plastic to his mold, to go into the schools, into homes, to build, to creatively transform a continent.”
“Something happened in the history of North Carolina when there converged in the life-strains of this boy the Wrights, the Herrings, the Simses, the Cromarties, in old Sampson. There was born out of the fusion of those bloods, and grew to manhood, Robert Herring Wright.”
“We see him in our mind's eye a boy in the South of that period; we see him in this combination of family strains, east North Carolina, southwest North Carolina strains blended to make that man and to make this college.”
“We see him in the neighborhood testing his strength wrestling; we see him putting his hand to the plow down the cotton row. He learned when he put his hand to the plow to go down the furrow to the end of the row—that was what boys learned in the North Carolina of that day. Let us thank God that with all those privations and struggles North Carolina was fashioning men for our times.”
At the close of the War for American Independence, there settled, between the Big and Little Coharie rivers, in what is now Sampson County, North Carolina, John Wright, a private in the Revolutionary Army, and his wife, Penelope Clark Wright.
John Wright, dying October 4, 1814, at the age of eighty-four, an honored and highly respected citizen, left his property on the Coharie to his son, Isaac Clark Wright, who had married Eliza Cromartie. The Cromarties were the earliest Scotch settlers in that section of the Carolina Colony.
John Cromartie Wright, the son of Isaac and Eliza Wright, improved and added to the properties he had inherited from his father. He married Bettie Vaiden Herring, and brought her as a bride to his home that he had named “Coharie.” Here were born and reared their nine children.
Robert Herring Wright, the second of these five sons and four daughters, was born May 21, 1870, a “significant year in which to be born, in the South.” His youth was that of the average farm boy of the 1870's in eastern North Carolina. He ploughed and
planted, tended and harvested. He “fished a little and hunted a little and swam a little,” when he found the time. He enjoyed the usual social activities of the community of his day, and he attended a neighborhood school, when there was a school to attend. Those who knew him during his boyhood speak of him as friendly, fun-loving and socially inclined, but with a naturally serious turn of mind.
The days of his boyhood were spent in the South of reconstruction and poverty. Living was a struggle, a series of struggles. Families that had known affluence felt the sharp sting of privation and want. Men and women who had lived in comfort and ease found themselves fighting for life's necessities.
Something of these conditions went into the making of the man. He was fond of saying that a goodly part of his youthful educational training was received “at the business end of a mule,” and that one lesson he learned well was the need of being careful. That did not, however, quell his venturesome spirit, or dull the edge of his ambition and enterprise.
The schools that Robert Wright attended in his boyhood were operated by public funds for three months in the year and then extended two or three months by private subscription. Two of his early teachers to whom he often referred were Dr. A. A. Kent and Rev. R. C. Craven. Dr. Kent, he sometimes said, made a more lasting impression upon him than most of his teachers because of the disciplinary methods he used.
Ploughing in spring and summer, hunting in fall and winter, attending the neighborhood parties, and going to school some six months in the year, made up the life of the country boy.
At the age of 18, having completed the “courses” offered in the local school, Wright applied for a teacher's certificate and a job. He received both at about the same time. Standing his examination for a teaching certificate, he was given his first teacher's certificate by Rev. William Brunt, a Baptist minister, who was at that time County Superintendent of Public Instruction in Bladen County.
Between the Black River and the Cape Fear, largely in Pender County, but partly in Bladen, was a section known as “Hungry Neck.” It was in Bladen, in the Hungry Neck section, on Colly, in French's Creek Township and in the Corbett neighborhood, with his post office at “Nat Moore”, that the tall, earnest boy began the work that was to be his field throughout his life. He began teaching in this country schoolhouse in 1888.
For this first teaching he received $20 per month, and his board—“boarding out.” Boarding out meant that he lived for a specified time, often a week, sometimes a month, in the homes
of different patrons of the school. Wright taught this school for two years, from 1888 to 1890.
His mother, Betty Vaiden Wright, at this time realizing the inadequacies of the subscription-extended public schools, and the necessity of better preparation of her own children for college, toward which Robert was now definitely headed, conceived the idea of giving, herself, to her children this necessary preparation. Mrs. Wright opened her school, “Mrs. Wright's Private School”, which was better known as “Coharie”. In a few years it was a potent educational influence in that section of the State. It was probably her son Robert's decision, after teaching for more than two years, that he needed special preparation for college, and his determination to go to Oak Ridge Institute before attempting to enter the University that largely influenced his mother in deciding to establish her school.
Robert, however, came into young manhood too early to get the benefit of his mother's Coharie School; but his younger brothers and sisters and many others were there prepared for college and came to bless her name and the institution she had founded.
Wright was a student at Oak Ridge Institute for two years—1890-92. In that live and growing institute he found much that was lacking in the country schools he had attended, and easily made up what he felt were the deficiencies in his earlier education. Contact with other forward-looking young men forging their way to the front stimulated his ambition and strengthened his determination to make his mark in the world.
According to his schoolmates at Oak Ridge, he was an excellent student, somewhat sobered by his teaching experience, fond of fun but taking his work seriously. Somewhat older than many of his fellow students, he was keenly interested in athletics, particularly in football, but more as an observer than as a participant.
Leaving Oak Ridge in 1892, he accepted a school in the northern section of Marlborough County, South Carolina, and taught there two years. By that time he seemed to have been definitely launched upon a teaching career.
His success and popularity in his work in South Carolina is attested by the many pleasant memories of him, and the pleasing recollections of those acquainted with him. Photographs taken at that period show him a tall, slender, serious-faced youth. Those who knew him then remember him as a thoughtful and serious young man, deeply interested in his work and in the young people with whom he was working. Of a decidedly religious temperament, he was active in Church and Sunday School. Returning to South Carolina after he entered the University, he
THE WRIGHT HOME IN SAMPSON COUNTY. FAMILY AND STUDENTS IN “COHARIE SCHOOL”
taught in this same school in the summer of 1896, during a college vacation.
Entering the University of North Carolina as a sophomore in the fall of 1894, Wright graduated in 1897, with his B.A. degree.
It was a time of ferment in North Carolina. The State's educational awakening was just beginning. Burning with zeal, educators were carrying on a crusade for better schools, better colleges, better teacher training, a revamping of the entire system of public education. Faculty and graduates were in the very forefront of this movement. Students caught the vision. Fired with enthusiasm, they pressed forward in the determination that the hopeless “old field” schools should be replaced by modern buildings, competent teachers and higher standards to provide our children with the educational opportunities which those of other States and sections enjoyed. Wright thus, in college, came in contact with this mighty movement in which he was to play so large a part in later years. Though his professional career in Maryland kept him out of North Carolina for quite a period, he never lost interest in its progress, kept in touch with every development, and, in a sense, shared in the State's educational advance almost from its beginning. Older than many of the students when he entered the University, realizing his educational needs and the necessity of thorough preparation for his profession. Wright was primarily interested in his studies, but found time for extra-curricular activities. Deeply interested in the Young Men's Christian Association, he became one of its officers, supporting it with his personal effort and limited finances. For years after his graduation he contributed to the Y.M.C.A. at Chapel Hill.
College experiences, the characteristics manifested, the impression a student made on his fellows and classmates throw interesting sidelights on development during these formative years. Of Wright one who knew him well in his college days says:
“I have talked with men who knew Wright there, college mates, classmates, team mates. He went quietly about his work; he was never a pretentious person. There was no ‘fuss and feathers’ about him. He was a quiet, reflective student who saw into the inner nature of things, and though he came quietly, and with characteristic modesty, it was not long before Wright stood out for something more than his six feet three. There was something in the quiet, serious, reflective life of the tall giant that took hold of his fellow students, and made him a leader in his college generation.”
Outstanding as he was in scholarship, his popularity among the student body attested by election to the presidency of two
societies and other University honors, Wright is best remembered by his contemporaries at Chapel Hill for his prowess in football. First a star linesman, then a tackle, he became finally captain of one of Carolina's most famous football teams. He was also captain of the track team of 1896. He was a marshal at commencement in 1896, when his cousin, Tom Wright, was chief marshal. The girl to whom he gave his regalia still has it—and her name is Mrs. Robert H. Wright.
Wright won more than his share of student honors outside of athletics. He was president of the Historical Society, a member of the Shakespeare Club, and president of the Philosophical Society.
When Dr. Edwin Anderson Alderman was inaugurated as President of the University, Robert Wright was selected to deliver the address of welcome on behalf of the students. In his contact with Alderman, Wright found a source of inspiration and a friendship that lasted through life.
Upon his graduation, he went to Stanhope, Nash County, in the fall of 1897, where he taught for one year, making a fine impression on the neighborhood.
Oak Ridge Institute then called for his services, and from 1898 to 1901 he taught mathematics and coached football at Oak Ridge. Already a familiar figure on North Carolina gridirons, Wright starred again in athletics; for at that time coaches in preparatory schools were allowed to play on the team, and Oak Ridge teams were always good. During that period at Oak Ridge he read law, and was seriously considering it as a profession.
In the fall of 1901 he went to Baltimore to pursue advanced studies at Johns Hopkins University. In June 1902, while studying there, he accepted the position of teacher of history at the Baltimore City College. In 1904 he was made head of the departments of History and Civics. He continued at the University while teaching till the fall of 1903, when he left and devoted all his time to his duties at the Baltimore City College.
Dr. Wright found his life-companion as he did his most important life-work in North Carolina. It was on December 31, 1903, that Robert Wright and Charlotte Pearl Murphy, of Tomahawk, North Carolina, were married. Four children blessed their union. All of these survived him: Mrs. Donald Cadman, formerly Pearl Wright, of Chappaqua, New York; Dr. Robert H. Wright, Jr., of Phoebus, Virginia; Mary Wright, who became Mrs. Durwood Parker, and who died in December of 1937, leaving two children; and the fourth, William. All but one of these were born in Baltimore.
All four of Dr. Wright's children attended East Carolina Teachers College at some time and two graduated from there.
Pearl was in the class of 1925, the first four-year class to enter as freshmen and go straight through the four year course. She taught in the Wilmington and Raleigh High Schools, and attended Teachers College, Columbia University, where she won her M. A. degree and was for two years a member of the staff. William Wright received his A. B. degree from East Carolina Teachers College in 1935, and taught in Goldsboro the two years following. Mary was a student at E. C. T. C. for two or more years. She was married shortly before her father died. Robert took courses in East Carolina Teachers College in the summer but graduated from the University of North Carolina, and received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
By the time the Legislature had provided for the establishment of a teachers’ training school in Eastern North Carolina, Dr. Wright had attained distinction in city school administration. His service in Baltimore was marked by steady advancement. In 1904 he was made head of the Department of History, Civics and Economics in Baltimore City College. Two years later, in 1906, he was made principal of the Eastern High School, one of Baltimore's two high schools for girls. During his three years’ service as principal, his modern methods and efficient administration won wide recognition. By 1909 he was not only one of the highest officials in the Baltimore school system, but was considered in other States as a “coming man,” in public education.
Baltimoreans liked him. He had won a distinct place in the civic and social as well as educational life of the city. He was the first president of the Maryland History Teachers’ Association. Cherishing memories of “down home”, he enjoyed foregathering with his fellow Tar Heels, and was an active member of the North Carolina Society of Baltimore. A favorite among educators, he was a member of the group that met informally to discuss teaching problems and for social intercourse, the group that afterwards became the Schoolmasters Club. He was also a member of the National Educational Association.
When, in 1909, he was tendered the presidency of the newly founded East Carolina Teachers Training School, at Greenville, many of his friends advised strongly against his leaving his work in Baltimore. They felt that he was rapidly making a name and a place for himself in the educational life of the city, and that the contemplated move would be a sacrifice, if not a mistake.
While his Baltimore friends were urging him to decline, his friends in North Carolina were urging him to accept the offer. They felt that he was peculiarly endowed and specially trained for the successful heading and guidance of the young North Carolina institution.
Love of his native State, and earnest desire to render it a real service; his conviction that training teachers was the most important task in education, and that the building up of such an institution was an opportunity and a duty that no forward-looking educator could decline, turned the tide.
Never for a moment minimizing the difficulties he knew he would encounter in building up a new institution, he visioned the possibilities of developing a real teachers’ college, built on broad and enduring lines, and the great service it could render to State and Nation. With unfailing devotion and unceasing determination, he worked steadily toward that end.
Resigning as principal of the Eastern High School, he severed his connection with the Baltimore school system, and assumed his new and broader task.
Beginning his work at Greenville in 1909, he served as president of this school, which later became East Carolina Teachers College, until his death on April 25, 1934. His sudden death, after an illness of only two days, was a shock to his family and friends. But, more than that, it was a sad loss to the people he served so well, and to public education. The whole State mourned him, and tributes came by hundreds. But he had the satisfaction of knowing, as all men knew, that he had “rendered the State some service”—a service that would not end with his passing, but would in this college continue from generation to generation to bless his native land.
During the twenty-five years of his presidency he had seen the school, of which he was the first president, grow from an institution of about 175 students to a college of a thousand.
Modest as he was able, the honors which Dr. Wright received came to him from merit, not self-seeking. His interests extended far beyond the campus and his profession. He was keenly and vitally interested in civic life, and gave freely of his time, talents and finances to further any and all movements that he felt were for the good of the community.
A record of his career in concrete terms with some interpretation by his colleagues, a few excerpts from his addresses presenting ideas that dominated his thinking, an attempt to give a slight conception of his personality, and some appraisal of his worth by his fellow-citizens, will be found in the pages that follow.
Wake Forest College in 1928 conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Education. Widely known as a progressive educator, he took an active part in national as well as State and local associations. A member of the National Educational Association and the North Carolina Educational Association, he was at one time president of the American Association of Teachers Colleges
and a member of the World's Federation of Educational Associations.
Community life enlisted his constant interest. He was a member of the Jarvis Memorial Methodist Church of Greenville, having served as a Trustee, a member of the Board of Stewards, and, for years, as teacher of the Baraca Class. He became affiliated with the Masonic Order and was a member of Pacific Lodge No. 63 in Baltimore. In Greenville he was a member of Sharon Lodge A. F. and A. M., and of Greenville Chapter No. 50, Royal Arch Masons.
When the Greenville Rotary Club was organized in 1919, he appeared on the roster as a charter member, and afterwards served as president. He was also a charter member of the Greenville Country Club. He was a Director of the Home Building and Loan Association, a member of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, and at the time of his death was President of the East Carolina Shippers Bureau.
Few men have had the diversity of interests, the desire to help in so many ways, and the willingness to give, of himself and his finances, to so many causes.
No man ever lived who was more willing, eager and ready to serve the youth of the country, his home, his friends and associates, and the community in which he lived, in any way, in any capacity, at any time, than Robert H. Wright.
BUILDING UP A GREAT INSTITUTION FOR TEACHER
Trained teachers, Wright was convinced, constituted the most vital factor in the whole educational system. In no other section were they so much needed as in the South. North Carolina had taken the lead in the movement for improvement of public schools that was sweeping over the entire country. Nowhere did educational leaders realize more keenly the necessity of providing larger means for teacher training.
Out of this movement was born the Greenville institution. In it Wright found his opportunity, a fertile field to put into practice his methods and ideals which had been maturing through the years.
In him the trustees found the type of executive they were seeking to build up the institution which the State was founding in Eastern North Carolina. He found them receptive to his ideas. There was a meeting of mind which made president and trustees one in plans and purpose. Here met the Man and the Opportunity—a fortunate combination for the institution and the State.
“Every institution,” some one has said, “is but the lengthened shadow of a man.” Many others have contributed to this one, many have shared in its upbuilding, but none has left upon it so marked and enduring an impress as has its first president.
Wright's own training and his success in stimulating the teachers who had come under his supervision had fitted him peculiarly for the task presented here.
In the spring of 1909, when he was hesitating as to whether it would be better to remain in Baltimore where he had already won high standing, was in line for promotion, and advancement seemed assured, or to accept an offer in another school system, he was discovered by a group of men who had been on a still hunt for an able, forward-looking, energetic executive qualified to head a teachers’ training institution. They were gratified to find that the man selected as best qualified was a North Carolinian born and bred, nurtured on its soil, understanding its problems. He was delighted to find not only the chance to put into practical operation his experience and well-matured methods, but to render a greatly needed service to his beloved native State.BEGINNINGS OF EAST CAROLINA TEACHERS TRAINING SCHOOL
Forming the heart of the history of any institution is the story of how it was created and how it was built up. None is more interesting than the story of how East Carolina Teachers College was founded and began its service. It would be difficult to tell in whose brain the idea originated, or to locate the exact birthplace.
But it is well known that county and city superintendents and principals in the eastern section of the State at their meetings had from time to time discussed the need for a training school that would supply the rural schools with teachers. They were familiar with the two-year normal schools in other states.
The splendid work being done by the four-year institution already existing in North Carolina having as its chief work the training of teachers was greatly appreciated by them. They claimed, however, that the rural sections, especially in the eastern part of the State, got little benefit from that as the supply of teachers was not equal to the demand. Most of its graduates were absorbed by the cities and towns which had the special charter schools. Interest in the cause went beyond the school people. The laity became interested. Leading citizens, including astute lawyers and shrewd politicians, were enlisted in the cause. As a result, a bill for the establishment of such a school in Elizabeth City was introduced in the Legislature of 1905, but failed to pass. In the two years that followed, the cause was kept alive and the agitation continued until it became a political issue involving the old east and west division of the State.
As the idea spread, one town after another began to see the benefits to be gained from having located in it such a school. William Henry Ragsdale, superintendent of the schools of Pitt county, was one of the first superintendents to become deeply interested. He was a man of strong personality, and he popularized the idea of a normal school in the eastern counties. If the legislature could be induced to establish such an institution, Mr. Ragsdale believed his own town, Greenville, could get the school located there if he could arouse the leading citizens of the town to strive for it. He knew the chief chance to do this depended upon getting the political leaders in the State to work for it, and Greenville had certain citizens who not only had political influence but were statesmen as well.
A good mixer and a good psychologist, Ragsdale knew how to talk town pride to one group, educational and professional advantages to another. Able and popular, he worked unceasingly for the cause.
Greenville's leading citizen, Ex-Governor Thomas J. Jarvis, North Carolina's “grand old man”, who was at first skeptical, was won over to the cause. Although he had been the state's greatest educational governor until the time of Aycock and during his administration had been a strong advocate of state support of the University and of the public school system, he had seen no need for special training for teachers. He had had the old idea that if a person knew a thing he could teach it. At the crucial
time, however, he came in with the promise, “If you do as I say, I'll get the school for you.”
Greenville lined up her forces and left no stone unturned in her preparation for the fight, in which other towns and leaders were joining.
While to the general public the organization in Greenville was to get the school established, its purpose ultimately was to get it established in “our Town.” Before the General Assembly of 1907 had met, a committee of eighty persons from Greenville and other sections of Pitt County had been appointed by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. This committee was thoroughly organized, with Ragsdale as general chairman and Jarvis as chairman of the steering committee. When State Senator James M. Fleming, one of the strongest supporters of the cause, went to the Capitol, in his pocket was a bill for the establishment of such a school with no mention, it seems, of its location. Fleming introduced the bill and bore the brunt of the fight that followed, especially in the Senate.
Introduced into the Senate on January 31, 1907, the bill immediately afterwards was introduced in the House, meeting with no opposition at first. Then it came before the Educational Committee, at which point strong forces began to line up against it.
Some of the opponents were fearful that a new school would weaken their own institutions or causes, or lessen their share of state appropriations. Other opponents had pet measures which they thought the new cause might obscure. Still others thought the bill might interfere with the legislation pending to extend public schools into the high school field.
Jarvis was the leader of a strong group of citizens from the eastern part of the State which appeared before the committee to plead for the school. He said:
“The bill has the distinction of being the one important measure before this session of the legislature against which not one word of opposition was uttered before the reference committee.”
Governor Glenn made a special address before both houses, uring the passage of the bill.
After a hard fight, compromises were made. A committee was appointed to draw up a substitute combining the teachers training school bill with the high school bill. This combination bill was finally passed as one act entitled: “An Act to Stimulate High School Instruction in the Public Schools of the State and Teachers Training.” It was ratified on March 8, 1907.
Fortunately for the success and growth of the training school, the items in the law regarding it were briefly, simply, and directly stated, with emphasis on the purpose. The very small amount of machinery attached to it was dependent on the needs and demands
of the public schools. Its purpose was “a teachers’ training school for young white men and women.” Its object was “to give young men and women such an education and training as shall fit and qualify them for teaching in the public schools of North Carolina.”
Upon the Board of Trustees was placed the responsibility of working out details, the act merely specifying that “in prescribing the course of study of said school”, they “shall lay special emphasis on those subjects taught in the public schools of the State, and in the art and science of teaching.”
The small appropriation shows plainly that if the school were to be anything more than a small, local affair, it would have to get the means elsewhere, not from the State. Only $15,000 was appropriated originally for the purpose of “erecting and equipping the buildings” and the “sum of $5,000 annually for the purpose of maintaining said school,” the latter amount to be paid out of the joint appropriation of $50,000 for the high schools and teachers’ training school.
Whether the school should be large or small, therefore, depended upon the amount given by the community in which it was to be located. The conditions for the location follow:
“That the said town or county in which said school is located shall contribute the sum of not less than $25,000 toward the construction and equipment of said buildings, and the title of said property shall be in the name of and be held by the State Board of Education.”
The section of the Act which needed immediate attention was the part on location, directing “that said school shall be located by the State Board of Education at such a point in Eastern North Carolina as they may deem proper, and shall be located in or near that town offering the largest financial aid, having due regard to desirability and suitability for the location of said school.”
The State Board of Education set to work promptly. The notice stating the conditions for the bid, and the date for the decision, was published in the newspapers of the State on March 22. Eight towns entered into competition for the location of the school, met all the conditions, and stayed in until the decision was made.
The towns were given hearings and presented their claims. The members of the Board visited each town, were received with ceremony and had all the advantages of the town pointed out to them. Each town hoped it would win when due regard had been given to “desirability and suitability,” and, it is true, that each town had some advantage peculiar to itself.
Rivalry was intensified by postponement of the decision so that towns which wished to revise their bids could re-submit
them in written form. One town, Greenville, had centered its attention on one point, “the largest financial aid”.
The permit issued to the contesting towns for a bond election to raise the sum pledged by them for establishment of the school specified that such election could be held before or after the decision as to location was made by the Board.
Greenville held its bond election before, instead of afterwards.
Jarvis, who was still chairman of Greenville's steering committee and who had promised to get the school for Greenville if given a free hand, had called together the same committee that had worked for the bill and had convinced its members that the town giving the largest financial aid would naturally be considered the most desirable. The committee organized a campaign reaching every person in the county by using the schoolhouses as meeting centers. This was the first time found on record that the school houses had been used as community centers in that section of the State.
Furthermore, Jarvis convinced his fellow committeemen that the town presenting legal assurance of the sum it offered for the establishment of the school would win out over those which brought only promises. His co-workers were amazed when they heard him propose the sum of $100,000, half to be paid by the town of Greenville and half by Pitt County. But he made an eloquent appeal that had in it prophecies as to the returns the town and county would get for their investment.
The committee voted for the plans suggested and later, at the polls, so did the citizens of both town and county. In the election, the town voted almost 100 percent for it and the county gave it a large majority. Financial support had thus been assured before Greenville presented her bid. With this advantage over the towns basing their bids on promises, Greenville won. Jarvis lived to see his prophecies fulfilled and the leaders who were alive in 1937, when the bonds were retired, at the end of the thirty years, could testify to the value of the investment to the community.
The exact site within the town was the next question to be decided. That there should be no dissension to create local factions it was agreed that no preference should be shown by the local committee for any site, but that all eight offered should be submitted to the Board of Education. Consideration was given to four, and the decision finally fell upon the one now occupied by the institution.
The State Board of Education, in the meantime, had appointed the nine members of the Board of Trustees of the school which finally was named East Carolina Teachers Training School, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction making the tenth. These trustees had power to “acquire and hold property, manage
and conduct said school”. With the “Training School” chartered and the location selected, the institution was turned over to the newly appointed Board with instructions, as soon as possible after organization, “to proceed to build and equip the necessary buildings”, “make rules and regulations,” and “do all other things necessary to the carrying out of the Act” establishing the school.
The Board of Trustees met and organized on December 31, 1907. James Y. Joyner, by virtue of his position, was the chairman. He and two other members, Jarvis and Yancey T. Ormond, formed the executive committee. These two had been among the leaders in the fight for the school. Ex-Governor Jarvis, the local member who could keep in constant touch with the plans, was the chairman. Ormond, who had as State Senator fought valiantly for the cause, serving as a member of the sub-committee that prepared the substitute bill which finally became part of the act that was executed into law, was within easy reach.
To this committee were assigned the duties of a building committee. It acquired the site of 47½ acres on the eastern outskirts of Greenville, the one selected by the Board of Education, and immediately went to work in earnest, conducting a competition among architects for the plans for plotting the campus and for buildings. After selection of the plans and the architect, bids from contractors were considered and the contract for the buildings was awarded.
Ground was broken on July 2, 1908 by Jarvis—a momentous occasion. He removed the first shovelful of dirt from the site of the first building to be started, at the northeast corner of the East Dormitory, later known as Jarvis Hall.
The group assembled for the ceremony was made up largely of men and women who had worked hard to obtain the school for the town. The Greenville Reflector the next day gives the following report of Jarvis’ address:
“We have met here to begin the foundation for a great institution of learning that will be a power in Eastern North Carolina. I ask for you and those to come after you your hearty support of this institution. We can never begin to calculate the value it will be to North Carolina, especially to this eastern section, and more especially to Pitt County and Greenville.
“When these standing here live to be as old as I am, you will look back with pride to the day when Pitt County and Greenville gave $50,000 each for the erection of this great institution. One year from now you will see beautiful buildings, and in September 1909 this great school will open. You will live to see four or five hundred beautiful girls in these buildings. Watch and see the prediction come true.”
The sun was hurling hot shafts down upon the heads of those who had assembled and just here Mrs. Jarvis interrupted:
“Dear, you have worked enough now. It is too warm to do more.”
“This is a work of love and not labor,” replied the “Grand Old Man” to the admonition of his wife. He had been digging all the time he was talking, not seeming to realize how oppressively warm the weather was, nor to heed the drops of perspiration falling from his face.
The ladies and gentlemen present then formed a semicircle about T. J. Jarvis as he stood with shovel in hand and photographer R. T. Evans took a picture of the group.
The shovel he used, the account goes on to say, was to be painted silver color, mounted, and kept as a memento of the occasion. The historic shovel which has appeared on anniversaries of the occasion, however, is a plain shovel, not thus ornamented.
On the third anniversary of this beginning those who had been present must have enjoyed the contrast between the two scenes and ex-Gov. Jarvis must have viewed with satisfaction the large audience, including more than three hundred students, that had gathered in the auditorium to hear an address by His Excellency, Governor W. W. Kitchin. Less than a month before, many in the audience had been present when diplomas had been presented to the first class to graduate and had heard Josephus Daniels, later Secretary of the Navy, then editor of the News and Observer, deliver the address. In the three years most of the prophecies had come true, a great deal had been done, “much water had passed under the bridge.”
The building begun in 1908 had gone up rapidly. Never had Jarvis given closer attention to matters of state or private business than he gave to the affairs of the school. He made daily visits to the campus, following the erection of the buildings, watching every detail. His interest never flagged. Ormond came over from Kinston and Joyner from Raleigh whenever decisions were to be made about matters of importance. Full records were kept and reports made of plans and progress, together with itemized statements as to expenditures until the smallest articles of equipment were in place, even to the garbage pails and waste baskets. The plant that was ready for the opening of the school was composed of six buildings: a large dormitory for girls, later known as Wilson Hall, which was completed according to the plans of the architects; a boy's dormitory, later named Jarvis Hall, the first unit of which was completed; an administration building, now Austin Building, containing the auditorium, offices, and classrooms, the plans of which called for wings to be added
later; the dining hall, designated on the plans as the “refectory”; the infirmary; and power house and laundry combined in one building. The last two had been built from an additional appropriation from the Legislature of 1909.
In excavating, quicksand was discovered under one corner of the main building and a natural spring of water under the “refectory”. Piling had to be used to correct the former and tiling pipes to drain the latter.
Selecting the president, finding the right man to recommend to the Board of Trustees, was another task delegated to the Executive Committee, and to this they gave the best that was in them, realizing this was a matter of far greater importance than those that came within their function as building committee. They kept their council; only one record is on the minutes between the date when the task was assigned them, December 31, 1908, and the election, June 11, 1909; They “reported progress” on April 16, 1909, but much is implied in the word “progress.”
Qualifications were set up, in the minds of the members of the committee, at least. Although the list cannot be found, reference to it was frequently heard later. It was clear that they considered this a job that must find the man rather than one to be sought by men. The requirements fell roughly under the three heads of background, education and experience. A native of the state was preferable to one from outside because they thought his knowledge of the people and their needs and of conditions would give him greater depth of understanding. If he had taught or studied elsewhere, that would be all the better as he would bring in new ideas. Consideration would be given, they must have said, only to a graduate of a high class college or university and his study should have included special work in what was then a new field, that of Education. Successful experience, either within or outside of the State, in teaching, supervision and school administration were necessary. Few could meet these qualifications at that time, therefore most of the aspirants were automatically eliminated. The limitations made the task more definite, but required more time and a wider search.
Records alone could not satisfy Jarvis. He pursued what might be called a “listening campaign,” getting opinions and estimates from others. Even reputation added to records was still not sufficient. Jarvis was a judge of men and must have his own first-hand judgment, his own impressions of the character and personality of the man himself; furthermore, he wished to sound out his man on his ideas and ideals, and his attitude toward this school in particular.
Several men approached measured up to the standard set, but were either interested elsewhere or believed the institution would
never be more than a small local school. They did not see it as an opportunity.
It is known that the attention of Jarvis had been called to “a young North Carolinian who had made a reputation in Baltimore” and that he had been making inquiries about Wright. No letters have been found except one from Wright in reply to one he had received in which he was given a tip that, if he were interested, he might be able to get the position; he frankly said that he might consider it if it were offered him, but that he would not seek the place.
The first definite step taken seems to have been when Jarvis put in a long distance telephone call for Baltimore and requested Wright to meet him in Norfolk for a conference. This was just before the date set for the election of the president. Exactly what passed between the two men at that conference is not known, but it must have been highly satisfactory to both. Jarvis requested Wright to return to Greenville with him so as to be on hand for the meeting of the Board of Trustees the next day in case they should want to call him in for conference. Jarvis had definitely made up his mind that the executive committee would recommend this young man.
The minutes of that meeting on June 11, 1909 have no record of what passed or of any discussion following the recommendation of the executive committee. The words, “unanimously elected,” show the result, but some time elapsed before one of their number, a college mate of Wright's, J. O. Carr, was instructed to “usher Mr. Wright in for conference.” Although the official announcement of his election and his acceptance did not come until later, the whole situation was presented on one hand and the terms of acceptance on the other, questions asked and answered, and a mutual agreement virtually reached. The salary of the president was set at $2,500 with living quarters furnished in an apartment in the boys’ dormitory, over which he was to have supervision. Water, lights, heat and traveling expenses when used in the interest of the school were included. Plans also were considered as to what was to be done in order to have the school in readiness for the opening in the early fall.
This conference between Wright and Jarvis in Norfolk on the eve of the election of the president is a most significant point in the history of East Carolina Teachers College. It was there that Jarvis met the man for whom he was searching and Wright found the way open for the work he was best fitted to do. The future of the school and Wright's place in the educational world were both secure. Providence was kind in giving the man a quarter of a century in which to do his work, and in giving him a Board of Trustees that let him have a “free hand,” the one condition that
mattered to him when the position was proffered. Jarvis and the other members of the executive committee never had cause to regret their choice. Time and later events proved to the Board that their decision to accept the recommendation of the committee to place the school in the hands of Robert H. Wright was far wiser than any of them at the time could have realized. As rosy as the prospect had been to them, his dreams and his visions went far beyond theirs and he knew how to give them substance.
The right man had been found and the opportunity had come to Robert H. Wright to return to his native State to build the big teacher training institution that later became East Carolina Teachers College.JARVIS, JOYNER, ORMOND STRONG EXECUTIVE ADVISERS
While the leadership passed into the hands of the president, he did not allow those who had been leaders thus far, the members of his executive committee, to withdraw, but looked to them as advisers, counselors, and guides. Especially close was the relationship between Jarvis and Wright. These two joined together in one of those rare partnerships in which ideals, faith, and purpose become blended. Until Jarvis died six years later, hardly a day passed that the two did not meet and discuss school problems. If Jarvis did not pay his usual daily visit to the school, Wright would go to his home. They did not always think alike, opinions differed, each would take a staunch stand for a matter of vital importance to him, but they respected each other's rights and ideas. The ripened wisdom of the one and his statesmanship, seasoned by his years in public life, helped steady the political inexperience of the other, who, in turn, by his advanced ideas of educational processes, and his faith in these, kept the older man looking towards the future with new life and interest.
In a manuscript on “Governor Thomas Jordan Jarvis’ Contribution to Education,” Wright says: “I was fortunate in being intimately associated with him. He was the most dependable counselor I have ever had. I would not classify Governor Jarvis as a profound scholar, but he was the wisest man I have ever known. In his young manhood he taught school, but he did not know pedagogy . . . . He was, as thousands of men are today, of the opinion that if a person knew a thing he could teach it.
“He believed in placing responsibility on people and leaving the official unhampered in the administration of duties . . . . He was always willing to yield his preconceived ideas to those better informed than he.”
Wright gives one instance illustrating Jarvis’ fairness in yielding to the judgment of others on a point on which he did not
agree. When President Wright and Dr. Joyner were urging the necessity of building a practice school, or training school, and wished to have the executive committee make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees, they went to Governor Jarvis’ home to talk over the advisability of the immediate building of the school. Jarvis did not advocate the building of such a school, he did not see any reason for such a school in connection with a normal school, in fact, did not see that such a school was ever needed. After the discussion had lasted for more than an hour, Dr. Joyner began to walk the floor and make a speech in favor of such a building as a necessary part of the school. Then Jarvis finally said, “Sit down, Jim, I am not convinced but you and Wright are so determined that I am going to recommend that the school be built.” He yielded to what he considered their superior knowledge of professional matters. Wright goes on to say that in that particular matter Jarvis later saw the wisdom of his decision and was glad he had yielded.
“I could go on almost indefinitely,” Wright said, “giving incident after incident showing he had a fine concept of the nicer points in the administration and government of an institution.”
While Wright and Jarvis were more closely and constantly associated, the other two members of the executive committee were called in for conference whenever it came to important decisions and recommendations and they had no less influence and power than its chairman. The committee, although it took action only on matters that were delegated to it by the board of trustees, initiated many things. There could not have been a more fortunate combination of men than that forming the first executive committee, three men representing the best types of leadership in the state at that time, whose personalities and experiences supplemented each other. All made contributions of inestimable value in getting the new school well started in the right direction. They were all diplomatic, tactful leaders, not crusaders, and this quality of tact enabled them to work together harmoniously.
Dr. Joyner served on the Board of Trustees for sixteen years, as chairman for the twelve years from its organization in 1907 until his resignation as Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1919, and as an appointed member from 1921-1925. He knew North Carolina public schools and their needs better, perhaps, than any other man of his day, and could judge whether or not the plans and suggestions made by his fellow committee members would function in its task of training teachers for these schools. His test was the same as that frequently applied by Wright: “Will it work?” In his position he had to keep the broad outlook that made him see the school in its relationship not only to the
public schools but to other state educational institutions. As a result, he saw it as part of the whole.
Yancey T. Ormond, a strong member of the bar of eastern North Carolina, one of the leaders in the Senate in the fight for the school, was, doubtless because of his reputation for fairmindedness, made chairman of the joint committee that drew up the substitute bill that was finally passed. When his town failed to get the location of the school, that did not affect his loyalty to the cause; he could work as well for it in the rival town. If it had gone to Kinston he would probably have been the adviser closest to its president. He was a staunch supporter of Governor Jarvis. He served on the executive committee until his death, in 1922, working untiringly for the interests of the school, throughout fifteen years of his service.
The three men were warm friends, knew each other well and had either worked together for other causes or had been worthy foes. The young president who had not had their experience in coming before legislative committees and in diplomatic relationships wisely profited by their experience, either leaving such matters largely to his advisors or taking lessons from them. He knew that his part was to do his best in building up the school, but he clearly defined the powers that were his, both those that naturally belong to the president and those especially delegated to him. He realized that it was his function to make recommendations to the executive committee, which they, after careful consideration, presented to the Board of Trustees and that only the Board had power to act on many matters of importance. He was not one who wished to usurp the powers of others and always considered it his duty to execute the orders of the Board, if there were orders, and attempted to execute them wisely.
The mutual confidence of President Wright and his Board from the very first was undoubtedly due to the complete understanding between him and the executive committee and to the long period in which these worked together. There was time for achievement, for accomplishing results that could not have been gained quickly.
It is the president, after all, who is held responsible for the success or failure of an educational institution. His is the praise and his the blame, and President Wright found he was no exception. He had his share of both, from the beginning, but he was generous in sharing the praise with his co-workers and supporters, giving credit to the Board or Trustees and to his staff, and did not shirk taking the blame on his own shoulders.
WELL-EQUIPPED FOR HIS LIFE WORK
When Wright entered upon his task as president, he was young enough to have enthusiasms, visions, and dreams, but old enough to know that these must be turned into realities in order to amount to anything. His whole career thus far had proved this. All of his earlier life, especially his professional experience, now can clearly be seen as preparation for his culminating career.
MRS. BETTIE VAIDEN WRIGHT, MOTHER OF ROBERT H. WRIGHT
Nature did her part in giving him the endowment it takes to make a “born teacher.” Inheritance must have had something to do with it, as his mother was ranked as one of the best teachers of her time. The very texture of his mind was such that he seemed to sense the teacher quality in others even when quite young, for as a boy he responded to good teaching, remembering with gratitude those instructors whom he intuitively recognized as “good teachers”, and this seemed to be the highest praise he could give them.
As a boy teacher he must have been as much learner as teacher. While he found his calling early, he soon realized that he could not go far in it without college, and later without more advanced study and preparation.
Easy success never satisfied him. It matters little whether one calls it dreams or ambition, as he advanced he saw other objectives ahead. At the same time he had a decidedly practical side. He knew what he wanted and had ideas of how to go about getting it.
When Wright reached college this definiteness stood him in good stead, as there seems to have been no lost motion in his university life. In his selection of studies and activities he was guided by what experience had taught him he needed and could use to the best advantage. It was too early for departmental education, but he took all the courses he could find that he thought would help him in learning how to teach.
“Having studied the science of education, theory and practice, under Dr. Alderman, I feel that I am equipped for the duties of teaching,” he announced in the prospectus sent out soliciting students for his first school after earning his degree, the Stanhope High School. The University authorities recommended him as an experienced teacher, thus time was gained by the delayed entrance to college, as he had passed through the trial and error period of the inexperienced teacher. In this same prospectus sent out to the patrons of the Stanhope High School is found his promise to use “the most advanced methods.”
The entrance into the profession as a trained instructor began with this first position after leaving the University. Stanhope High School, which had been an academy until shortly before, was a most propitious place for beginning his serious career. In the prospectus he presents what must be the first formal written declaration of what might be called some of his educational articles of faith. The aim of education, he states, is “to make the best men and women possible.” “The hope of the country”, he goes on to say, “depends upon the education of its youth.” Then comes the paragraph that shows he is heading towards his later work:
“The man who can think does the most in this world, and the teacher who fails to help men and women think is a failure; therefore, we shall strive to develop the mind so its owner can use it in all his daily life; i.e., our course will be based upon the Natural Method of teaching. This requires that the child be placed in the most favorable environment possible, and that his mind be highly stimulated. In order to accomplish this we must have well-trained teachers, therefore we are very careful in the selection of our assistants.”
Forty years later one of these assistants, still living near the site of the Stanhope school, put the stamp of approval upon the “tall, earnest, black-haired young man.” She remembered him well and she rendered the verdict he would have liked most: “He was a good teacher.”
The two years at Oak Ridge, with their freedom from the responsibility for the teaching of others, gave the young man time to try out his theories on himself and in the meantime to gain experience in the personal supervision of students both in the dormitories and on the athletic field. It is a coincidence that the Greenville Reflector, eleven years before he came to town, printed the news of his election to an instructorship at Oak Ridge.
One of his co-workers at Oak Ridge, later the head of the school, said twenty years afterwards, “Wright was a man's man and should have spent his life teaching boys.” While this implies that the speaker thought his talents were wasted teaching teachers, most of whom were women, it is a testimonial of his success.
But Wright's work was not to be confined to one classroom. The ambitious young man was not satisfied with a college degree or a minor place. He wanted to do graduate study, so he left the State for Baltimore to enter Johns Hopkins University.
Before the end of his first year he was called to fill a substitute place in City College, one of the two high schools for boys in Baltimore; the next year he was appointed permanent teacher. Two years later he was made head of his department.
From this time on his interest in the improvement of the teaching staff grows until it becomes all-absorbing. In 1906 when the Eastern High School, one of the two schools in the city for girls, was to be moved into a new building on a new site, “it needed as principal one of the strongest young men in the system to give it a new outlook,” according to records found. Wright was chosen. The following notes were gleaned from records of the school and from the comments of his co-workers:
“Mr. Wright was the energetic, capable, idealistic young man chosen to be principal of this new school, the finest in Baltimore at that time.” “He worked hard with the faculty for the good of the student body,” and had “many plans for better work, higher ideals, more student activities”; he “conducted a class in Psychology for teachers after school”; “He suggested that it would be a good thing for such members of the faculty as have time for pedagogical study and reading to work together, as better results come from systematic effort.”
Getting teachers already in service interested in professional study, he discovered in the first year of his principalship was the secret of keeping them up to par. It is an indication that the
principal's idea of administration included that of supervision over his teachers and responsibility for the quality of their teaching.
The suggestion was made the next fall that it “would be well for all to take up some outside work,” and the leader would be “glad to take up again and carry forward the work of the Psychology class begun the year before” and would “welcome new members.” In connection with the History Teachers Association, he was conducting evening classes in civics for the city teachers.
Administrative policies inaugurated during those two years were followed for many years afterwards. “An able executive,”
ROBERT H. WRIGHT AT THE AGE OF 22 AND AT 60
was the verdict of his peers, and he would in all likelihood have reached a high place in public school administration, either in that city or in some other, if he had chosen to remain in that field. His rapid rise from classroom to principalship is an indication that he would undoubtedly have risen higher still.
Little time was left from teaching, Wright found, to give to researches that would lead to the doctor's degree at Johns Hopkins, although he continued for awhile to carry on his studies at the same time. Teachers College, Columbia University, in the meantime, had become the Mecca for teachers, especially those in
administration, so Mr. Wright went there the first summer term after he became principal of Eastern High School.
The experiences at Teachers College must have had great influence over his decision two years later. It must have been a great satisfaction to him to find he was in the vanguard and his ambition must have been greatly stimulated. He at least had had a chance to test his ideas and time for trying out new theories before he accepted the position that placed him at the head of the school devoted to teacher training.
Twenty-one years passed between the time the eighteen-year-old boy taught his first, one-teacher country school and the time he returned to North Carolina to head the institution to which he was to give the remaining twenty-five years of life.
The span of his educational career was forty-six years. This service he rendered not only in teaching in the public schools in three states and in supplying them with teachers trained from his institution, but through educational organizations, state and national, serving in office, on committees, and in the ranks; through civic, fraternal and religious organizations, shaping educational policies and planning campaigns sponsored by these; by speaking to audiences of school people gathered at their meetings and to those composed of people whom the schools served. His theme was always the same: “The trained teacher”; but the variations in the relationships he saw made the subject ever new.
Robert Wright gave his life to the cause of better teaching with as utter devotion as the monks of the Middle Ages gave theirs to holy living, and this cause was as holy to him as theirs was to them. But his way led him into the world instead of away from it.TASKS THE NEW PRESIDENT FACED WHEN HE TOOK CHARGE
When he arrived at Greenville and took charge in 1909, President Wright saw at once that he must concentrate on essential matters to be ready for the opening on the date set, October 5th. Accepting things as he found them, he analyzed the situation, took stock of what had been done and what needed to be done, determined upon the matters of first importance and set himself to the tasks. Assured that those who had built the plant thus far would carry it to completion, he dismissed that from his mind.
Matters of major importance calling for immediate attention were these: assembling a staff of the faculty and administrative officers; building up courses of study and curricula that would carry out the purposes of the school, a cooperative task between the faculty and the president; and the attraction of a student body to be composed only of prospective teachers.
Realizing that the time was short, the Trustees had already begun to work on some of these problems and aided the president
in every way possible. Plans were immediately set in motion to reach the young men and women for whom the school was founded. Presenting clearly and unmistakably its purposes and the advantages which it offered both for those who wished to become teachers and for those already teaching who wished further training, it was made equally clear that only those intending to teach were wanted. How to reach these and these only was the problem.
Claude W. Wilson, who had been secretary of the original Board, was elected business manager and part time teacher of Education at the same meeting when the president was elected. A popular superintendent, he had been a strong supporter of the cause from its earlier stages, and knew well the people in Eastern North Carolina who would be benefited by the school.
The Board of Trustees directed the president and business manager to prepare and issue a prospectus presenting the facts about the school and its advantages. W. H. Ragsdale was added to the staff in the double capacity of field representative and part-time member of the faculty to deliver lectures on supervision and administration. The president, business manager and field representative were directed to attend county teachers’ institutes, to accept invitations to assist in these institutes and to appear on their programs.
Superintendents, principals, and teachers who had been looking forward to the establishment of this institution as the means of helping the public schools in eastern North Carolina, were in the best position to know what girls and boys wished to become teachers and were capable of being trained for teachers. Many teachers in service would almost certainly wish to avail themselves of the opportunity to get further training. Beyond this there was little publicity. The usual campaign which boarding schools waged to “drum up” students was out of the question, precluded by the very nature of this school. Designed for teachers, its claims were presented directly to those concerned, without waste of time or effort.
The agitation about this school for two or three years when the fight was made for its establishment and when several towns were making their spirited bids for its location had attracted wide attention. When ground was broken and construction of buildings actually started, that was news published all over the State. But for a year or more it had practically dropped out of the news columns. Everything that could be said about the school, it appeared, had been printed or related. Things were in suspense, from a public standpoint, everybody waiting to see if the fair promises would be fulfilled.
Public interest and enthusiasm had to be revived and turned to practical ends—not an easy task. Much of the work of reaching the public could be left to the president's two aides. One of these had been a leader in the campaign for the school's establishment, the chief spokesman for the school men; the other, a school man also, had been a member of the first Board of Trustees, familiar with everything about the institution. Both men were popular. Ragsdale was on home ground, using the same tactful methods he had used in popularizing the cause, now strengthened by the fact that the long-talked-of hopes of superintendents, principals, teachers and prospective teachers could at last be realized. Wilson also knew the field but all looked to the new president for leadership and direction. He must set the course.
Once started, the school, they were convinced, would meet with such success that it would “sell itself.” Pressure should not be brought to bear on groups or individuals. Artificial means would not be resorted to in attracting students. Nothing would be used as inducement except showing what the school had to offer. That was their policy, and their faith was justified by the results.
Students came, the number small in comparison with the enrollment in later years, but satisfactory then—and they have been coming ever since. They were at the very doors waiting to be admitted, crowding the carpenters, coming in when the shavings were swept out. There were 123 on the first day, “104 females and 19 males,” as the record quaintly reported. Enrollments for the first term reached 153, and the total for the first scholastic year of three terms was 174. In the summer, 330 were enrolled, most of them teachers who came straight from their classrooms and returned to them in the fall with new ideas and fresh inspiration. Dormitories were filled and practically all available rooms in the town were occupied. Only forty-two who attended during the regular terms returned for the summer school, so there were 462 different names on the roll the first full year of four-terms. The wildest hopes and most extravagant promises as to numbers were fulfilled, as the highest marks originally set for the ultimate enrollment, first 300, then 500, were passed the very first year.
Rural communities, it was anticipated, would furnish the large majority of students and receive the chief benefit. In the early years especially this proved true, as the statement has been found that 85 percent of the students the first year were from rural sections. The proportion was in about the same percentage as that of the urban and rural population. No comprehensive study has been made in late years.
In a very short time there were 62 counties in the catalogue and in the last years averaged each year about 75, with enough
variation to include practically all hundred in any period covering a few years.
Those who had argued that the school would be largely local proved to be false prophets. In the first year the students came from 37 counties and four other states. While Pitt County naturally took the lead, and has always kept it, neighboring counties frequently have not ranked next in numbers and some counties at a distance have been strongly represented.FACULTY STABILITY AN IMPORTANT FACTOR
The Board of Trustees had begun assembling the faculty by electing three full time teachers at the same time they elected the president; they evidently had in mind the same general qualifications for guiding them in their choice. All were natives of the state, graduates of colleges of high standing, all had had professional training in institutions that specialized in teacher training, and had had graduate work in universities. The three fundamental subjects, English, Mathematics, and History, took care of what later became three departments. Two whom they had selected to do part time teaching were in the Education department, which was naturally to become the largest and most important department in the school.
The personnel of the first faculty is worthy of special attention because of its influence on the school for the first decade, especially. Of the thirteen on the charter staff, ten were still with the school in its thirteenth year; three others remained who were added to the staff before the first year ended. These brought the number from the first year faculty still here in the thirteenth year up to thirteen, a lucky number if permanency is a test. Five of that first faculty were working side by side with Dr. Wright until his death nearly twenty-five years later. It is significant that every department with which the school started was represented in the number remaining in that thirteenth year, the first year the institution began to function as a college. Teachers were added as departments expanded but there was seldom complete reorganization at any one time in any department. There was more evolution than revolution.
Joining with Wilson and Ragsdale in organizing the department of Education was a man whose experience in a teacher training school in another state made him an invaluable member of the staff, one whom President Wright had known and the first one chosen by him. Mr. Wilson, having turned the business management over to a treasurer two years later, took charge of the department. Mr. Austin was then free to devote his time to the Science department, from which later branched the geography department, with which he continued until his death in 1929.
CHARTER MEMBERS OF THE FACULTY, 1909
Beginning at top row: KATE W. LEWIS, Art; W. H. RAGSDALE, Education;
BIRDIE MCKINNEY, Latin; SALLIE JOYNER DAVIS, History; MARIA D. GRAHAM,
Mathematics; MAMIE E. JENKINS, English; C. W. WILSON, Education; MRS.
JENNIE M. OGDEN, Home Economics; FANNIE BISHOP, Piano; HERBERT E.
AUSTIN, Science; ROBERT H. WRIGHT, President.]
“Primary methods”, affiliated with the Education department, which was introduced the first summer, combined with supervision, or critic teaching, the second year, one teacher doing both. Twenty-five years later there were nineteen “critic” teachers.
Public School Art was considered of special importance because few of the teachers had any training for it although it was on the required list of subjects. This was one of the original departments whose influence in the State has been immeasurable. The teacher continued to supervise the art work in the Greenville City Schools, giving half time until the “Training School” demanded full time.
MEMBERS OF FIRST FACULTY STILL WITH SCHOOL IN 1934
SALLIE JOYNER DAVIS, MAMIE E. JENKINS, ROBERT H. WRIGHT, KATE W.
LEWIS, MARIA D. GRAHAM, LEON R. MEADOWS.]
Public School Music was added the first summer. The school was greatly influential in getting this subject introduced into the public schools, and the teacher, a former supervisor in the Baltimore schools, did much to popularize it in the fifteen years she remained on the faculty.
Peabody Conservatory furnished the first piano teacher, and most of her successors in the years to follow. More than one piano instructor was needed that first year to take care of the students, so another was added at the end of the first month.
Latin, another subject taught by a charter member of the faculty, was discontinued for a short time after the high school courses had been dropped, but, combined with other languages
forming the language department, was restored after the institution became a college. Home Economics was introduced at the winter term of the first year, with the teacher acting as dietitian also for the first few years.
Leon R. Meadows, who joined the staff before the end of the first year, coming in the summer term as teacher of English, twenty-four years later became president of East Carolina Teachers College.
Charter members of the staff, strictly speaking, are those who were present at the opening, the president, the nine members of the faculty, and the lady principal, in charge of the home life of the students, a physician who made regular visits supervising the health of the students, and the president's secretary.
Thirteen was the total, but the number did not remain long fixed. Those added at any time during the first year, including the fourth term, the “summer school,” who became permanent members of the staff, formed the “first faculty”, or “first staff-members” frequently referred to in later years. In addition to the two teachers mentioned above was a “custodian of records”, whose duties were those of the registrar, and who was installed by the second opening, and she, too, has served continuously ever since.
Henry Page, in a visit to East Carolina in its mid-years, said that he discovered the secret of its phenomenal success when he found that it had the same president and a large proportion of the same teachers that started the institution still working together. They had been able to do constructive work, with no upheavals, no tearing down and starting again, no changing of purpose and objectives. This stability undoubtedly had its influence.
Dr. Wright at the opening of the twentieth year expressed his appreciation by saying: “It is the spirit of that group that has given the spirit to this institution that has permeated the student body, and it is this spirit that has done the great work.” This “Oneness of purpose” had characterized the faculty from first to last, although it had grown to nearly sixfold the size in twenty years. The secret of this was the power its president had of holding them to the one purpose for which the school was established.PURPOSES AND AIMS CARRIED OUT IN COURSES OF STUDY
“The purpose of the school hasn't changed,” President Wright said in a talk to the student-body on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the opening of the school, “but the institution has time and again, to meet changing needs. The objective is the same, but the means of obtaining that objective have changed.”
“Never for a moment has this institution deviated from its purpose,” he truthfully said, for he held tenaciously to the purpose throughout his entire administration. The very wording of this purpose has never been changed since the first bill was passed chartering the school: “for the purpose of giving young white men and women such education and training as shall fit and qualify them to teach in the public schools of North Carolina.”
Room for growth, he saw in the beginning, depended upon the qualifications and fitness the public schools demanded of the teachers. It was imperative, he believed, that East Carolina should meet these demands.
The section of the law that gave him authority to say what should be given in the way of “education and training” to “fit and qualify” them for teaching also remained unchanged. This is as follows:
“The Board of Trustees shall have the power to prescribe the course of study and shall lay special emphasis on those subjects taught in the public schools of the State and on the science and art of teaching.”
This power was entrusted to the president and it is through his interpretation of this that he has been able to meet the changing needs of the public schools which have been responsible for the changes in the institution.
Sure of his purpose, President Wright attacked his problems by a method that he might have called his “job analysis.” He clarified the aims, itemized the fields of knowledge that covered the subjects and that would be required of those who would learn the science of teaching, and gave what he considered was needed for acquiring the art of teaching. Under the general title of “Aim” he has sub-divisions, each of which is in actuality an aim, which have been the basis of all courses of study and curricula ever offered by the school. These have been as unchangeable as the purpose of the school and as enduring. This list has been published in every catalogue ever issued by the school, with no change in meaning and with only slight change in phrasing. The number was at first six, but one of these was divided, making a seventh. This is as follows:
“The aim of the College is to teach its students not only subject-matter but also the processes by which the learning mind functions. Its purpose is to give the students:
“1. Such knowledge of the studies taught in the public schools as a teacher must have in order to teach them properly.
“2. A knowledge of other studies that are related to the branches taught in the public schools.
“3. A knowledge of the mental and physical powers of the child and their methods of development.
“4. A knowledge of the principles of education and methods of teaching.
“5. The practical application of these principles in the actual work of the schoolroom by practice teaching.
“6. A knowledge of the methods of organizing and managing schools.
“7. A knowledge of the school law of the State.
“In brief, this institution aims to prepare teachers, both theoretically and practically, for teaching in the public schools of North Carolina.”
To translate these aims into definite units of work, courses of study, and workable schedules was the task of that first faculty; to make the changes and adjustments needed to keep up with changing standards has been the task of the faculty ever since.
Building up of the courses of study and the curricula has been the most important work of the institution for through these has it done its real work. The soundness of the principles upon which they were based can best be judged by results. The function of a teachers college, President Wright believed, was to train its students to be efficient teachers in practice, to know how to use their subject-matter and how to apply theory and principle in their actual classroom procedure.
“He had a clear sense of the function of a teachers’ college and knew what it should do,” said a member of his first faculty who for many years served on every course-of-study committee. “He knew the basic elements in such a curriculum, and to that was perhaps due the early recognition the school received from Teachers College, Columbia University. The term of ‘professionalized subject-matter’ was rich in meaning to him, as he saw clearly the difference between review of subject-matter and the use of old materials with new purposes, and the distinction between devices and principles.”
A “course-of-study committee” revised the courses every two years, making a report to the faculty, for action, until the faculty became so large that this method became unwieldy. Then, the smaller group composed of the “directors of instruction,” a title he liked better than “heads of departments,” took the place of the faculty. The president was a member of every committee for this purpose, not merely ex-officio, but as an active participant. Feeling free to enter into discussion of problems, he asked questions to provoke discussion, to lead to a point he wished to have brought out, or to show up weaknesses or strength in some plan, but always holding the group to the major purpose and objectives. The faculty, when the report was presented to them
as a committee of the whole, was invited to “tear it to pieces,” and each one was given the privilege of giving his own views. In the formative years this method was valuable as it resulted in welding the ideas of all into one whole and tended to strengthen the feeling of unity that was so desirable. Each one kept informed about the work of others and saw his own as part of the whole. It was stimulating and inspiring, in spite of occasional long meetings when tedious details or differences of opinion caused weariness of the flesh, but this was soon forgotten.
President Wright's ideas of the basic plans, or matters of major importance that affected the whole, usually dominated, but all felt this was right, that he should keep the control in his hands. After the basic plans were made, the committee was concerned largely with adjustments, the dropping of courses for which the need had passed, the addition of others, or the expansion of still others, the changes always marking progress. Here, as elsewhere, there were easy, logical transitions rather than radical changes.
Difficulties were greatest in the early period when the foundations were being laid. Never afterwards was more serious attention given to the task. Prescribing a course of study in accordance with the instructions in the charter seemed simple enough. The subjects taught in the public schools, fourteen in number, were listed, as any one applying for a certificate had to stand an examination in all of them. These and the catalogues from other normal schools constituted a guide as to what should be included in the “science and art” of teaching.
On closer analysis, however, the task was not so easy as it seemed at first. The apparently simple phrasing, when its many connotations and implications were considered, gave room for wide interpretation. Finally, the two-year professional course, or curriculum, the one that seemed best suited to carry out the purpose of the school, was much more satisfactory than the faculty dared hope, as they found later they had done the basic work, in spite of the long succession of changes in the years to follow. But they could not yet rest on their laurels, for another course or curriculum, was demanded by those who could not meet the entrance requirements, graduation from an accredited high school or its equivalent. The president decreed that the course of study not only should be flexible, but that there should be various curricula designed to meet certain situations,—“emergency courses,” he called them—and insisted that these should be offered so long as the emergencies existed.
Expressions culled from minutes and other notes show that President Wright was determined to offer help to all, prepared or unprepared, who were going to teach in the public schools: “Take
what schools send out,” he said. “Start the pupils where they actually are, not where you think they should be.” “You can't help people until you get down to their level and pull them up from there.” “Leave no gaps.” Many other striking remarks of his can be found, but he summed up the situation years afterwards in one of his talks on the anniversary of East Carolina's opening.
“We had some splendid theories; had some wonderful schemes that we had to abandon. They did not work. This first faculty soon found they had to come down from where they thought they would start until they got in touch with the boys and girls that were here nineteen years ago and they kept coming until they found what the high schools were doing. From the very beginning of this institution it has been the purpose of the teaching staff to take the products the high schools send them and begin where the high schools left off and not leave a gap between what the student was taught in the high school and what we taught in college.”
It was not the students who had graduated from the high schools that caused his faculty to “come down,” nor was it altogether those that had not completed high school. Other colleges then had to have sub-freshman classes or preparatory departments to take care of the students who were not accessible to high schools. It had been expected that some high school work would have to be offered until the state provided adequate high school facilities for those in the rural districts as well as in the towns. This was plainly an emergency course. To safeguard this institution against the danger of its being considered as merely a high school, only those not accessible to high schools were admitted to these courses. These also had to sign the contract, required of others, promising to teach two years if they took advantage of the free tuition. Most of them signed, and many continued their work through the professional course until they earned their diplomas, some continued through college until the A. B. degree was earned. In later years, after entrance requirements were in terms of hours and unit credits from a standard high school, whenever the students who had taken this high school course returned for work towards a degree, they were held rigidly to the requirements and had to make up the work.
The emergency courses that taxed the ingenuity of the faculty were those called for by people already teaching. Some of these held first-grade certificates and were interested in getting new ideas and improved methods. If their certificates were lower, they hoped to get higher certificates. A one-year course for the former group was arranged by making provision for an enriched
review of subject-matter and adding courses in what were then called “pedagogy” and “educational psychology.”
Short-term courses substituted for the institutes were offered only in the spring and summer terms.
When the only requirement for admission to one course was “Seventeen years old and going to teach next year,” the faculty felt the bottom had indeed been reached. The argument that convinced them the course should be given was that these people could get schools, and while there was no hope of making them good teachers in one year they could be made better teachers. No credit except attendance and class grades was given to this class. This emergency soon passed, the course was discontinued, and not long afterwards the other one-year course was also dropped.
Some had feared that the reputation of the school would suffer, and the accusation was made that it was turning out “half-baked teachers.” When it was seen that the emergency courses, which had seemed to be short cuts, were dropped as soon as the need for them passed, the public began to understand what Wright meant when he said he could not promise the schools good teachers so long as those of no training were authorized to teach, but he could and would give them better teachers, and in time he hoped to have the chance to give them really good teachers. His theory was that any group for which the state issued certificates, of any grade, must be able to get some help from the school, therefore courses had to be arranged for them.
The vicious circle, he thought, would never be broken unless there was improvement at every point. He did what he could to hasten the improvement.
Wright's far-sighted policy was not fully understood until long afterwards, when, as the standards of certification were raised, the standards of East Carolina were raised to those of a college. He used the same arguments for going forward to meet these higher requirements as he had used when he seemed to be reaching down to meet the lower level.
When he saw the time was coming when four years of college work would be required by the State, he did not rest until his school was authorized to offer four years of work and was rechartered as a teachers’ college. The two-year course or curriculum, which for the first thirteen years was the chief one, in turn became an emergency course. He foresaw that it would pass away, but he would not consent to its discontinuance so long as superintendents and principals gave positions to those who held normal school diplomas.
East Carolina Teachers’ College functioned in the dual capacity of a two-year normal school and a four-year teachers college until
three years after his death. He had predicted that this would come earlier but it was delayed by the retarding influence of the depression. None would have rejoiced more than he if he had lived to see the institution at last utterly and completely a full four-year college, with no short or emergency curricula, with all moving together in one straight line.
Recognition came soon after the school began to function as a College. In 1926 this institution was received into full membership in the American Association of Teachers’ Colleges. In 1927 it was accepted by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, which placed it in the rank of “Class A” colleges.MEETING THE STATE'S DEMAND FOR BETTER TEACHERS
After eighteen years East Carolina Teachers College had thus reached its place among the American colleges of the highest rank. Its graduates were entitled to the same rating as those from the best colleges, were acceptable for graduate work in the universities, and their credits could be transferred to other colleges.
Opposition, which had raised its head at every advance, never affected Dr. Wright's determination to go on. It merely stimulated him to greater effort. Conservatives had taken as signals for alarm every change made. Protests from well-meaning friends as well as from others poured in to prevent the change of the charter in 1920, and the change of name that followed a few months later. The word “college” seemed ominous to those who did not remember that the word “teachers” preceded it. Predictions were made that it would become a liberal arts college, would lose its distinctive place, and gain nothing. In that case, critics argued, it could not compete with those of long standing reputation so would never be anything but second-rate, a college in name only. To all this Wright paid no heed.
All he had to say in answer was summed up in the catalogue the next year, as follows:
“To meet the demands of the State for better trained teachers, and to meet all the requirements of the State Board for the certification of teachers, the college is now offering in addition to the Two-Year Normal Course a Four-Year Course leading to the bachelor of arts degree.
“Every subject in the Four-Year Course is given with a view of making efficient teachers for the schools of our State.”
Announcement that preparation of teachers for high schools was added to that of preparation for primary and grammar grades brought forth another flood of protests. Hundreds of successful primary and grammar grade teachers sent out from Greenville had made its reputation in these fields. Many thought it poor
policy for Eastern Carolina to enter the higher field. Colleges which had been the source of supply for the high school, while perhaps not expecting the school ever to become a formidable rival, did not welcome the newcomer. Members of the staff, even, were rather dubious as to the advisability of attempting at that time a task so complicated. It would increase the load upon a faculty already overworked. Expensive equipment for laboratories, a greatly enlarged library, and complex machinery requiring a larger administrative staff would be necessary. Most of them thought the college should eventually enter this field, but feared the decision was premature. No such fears had President Wright. Support would, he believed, come when the work once started met with success, and it would not come until this institution had proved it could do the work successfully. He lived to see his judgment confirmed.
Extension into the graduate field was requested, carrying with it the right to offer graduate courses and to confer the M. A. degree, and granted in 1929. The M. A. degree was offered in order to prepare critic teachers as the colleges used the public schools for practice teaching. When the North Carolina Conference agreed that only those teachers holding the M. A. degree could qualify as critic teachers, Dr. Wright felt that this college should offer work leading to the M. A. degree. This was in line with the interpretation he placed from the beginning upon the purpose of the school: it was under obligations to prepare teachers for all the public schools of the State. Wright would never be satisfied, objectors claimed, until he had made the college a university and that was going too far. His answer to these was that the certification and salary scale for high school teachers demanded the M. A. degree for its highest certificate and salary, its best positions, and it was not only a right but a duty to prepare teachers for all levels in the scale. Great must have been his satisfaction when he conferred the M. A. degree for the first time. He had this pleasure only one time, in the summer of 1933.
Never once did Dr. Wright go beyond the rights granted him by the charter, never did he usurp authority vested in the school. Limitations which he saw would hamper the development he worked to have removed, but he did not step over boundaries as long as they existed. Possibilities for growth he saw in the two sections of the charter that remained unchanged, but it took the eyes of a seer to discern them. Public schools came first. Their interests were never minimized and Wright insisted that the relationship between them and the institution training teachers for them must be clearly understood. He deserved the description that has often been added to his name.—He was indeed “a man of vision.”
Rural schools in 1909 were elementary schools with from one to three teachers and a term of four months. Ten years later high schools had been included, the consolidation movement had set in, and the term increased to six months. By 1934 standard high schools were large consolidated institutions in every county, state supported, and the term was eight months.
Any teacher-training school that remained static, satisfied with meeting the needs at the beginning of this period, not advancing as the schools advanced, would have died at the end of the first decade. One that attempted to advance too fast, on the other hand, would have failed. “To go too far ahead,” Dr. Wright once said, “is as bad as to lag behind.”
When asked what influence Wright had had in the State, someone replied, “Why Wright has been connected with every educational movement in North Carolina for fifty years.”
Considering it is his duty to keep in touch with the schools, he familiarized himself with conditions and needs and kept up with trends in educational thought and practice. His work, therefore, went far beyond his campus. Chairman of an educational commission appointed to study the schools of the state and to make recommendations for their improvement, he was in a strategic position for six years. This commission, appointed in 1917 for two years, was continued another two years to complete its work and submit a printed report. Codifying the laws, collecting and organizing those in existence and making recommendations as to what should be retained and what should be added was their task. This work enabled Wright to acquire an intimate understanding of the various school problems, and to develop definite ideas for their solutions. He could see far ahead, anticipating the changes that came later. This was pioneer work, blazing the way for the future.
This work undoubtedly exerted a great influence on Dr. Wright himself which bore fruit in the later history of the institution whose fortunes he guided. He saw that East Carolina Teachers Training School could not continue to function as a valuable ally of the public schools if it remained merely a normal school, but it could render greater service if it had the powers of a teachers college.PRACTICE TEACHING ESSENTIAL FOR ACQUIRING THE ART
Extension of the time for training was needed so that prospective teachers could not only get more subject matter, background, and knowledge of the “science of teaching”, but could serve a longer apprenticeship and gain more experience so they would be proficient in the “art of teaching”.
Two distinctive features have been considered essential in a teacher training school, in both the normal school and teachers
college periods. Opportunity must be offered the “teachers-to-be” to acquire the art of teaching, and the “in-service teachers” to progress without loss of time.
The means for providing for the former has been a satisfactory system for observation and practice teaching. The latter have found the Summer School to be their salvation.
Practice teaching, together with observation work, apprenticeship, and other preliminaries, has been a requirement for the diploma or degree. Explanations in the catalogue, although they have varied somewhat, changing with the fashions, have been adequate.
Each student in the two-year Normal course must do a definite amount of teaching under close supervision during one term of her second year. Students working for the B. A. degree must teach for two terms. This work is preceded by carefully directed observation. Practice teaching is directed by critic teachers, supervising teachers who are in charge of the grades. The teachers of Primary Education and of Grammar Grade methods, are supervisors, in charge of the groups for each level. Teachers from the departments supervise the groups for each subject in the high school.
“The supervising teachers meet the student teachers in regular conference periods, and the methods teachers have frequent conferences with them. An effort is made to place each student in the work for which she seems best fitted and she is given careful instruction in how to handle the children and how to present her subject. Before the close of the year each student is left in complete charge of her class for a limited time, so that she may try herself out under conditions approaching a real teaching situation.”
Practice-teaching and observation of the work of master teachers have been generally recognized as essentials in the training of young teachers, but the means of providing for this have varied greatly. Campus schools, variously called “practice,” “demonstration”, “training schools”, or “laboratory” schools, some institutions have. Sending their student-teachers without supervision directly into the regular classrooms of the public schools is the plan of others. Combining the two seems to be the ideal plan, if the disadvantages of other plans can be eliminated and the advantages retained. By such a combination East Carolina Teachers College, in cooperation with the city schools of Greenville, has been able to work out a satisfactory arrangement by which the difficulties involved in administration and finance have been overcome.
Utilizing grades in the local schools, President Wright believed, was the only feasible way of getting desired results. Student-teachers
should teach in actual schoolrooms where they would meet natural situations such as they would find in their own classrooms later, he argued. The school should, however, be convenient to the college so that members of the faculty could have their classes observe demonstration lessons by the critic teachers. For this reason the school should be on the campus. Furthermore, it was important that the college have supervision over the work so as to bring theory and practice into co-ordination. The complex plan was gradually and carefully built up from the second year of East Carolina Teachers Training School when the first senior class was ready for practice teaching.
Starting with one grade and one teacher doing double duty as critic teacher and teacher of primary education, the system grew until in 1934 there were thirteen teachers in the Training School doing grade critic teaching and one or more in every department in the Greenville High School.
A grammar grade school that is a part of the Greenville school system has been located on the college campus ever since 1914, to the mutual satisfaction of the town and the college. Dr. Wright knew the only way to achieve this was by building up confidence and good will and by co-operation and he bent every effort to this end. He took into consideration first of all the children, and took pains to fortify them against any damage that might be done by having inexperienced students as teachers. He understood why parents would not want their children “practiced on” by school girls or experimented with. What he could not understand was how they would complain of these and yet complacently let an inexperienced, untrained teacher walk into a schoolroom and shut the door, while she bungled through trial and error methods with her pupils as the victims. Safe guarding their interests, he always insisted that experimenting with children was not the purpose of this school. At Teachers College he had long before learned the differentiation between an experimental school and one for training purposes.
Teachers of the grades who are critic teachers have dual responsibility. As grade teachers they are responsible for keeping their grades up to standard, checking closely on the pupils. As critic teachers they supervise the plans and the teaching of the student-teachers, holding them up to high standards. Much of the teaching is done by them while the student-teachers observe them, and this, in itself, puts an experienced instructor on her mettle.
In the meantime, for ten years practice teaching was done also in county schools. The superintendent of the county had been a member of the faculty from the first, when Ragsdale joined the staff. Rural schools then differed greatly, as a rule, from the
“special charter” schools in the towns and cities, and training for teaching one grade only and for several grades forming a unit required different preparation. A rural three-teacher school in Pitt County, the Joyner School, selected as the type in which it was thought many of the girls would teach, was also used as a practice school for several years until the era of consolidation pushed out schools of this type. Practice teaching was then transferred to the Winterville school, a typical consolidated village-rural school. Finally, the county schools ceased to be used as practice schools. When the Training School was built all teaching in the elementary grades was concentrated in that. The high school work was taken care of in the Greenville High School. The superintendent of the city schools had been added to the faculty in the early years. The critic teachers have been members of both the city and college faculties. This close relationship between the two has been largely responsible for the success of the cooperative plan.
A unique feature highly commended by leaders in Education was a “follow-up plan” for supervision over the graduates in their first year of teaching. This was very successful for the few years it was attempted. The primary supervisor of one year followed up her students by becoming a field worker the next year. She observed the girls in their own classrooms, helped solve the problems they submitted to her, and held conferences with their principals. The plan was excellent, but when retrenchment of expenses became necessary this was one of the first things that had to go. This plan was cited by at least one teacher in a large university as one of the most original contributions made by all the State teachers colleges.SUMMER SCHOOL NEVER A TEACHER'S HOLIDAY
Summer schools have been a boon to teachers already in service and nowhere more than in North Carolina.
Evolution of the summer school from the institute and the “teachers holiday” of “campus courses” is one of the most interesting chapters in the history of the period. In this East Carolina has played an important part.
Institutes requiring only two weeks of attendance have been lengthened into a full term or quarter of twelve weeks for which college credits towards a degree are earned. Libraries are filled with earnest seachers for information once handed out from the rostrum by droning lecturers. Frantic efforts to fill notebooks with devices and ready-made plans sufficient to last through the year have given way to intelligent selection of ideas that can be assimilated and efficient methods of finding sources and materials.
Activity and participation have outmoded passivity. Listless audiences no longer sit patiently while speakers propound theories
above their heads. Now bulletins, read, digested, and kept for reference, contain instructions as to routine matters once given out orally by supervisors and representatives from higher offices. Propagandists can no longer use assemblages of summer students as convenient agencies for publicity. Contrasts are marked on every campus. Reflections of the changes in educational thought and methods have been shown nowhere more than in the summer schools.
Seriousness marked the first summer school of East Carolina Teachers Training School, which came in at the height of the popularity of the “campus courses.” President Wright advertised that he wanted only those who were in earnest. He rejoiced that his campus had never been a “summer playground.” Complaints that too little attention was paid to entertainment and recreation did not disturb him. Facilities for these, however, were soon added, but social attractions were not offered as inducements.
Much of the work in the early years had to conform to that of the institutes which were incorporated in the summer schools until the county summer schools took their places. Two weeks at a summer school was allowed as substitute for attendance on an institute, so Pitt and the surrounding counties sent their teachers to the Training School. Continuous dropping in and out of classes that would have ensued was prevented, however, by having the schedule arranged in units of two weeks. As one group passed out, another would take its place in dormitories, dining room, and classrooms. Credit for attendance only was given to those who did not remain the full term of eight weeks required for completion of an entire course. The institute was classed with other emergencies that would pass, so short “teachers’ courses” were in demand at first, such as those that formed the one-year classes.
Emphasis was put upon the regular work. Teachers soon discovered that the series of courses in the two-year professional work, taken in the proper sequence, would lead to a diploma. These classes began to be filled. After years and by a slow process of elimination, only those courses given during the regular year leading to diplomas or degrees were offered during the summer. East Carolina Teachers College was one of the first in the State to take the stand that only the regular work should be given in the summer.
“Summer term” or “quarter” and not “summer school” has been insisted upon by the administrative officials as the correct designation. It has never been a separate entity. Evaluation of its work has been the same as that done in the regular year of three quarters.
Length of the summer term has varied, at first eight weeks; then twelve weeks, a straight quarter equal to that of the terms in the regular year; and finally, the twelve weeks divided into two terms of six weeks, in conformity with other summer schools in the State.
Realizing they could progress without having to give up their positions, many men and women have attended from summer to summer and completed the whole series leading to a diploma or degree. Girls and boys have found they can shorten their college course from four years to three by attendance all the year around. Graduates of the two-year class have returned to continue until they completed the four years, some attending three summers and then taking a year's leave of absence. One courageous soul was the woman who came for ten summers, first getting a diploma but not stopping until she received her degree. Her daughter was a classmate at one time, but dropped behind, satisfied with the diploma. Age has not mattered. Grandmother and granddaughter have been in the same class; teachers and their pupils have worked side by side.
August graduation was an innovation in North Carolina in 1911, when four members of the first senior class completed their work at the close of the summer term and were given diplomas. Hardly a summer has passed without a graduating class. Formal graduation exercises have been held since 1918.
Conferring of the first degrees was in August 1922, when two young women completed the four-year course. President Wright himself usually delivered the August commencement address. An alumnae luncheon was given in later years.
Vacations have been salvaged for teachers by summer schools which have opened up opportunities undreamed of at the beginning of the century. Degrees, higher certificates, larger salaries, and better positions have been the rewards. Savings of the year may have been spent in one summer, but the financial gain in the end has been compensation. No loss of time has been entailed.
East Carolina Teachers College, President Wright believed, has done its greatest work for the teachers already in service through its summer school. Stretching the appropriation for maintenance over four quarters must have been one of his most difficult tasks; even in the worst years he would not consider dropping it and his staff supported him.
Director of the summer school for five years, Dr. Wright studied the problems from every angle. He stood ready afterwards to advise his successors, but turned over to them the administrative work of the summer school while he was free to give his entire attention to the larger affairs of the institution. C. W. Wilson was the director until his death in 1922, when Leon
R. Meadows became director. He has served in this capacity ever since. Better training for the presidency he could not have found in any other position.FACULTY COOPERATION BROUGHT UNITY IN SPIRIT AND EFFORT
Freedom to propose the adoption of new plans and ideas was given members of the faculty and staff. One of the joys of teaching here has been that teachers are left free to work out the details of a course with no interference with their classes. No doubt was left in their minds as to the purpose of the course or the way in which it was to function, but this did not hamper them. Purposeful direction in the selection and use of materials they felt added something dynamic, vital, to their work. There was nothing dead or dull about it, no rigid routine. Inspirational teaching was not to them firing the imagination of students and stirring their emotions by glittering generalities or impossible abstract ideas. Showmanship was not attempted, no lecture courses were given, but each course was developed on the basis of its genuine value to the students. Faculty and students were thus constantly advancing along progressive lines. Courses kept pace with new ideas and demands.
The strength of the school, especially in its formative years, was in the intensity with which everything was focused on the one purpose. Personalities were not submerged but were, in a way, merged together so that president and faculty became one in purpose and action.
Some called this a “one man school.” Others cited it as an example of an institution run by a faculty. The truth lay between the two. Dr. Wright was too modest perhaps when, correcting the remark of someone who called it his college, he said: “I have not made this college. Faithful teachers who have given the best of their lives have given to this institution the spirit that has permeated the student body and it is that spirit that has done the great work.” But it was Wright himself who built up this spirit, and gave it direction and effectiveness. It was, in a very real sense, his college.
In a university class as late as 1923 a member of the faculty heard a great educational leader cite East Carolina as one of the few schools successfully managed by faculty control, in which all matters of importance were settled by “faculty action” or “faculty recommendation,” and remarked that it would be interesting to know how this was done. The answer could have been “by the president's control of the faculty,” accomplished not by dictation but by the gentle art of persuasion and mutual understanding.
Faculty meetings were not called merely to adopt some cut-and-dried program or ratify some decision already determined upon. Reports and proposals were discussed item by item, frequently
fought through, referred back to the committee for revisions and not allowed to rest until both president and faculty were satisfied. Discussions were often heated, especially when some department had been “robbed” of hours or of a course, to make room for others in another department. This was not envy or jealousy, but conscientious objection for the general good.
“Railroading measures through” was rarely resorted to. Such methods were obnoxious to Dr. Wright, who was never autocratic in manner or disposition. Firmly he held control not by force or dictation but by milder methods which were equally effective and did not antagonize his co-workers.
New teachers, accustomed to mapped-out routine or handed-out rules, to lock-step methods in departments, those accustomed to prohibitions or inhibitions, must at first have found the freedom given them rather bewildering. As a rule they liked it. The few who did not, and who hesitated to assume the accompanying responsibility, finally dropped out.
Teachers were not engaged with the idea of placing them under the domination of others, so far as their own work was concerned, so there was no feeling of inferiority or subordination. Time and again Dr. Wright said he wanted every student to feel that her teachers were as good as any, in the lowest as well as the highest classes.
While the earlier plan seemed to newcomers a rather loose organization, it was by no means loose in its actual operation. It accounts in part for the unity and harmony that prevailed, and it left the leadership entirely in the hands of the president. He kept in touch with all, and each teacher saw the institution as a whole. Personal ties were strong and interests closely knitted together. There was little danger of sharp divisions and misunderstandings. In faculty discussions there was sometimes disagreement, and many differences of opinion, but airing of these cleared the atmosphere and the final decision, whether by vote, by reference to committee with power to act, or by leaving the matter in the hands of the president, was accepted as final.
Efficiency, however, was Wright's first requirement. When growth of the institution, increase in faculty and student body, and complex problems of administration made the old system unwieldy and somewhat impractical, it was supplanted. In making the change, he sought to retain, so far as was possible, the best features of the old and to adopt the best of the new. One thing he did not wish to lose was the spirit of cooperation, the sense of educational freedom and individual responsibility, the combination of independence and interdependence that had been so largely responsible for the harmony and united effort which had distinguished his whole administration.
Departments were cooperative groups until college complexities and interdepartmental problems made it necessary for each department to have a responsible head. “Advisors” were named whose chief function was to advise students majoring in a department about schedules. Finally these representatives were given greater powers, and were called “Directors.” Meetings of these directors largely superseded the faculty meetings, as all matters that concerned the different departments reached the teachers through the directors. While they were not for some time officially called “heads,” they were, in fact, but Dr. Wright did not seem to like the suggestion in the word. They were officially “Directors of Instruction.” Many matters he still considered faculty-wide, regardless of departmental lines, and to consider these, committees were appointed or elected because of personal fitness and not according to departmental distribution.
This change in organization was gradual in keeping with other transitions, and Wright acted true to form in adopting new methods in order to meet new conditions, but retaining that part of the old which could be used to advantage.
Despite the administrative advantages gained by having a smaller group with delegated powers, he must have realized that something was lost by the change, but found, undoubtedly, that the gains offset the losses. The wonder is that he kept the whole faculty functioning as one unit for so long a time.
Cooperation with county, city and town authorities, aid to public schools and civic enterprises has been not only a policy but a constant practice. Full schedules, service on committees, advisorship of campus activities have never prevented East Carolina teachers from taking an active part in community life.
Close relations have always been maintained with the county schools. S. B. Underwood, who succeeded Mr. Ragsdale as county superintendent, was a member of the faculty and always felt free to call upon his fellow members or anyone in the school for any service they could render. Leading study groups, appearing at county teachers’ meetings, holding conferences with those who had special problems, going into the schools for observation and giving demonstrations in classrooms were examples of such service. This has not materially changed with the years.
This institution has made a vital and continuous contribution not only to schools of county, town and city, but also to the civic life of its community and State.
Dr. Laughinghouse, who resigned in 1921 to become secretary of the State Department of Health, felt it was of vital importance to make students health-conscious. State-wide surveys made in the second decade of the century were of momentous importance. This school co-operated in these by allowing it to be
used as a centre for the work in this part of the State as the student body furnished a cross-section of the population.
Dr. Stiles, in the Winter of 1910, conducted some of his hookworm study through the school. Revisiting the place twenty years later, in reviewing with great satisfaction the line of hundreds of students entering the dining room, he commented on the great improvement in health and appearance as typical of that in the State at large.
Dr. Von Erzdorf, a few years later, in his survey to find the extent of malaria, gave the test to all the students and staff and based some of his conclusions on the findings from the study of the results. One surprise was that there were very few carriers and one of these was from a distant state.
The College has been headquarters for various conventions and the host for meetings of numerous organizations. Its president and members of its faculty, whenever called upon, have been ready to carry out the school motto “to serve” and the calls have been many.STUDENT ACTIVITIES AND CAMPUS LIFE
Student government in campus life came into effect in 1920-21, the year the training school became a college. This was a decided contrast to the arrangements for more than a decade. Patrons were not ready at first for such a radical innovation, as it was then considered, and Dr. Wright had to wait twelve years to carry out the plans he originally had in mind.
One of the first things that demanded attention when the new president took charge was the establishment of the boarding department. That had to be ready when the first students arrived. The conventional arrangement for girls in boarding schools of that day was used, the pattern which originated, perhaps, in the convent school, but this was greatly modified. “Lady Principal” was the title adopted for the member of the staff who was at the head of the home. It was not until sixteen years later, sometime after student government was inaugurated that her title was changed to Dean. The staff by degrees was augmented by a housekeeper, an assistant dean, and two others in charge of dormitories.
That the teachers should have no dormitory or chaperonage duties or any of the supervisory tasks at that time usually imposed upon teachers in boarding schools was the one exception to the conventional plan which was decided upon by Mr. Wright. He emphasized the fact that he wanted his faculty to be teachers, first and last, to be free to give their best efforts to their teaching. The women teachers were given the privilege of living on the campus, for the first year in the dormitory with the girls, but as soon as it could be conveniently arranged, in their own quarters.
Home life and school life were kept as separate as possible. Since the second year, separate dormitory facilities have been provided for them.
Health was given primary consideration at the beginning, as was shown by the fact that a physician was one of the charter members of the staff and a superintendent of the infirmary was the second person added to the administrative staff. She was given an assistant after a few years.
Nothing received more careful attention from the lady principal the first year than the supervision of the health of the students and her vigilance was unabated in the years to follow. The dean of women and her staff, as those closest to the girls, have continued this watchful care.
The physician, one from the town, gave only part of his time to the school, making regular visits for general office cases, responding to emergency calls, and giving the routine health examinations, inoculations, and check-ups.
As the president had his residence in one section of the dormitory in which the boys lived, for one year he had general oversight over them. The next year L. R. Meadows relieved him of this supervision.
While at first he followed the conventional scheme, it did not measure up to his ideals, but he was willing to bide his time. He had worked out a plan of student government in the Baltimore high school that had been very successful, and is going strong today. In this he was one of the pioneers among school executives. In coming to North Carolina, he realized, however, that self-government could not be imposed upon students, that it could not be successful until they called for it themselves. Not until 1920-21 did the students petition for it, but when they were ready and eager for the new system it was promptly established.
There were few rules, and most of those for routine matters, even when this school began. In the first catalogues under the head of “Discipline,” Wright's ideas are given. One can catch in the very wording his attitude towards having rules and regulations that are arbitrary and ironclad imposed upon those who were “about to assume the responsibilities of so serious and dignified a profession as teaching.” He felt that each “student should attend promptly and faithfully to every duty and have due consideration and regard for the rights and privileges of others.”
Individuals found unworthy of trust were dealt with individually. Only general headings covered all cases, such as “falling off in his studies,” “neglecting his duties or exerting an unwholesome influence.” A few sentences show Mr. Wright's feeling about a teacher's conduct: “If he does not show some disposition to conform to high standards he can hardly be considered good
material for a teacher,” if a student does not have the proper attitude toward his duties he would be “requested to resign from the school.” The closing sentence is this: “In the spirit of the institution is found the discipline of the school.” The same paragraphs were printed in every catalogue until student-government was introduced.
This system that threw more responsibility upon the students themselves was inaugurated during the year 1920-21. A Student Government Association was organized which is in fact a cooperative plan, with the students taking the initiative in formulating rules and making regulations and with the president, the dean, and a committee from the faculty, elected by the faculty, as an advisory board. In the set-up provision is made for both dormitory and campus supervision through house presidents and committees composed entirely of students elected by their peers in mass-meeting. These, together with the officers, form the Student Council, which meets regularly, discussing school problems, initiating new policies, making investigations, passing on minor violations of rules of conduct, trying minor cases, and making recommendations to the faculty as to penalties when there are serious cases of discipline. In every catalogue since 1920 there has appeared in addition to the section headed “Discipline,” a section headed “Student Government,” as follows:
“To promote a sense of personal responsibility in the students of the College a Student Government Association has been inaugurated, subject to the approval of the president of the College and an advisory board. This organization adopts such regulations as concern the entire student body. The association has so administered its duties as to merit the approval of both faculty and students.” The handbook, issued each year, jointly by the Student Government Association and the Y. W. C. A., contains the constitution, by-laws, and current regulations. At the beginning of each school year, as a part of Freshman Week activities, upper classmen meet groups of first year students, who with the hand-book as a guide, familiarize themselves with the code by which they are to live, have a chance to ask questions, and get a clear understanding of what they must do in order to conform to the regulation code of campus law and order. At once they feel as if they are participants. According to a decree of the Board of Trustees, only the faculty has the power of expulsion. Whenever severe cases of discipline are turned over to the faculty, careful consideration is given to the recommendations, the evidence is reviewed, investigations made, and whenever the action is contrary to the recommendation reasons are given for the change.
President Wright's principle in dealing with serious cases was that the extreme sentence, expulsion, should not be imposed
except on evidence that would hold in a regular courtroom. When the offense or delinquency was such that it would make a student undesirable as a teacher, but did not affect personal integrity, withdrawal was permitted, to which no stigma was attached.
“The attitude of the school towards organizations is to encourage those that are intended to preserve health, develop character and the spirit of democracy” was in the first catalogue issued under Dr. Wright's regime at Greenville and the same in the last, except that a phrase was added, “and advance the educational welfare of the students.” This wording is still in every catalogue.
The Young Women's Christian Association, which is the oldest organization on the campus, began to function early in the fall of East Carolina's first year. This commendation appears in the first catalogue: “The Association has done a great work in fostering the religious spirit of the school.” The next catalogue has the phrasing changed to “it has done very effective work in promoting high ideals among the students.”
It was a great advantage to students in a new school to have an organization that was part of a large national or world-wide movement highly efficient and so well organized that the local unit could follow instructions and slip into the scheme, giving them a feeling of solidarity and permanence. In the first years practically all of the girls joined the Y. W. C. A. and there were years when the membership of those living on the campus was one hundred percent. Bible and mission study classes and groups for the study of the Sunday School lessons were popular. The annual series of services and conferences on religious problems held by some minister or religious leader noted for guiding young people has been of vital importance in the spiritual life of the school. The Y. W. C. A. vesper services have throughout the years been held on Sunday night, the weekly services on Friday night, and the morning watch the fifteen minutes before breakfast.
On the first Sunday night of every fall term, President Wright made a talk to the students in which he would strike a keynote for the year that would help new students especially to catch the spirit of the school. He made them feel that religion was a part of right living.
At the first Saturday chapel hour every fall he spoke to the students, encouraging them to find a church home for the time they were in college, and to go to Sunday School. Ministers early in the year were introduced and extended invitations to attend their churches. Always there have been large college classes in the churches of Greenville.
Dr. Wright himself followed the Sunday School lessons, and most of the time taught a men's Bible class, but whether as teacher or member of a class, he enjoyed the sustained study, following a theme, a character or a book through the whole series. He would base many of his chapel talks on the lessons. He loved to take a situation from the Bible and draw parallels with the times, or interpret one of the patriarchs. The Book of Job was his favorite. Reading the Bible, two songs, the Lord's Prayer, and then a short talk composed the chapel exercises when he had charge of them, and he usually conducted these exercises daily when he was on the campus. He felt that was his one direct contact with the student body as a whole, the one way he could reach them. When he had attended a meeting, he culled the best thought and shared it with his students, or explained the purposes of organizations, and introduced them to policies. He gave his opinions on current problems and developments, interpreted the trends of the times as he saw them, making a surprising number of prophecies that have come to pass.
Many of his most profound thoughts, best turned phrases, happiest interpretations and his quaintest bits of humor, he gave in those chapel talks that can now be found in the files. He would talk from a few notes on a small card or perhaps with no notes; but he would have his secretary take down what he said and type it so he could see it afterwards. In these talks were often found the genesis of a full speech he delivered later. Thinking his way from point to point, he would then bring them together into a unified whole. While much of this may have fallen on barren ground, many of the students appreciated it, and followed these talks from day to day. At times he would startle them into attention, especially when he felt some outrage had been committed and he gave warning to the culprits. He frequently began in a personal way—“I want to talk to you this morning about leadership,” or responsibility; “I want to tell you the kind of teacher I want my daughter to have”; “I saw in the papers this morning—”. “I believe that this generation of boys and girls, of all people in the world, are the most lonesome folks, distressingly lonesome,” he once began, and then proceeded to express his faith in youth—and this was in the prosperous twenties, when so many were impatient about young people. “Powder your nose, rouge your cheeks, apply the lipstick—to your thoughts” was typical of advice he would give.
He was punctilious about observing anniversaries, especially Oct. 5, if with only a few words, calling attention to the significance of the day which marked the opening of the institution.
Entertainments were sponsored by student organizations, such as classes, societies, and the Y. W. C. A. until a more satisfactory
plan was adopted in 1925. To mention only one, the visit of Miss Keller and her teacher, Mrs. Macy, was a never-to-be-forgotten event. Nobody enjoyed that day more than did President Wright. It was agreed that he should carry on the conversation with her. By pressing two fingers on his throat so they could feel the vibration of his vocal chords, and on his lips, Miss Keller could understand what he said, and great was his delight when her answers would come back. They had a good time together. One thing particularly impressed him and the audience. In the midst of potted plants banked on the stage in front of the reading desk was an Easter lily in bloom. When Miss Keller came on the stage, walking briskly, she went without hesitation straight to the flowers, leaned over, ran her fingers delicately around the petals of the lily, without fumbling or disturbing the plants, and said, “How beautiful!” When the audience applauded something she said, she stopped until the applause subsided, and then said, “I thank you. I heard you with my feet.”
The literary societies, two of which, the Poe and Lanier, had been organized in the second year of the school, and the third, the Emerson, some years later, for years made contributions to the entertainment or cultural program, sometimes jointly, and again separately. Among the musical attractions they sponsored were recitals by a Baltimore singer who had been a pupil of Mr. Wright's, a harpist from Washington, a pianist from Peabody Conservatory, and recitals by other musicians. Most of those were secured through some personal connection with the President or some member of the faculty. A concert by a glee club from some other college in the State was the favorite contribution from the Senior Class, and the precedent of having a glee club annually has been followed consistently. One of the societies sponsored lectures of a literary nature. Dr. C. Alphonso Smith was one of these lecturers.
The societies worked continuously on some project for making money so as to leave gifts to the school. They gave together a performance of “The Mikado,” and a very beautiful performance it was, and with the money raised had painted the portraits of Governor Jarvis and Mr. Ragsdale, two of the founders. They gave the money for campus improvement, the planting of the whole of the front campus. One society gave the first moving picture machine, and the other the stage curtain that was used for fourteen years.
Senior classes have each year left gifts to the school. The very first planting of the campus was that in front of the Austin Building done by the second class to graduate, and most of the classes have added something of value or interest. A magnolia tree, a row of sixteen lombardy poplars, which later had to be
sacrificed for buildings, a mimosa tree, each adding something if only a speck on the landscape, until the class of 1930 made a great gift in the lake project. A later class started the Wright Circle and others planted units or contributed to the planting scheme on what was called the new campus.
Loan funds were left by the earlier classes, eleven of the first twelve classes leaving a total of $5,765.70. One class gave the oil portrait of President Wright that hangs in the Library. A number of smaller gifts were made, among them several pictures. “The Reading of Homer,” given for Dr. Wright's own enjoyment, hung in his office for years, and then in the new office building, where he could see it frequently. The funds for many of the larger gifts were raised by the presentation of class plays.
The senior plays have been the chief dramatic contribution from the students each year. The senior-normal class did not miss giving a play a single year. The first four-year Senior play was in 1925, and each class has followed the lead.
A plan by which an entertainment program could be presented each year and high grade attractions guaranteed was worked out by a joint committee from the faculty and the Student Government Association and was inaugurated in 1925.
Great musicians, artistes, lecturers, and plays have been presented in these artist courses and the school has become the center for eastern North Carolina for high class attractions. President Wright enjoyed watching the crowds file into the auditorium, and would look around the gallery and notice the various faces, noting those who came from other towns and counties. These events formed a distinctive contribution to the cultural life and enjoyment of eastern North Carolina.
Students voted for a fee which would entitle them to a season ticket for the entertainments, moving pictures, the Senior plays, subscriptions to the two student publications, and later, athletic games. By eliminating separate fees the activities included among the beneficiaries were assured of support with little increase of cost to students. They increased the original sum set. When the Board of Trustees, who had to sanction the plan, reduced the amount the students asked that it be restored to the higher figure. There has been abundant proof of the success of the plan.
A budget committee composed of students and faculty advisers, a budget office run as a student bank, with a student treasurer as cashier and teller, managed the business. All personal financial affairs of the students were finally handled through this office which is in fact, a student bank and clearing house through which their personal checks are handled, also.
Two student publications, the Tecoan, the annual, and the Teco Echo, the newspaper, have flourished since this fund was begun. “Tecoan”, formed from the first syllables of Teachers College Annual, was suggested by President Wright. “Teco Echo”, the newspaper's name, was the winner in a contest among the students for suitable names, the first part being taken from President Wright's idea.
The Training School Quarterly changed to Teachers College Quarterly, published from 1914 to 1923, was, in the main, a professional magazine featuring articles on various educational problems, with some departments of a professional nature and others covering campus events. Lack of financial support was the reason for its being discontinued.
Activities increased as the school grew larger, clubs multiplied, but until President Wright's approval had been given, they were not launched. Watchful rather than enthusiastic was his attitude, but his interest included matters of apparently minor importance to school-wide movements. He delighted in seeing the students show initiative and rise to emergencies.
Entrance of America into the World War brought new demands, and East Carolina's war-time activities are well worth remembering. All kinds of labor that would help out in the labor shortage were needed. Cotton-picking became one of the major sports in the fall of 1917, and it was a sport rather than a chore. Picking did not seem drudgery when it was organized in competition with others.
Contracts were made by groups of students to handle an entire cotton crop. There were then cotton fields on the outskirts of town that could be worked on in the afternoons. One farmer several miles out sent a truck in every Monday and the girls, taking picnic lunches with them, spent their day off picking cotton on the farm. In the five-day week Monday instead of Saturday was the day off.
Classes, societies, Y. W. C. A., all organizations, pledged contributions to the various war funds and had to find ways and means of meeting these pledges. They were well paid for their labor. The students were enthusiastic workers. Before war was declared they had sent Red Cross boxes to the Belgians and organized classes in first aid. Regular Red Cross work was carried on throughout the war period. Patriotism was satisfied in two ways: by taking the places of the regular laborers so they could be released for military duty, and by making money which could be spent for Liberty bonds or Red Cross supplies. Purchase of the bonds added a third philanthropic element, as the bonds were left as gifts to the school as part of the student loan fund.
A little French girl was supported by one group, and an Armenian orphan by another.
The school made a real contribution in war time by the example it set in economy of materials and the use of substitutes. Homemade soap was largely used in the kitchen, and many kinds of expedients were resorted to in the efforts to save materials in order that supplies might be ample for the armed forces of America and the civilian population of our allies.
Citing the zeal, initiative and ingenuity of the students during the war years as examples of what they could do when put to the test, President Wright held fast to his faith in youth.
“There's nothing wrong with the young people. Youth is all right”, he said when he faced his first problems with the studentbody and with individuals in 1909, the last year of the first decade of the century. As “today” shifted, through the second, third, and into the fourth decade his declaration of faith was strong as ever.
Rising to emergencies superbly after the complacency of the beginning of the second decade, young people gave him abundant proof to support his faith. Post-War revolt, breaking up of old patterns of behavior, apparent lawlessness in the twenties, the third decade, did not shatter his faith; young people were not to blame, he thought, they were seeking a way out of the “muss” for which they were not responsible. Ushered in by the depression, the thirties, the fourth decade, found young people the victims, and he saw them bewildered, rudderless, but he believed they would fight through and triumph, and with prophetic intuition he said the world is entering an era when youth will be in the lead.ALUMNAE AND THEIR ALMA MATER
Alumnae and ex-students to President Wright remained members of the college family. He had a peculiar right to that feeling.
“Come back,” his invitation to every graduating class, implied far more than the suggestion from the college president to show loyalty to alma mater by returning for commencements and homecoming occasions. “Go forward,” an unfailing piece of parting advice, implied going forward in the profession, going on with studies somewhere, whether at his own school or elsewhere, but never stopping until the top of the profession was reached, if they were going to remain in it. “Finished products” he never called them in a farewell address.
Back they came, hundreds of them, returning to fill the summer school, coming in the regular terms. The same names appeared time and again on the rolls over a stretch of years. A cross section of the rolls of most of the past years could be found on
many a summer school roll. Some of these would reappear after an absence of several years. New names appeared with familiar faces, as married women kept on or returned to teaching after leaving it for years. Gross enrollment and the size of the graduating classes, without taking these into account, cannot tell the story as these could do if the school had been a college throughout its history.
Alumnae who returned for annual reunions at commencement were usually the graduates and formed the official “Alumnae Association”. President Wright's name was annually in the honored place of guest speaker on the program, which was presented sometimes at the banquet-like luncheon and sometimes in the auditorium. Happy occasions these were for both president and alumnae.
“Fellow teachers” and “fellow citizens” were his greetings and the latter were as warmly welcomed as the former. He would challenge those who were no longer teachers to deny that the training they had received was not as fine for home-making and community work as for the profession they had deserted and would remind them that the reputation of their alma mater rested upon their shoulders as much as upon those who were still carrying on in schoolrooms.
Seeing campus improvements was enough to make the old girls note the contrast with their student days. Dr. Wright would love to bring out the high lights in reminiscences, rising to an inspirational climax, showing new horizons. Their success had made the reputation of the school; the brand of teacher it sent out was the trademark of the school; the product it turned out was the test of its work. “Your school,” he said, when speaking to them. He took just pride in pointing out the successful teachers in classrooms all over the State, in the larger cities and in the big consolidated schools which had replaced the small rural schools.
Local alumnae chapters in central towns frequently had him as the guest of honor at their annual dinners. He loved to meet them on their home ground. Invitations to deliver the commencement address in schools in which they taught were never declined if he could possibly arrange his schedule so that he could accept.
Projects undertaken by the alumnae met with his approval, and he appreciated their contributions to the student loan fund and their other gifts. They had no paid secretary, either on the campus or in the field, and had only voluntary workers to depend upon. He looked forward to the time when they would have a paid secretary who would bring the alumnae together in a closer organization, find out more about what they were doing, and help the school to keep track of a larger number of them. Mass
alumnae are difficult to handle, as a whole, as a rope of sand, he perhaps realized, but no matter how scattered they were he felt they were loyal. He did not feel that the hundreds whose faces were not seen at alumnae meetings were not “making good” in their schoolrooms and homes. He could not go anywhere in the State that he did not meet them or hear of what they were doing.
“I wonder if you realize what you have meant to our Eastern section”, a Home Demonstration agent wrote to Dr. Wright. “You do not go in the homes that I do. You do not have an opportunity to see the changes which have been brought about by the graduates from your Teachers College.”DEVELOPMENT AND GROWTH SHOWN BY FIGURES AND EXPANSION
OF THE PLANT
The number of graduates, for the twenty-five years, including both those with the A. B. degree and those holding diplomas, was 4,431. Diplomas for graduation from the two-year, or normal school, course were presented to 3961 in the twenty-five years. The first class, 1911, numbered 18 and in 1934, the last, 153. The A. B. degree was conferred upon 470, beginning with two, in August of 1922. The highest number, 123, was in 1933.
In the summer of 1921 a group of graduates returned to form a “college Class” of Juniors. Before the Freshman class of that fall had graduated, which was in the fifteenth year of the school, fourteen had received the A. B. degree. These were two-year graduates who had returned to complete the two years of study needed for the degree. The size of that first group to do four continuous years of college work was the same as the class of 1912, the second to receive diplomas, and one more than the first class. Numbers in the A. B. graduating classes for several years closely parallelled those of the first two-year classes for the period.
August graduates numbered 665 who had received diplomas and 227, degrees. In December and March, the end of the fall and winter terms, 133 diplomas and 40 degrees had been earned. Beginning with 1918, an August Commencement has been held.
Only one had received the M. A. degree, and that was at the end of the summer term the year before Dr. Wright died.
The staff that numbered thirteen when the school opened numbered 90 at the end of the twenty-five years, nearly sevenfold increase. These were from eighteen states representing forty-two colleges and universities. The advancing requirements in terms of degrees and special training had kept pace with those in other institutions.
The nine subjects taught the first year had grown into twelve departments, many of them with sub-divisions. Sociology had
branched out from another department. Physical Education became a department soon after the change to college. Athletics before that had been supervised by members of the staff interested, but there had been no regular instructor. French had been added.
The catalogue issued the last year of Wright's administration, which records the number of students for twenty-five years with the exception of the last summer term, gives the total enrollment as 21,843. The number for that summer increased this to 22,327, an annual average of 893 students, counting no name twice in one year. Enrollment for the regular year of three terms in 1934 passed the thousand mark, 1,013, when the registration for the spring term closed, less than a month before Dr. Wright's death. The total enrollment for the twenty-five regular years of three terms each was then 13,205, an annual average of 528.2. Total enrollment for the twenty-four summers of Dr. Wright's administration was 10,361, making the average 415. Figures alone fail to record fully the institution's real growth and progress. That can be revealed only by a knowledge of causes of plateaus and fluctuations, of changes in courses of study, or the dropping of one and addition of another, and the reasons therefor and effects. But tracing the record through a quarter of a century one sees that, in spite of all retarding influences, the advance has been steady.
Lack of dormitory space has limited the attendance at several periods. Whenever the figures show a sudden increase in enrollment after a plateau it has invariably meant that more dormitory room has been provided. The increase the second year was 35 percent, and the dormitory capacity had been reached. The next year the boys’ dormitory was taken from them and given to the girls and this made room for the six percent increase the third year, but this was not enough, as some applicants were refused admission. In the fall of the eleventh year the school opened with only 282 students, but 250, enough to fill a dormitory, had been turned away because of “no room”. When the total enrollment had reached 6,161 the number that had been refused admission was 2,000. After the thirteenth year new dormitories were provided, but in a few years the cry was the same. In the fifteenth year the 500 mark was passed, and this was doubled in another ten years. Numbers for the summer term kept a little ahead of those for the regular term until 1926, when attendance for a full quarter of approximately twelve weeks was required and only the regular courses leading to a diploma or degree were offered, and then the enrollment for the two was about equal.
One of the interesting stories told in figures is that of the men students. There were twenty-two the second year, an increase
of only two over the first. The proportion of men to women was perhaps no less than in the teaching profession in the State. It is likely also that men's colleges were supplying the demand for men teachers. However that may be, it was evident there would not be a large number of men students for years to come.
It was deemed poor business to reserve space for the boys who did not need it, while the girls did. It seemed advisable to deprive the boys of a dormitory temporarily, but not to deny them admission to the school. The result was that, when the charter of the school was revised in 1911, the Board of Trustees was granted the right to refuse to let them have a dormitory when, in their judgment, “the best interest of the college may be promoted thereby.” The effect of this was that boys dropped out by degrees, except in summer terms, until during the war they completely disappeared, and none reappeared until in 1926 one boy enrolled and he was the forerunner of others, until in the last year of Dr. Wright's regime they were 107 strong, and were clamoring for a dormitory. They were here to stay, entering directly from the high schools and transferring from other colleges. All who could find lodgings in town were accepted and board in the school dining room was furnished them. Many who thought it was a girls’ school were startled to see everywhere signs that it was a co-educational school.
President Wright would smile when he was urged not to change the school. He would point to the section in the charter that proved it had always been co-educational by legal rights. He believed the boys were here to stay.
The boys of later days could point with pride to two things their predecessors had started. The second organization on the campus was the “Jarvis Debating Society” and the third was a baseball club, both started in the very first year of the school.
The number in the student-body at the end of the twenty-five years had increased eight-fold since the new president on that first morning, October 5, 1909, had faced that distressingly small group of “104 females and 19 males”. The number reached that first full regular year had been only a little less than one-sixth of what it was in 1934. President Wright in his last biennial report presented plans that would make it possible to care for 1,500 students, the number he predicted would be reached in a few years. He knew how to read the signs.
Vastly different was the East Carolina Teachers College to which he welcomed as students a number of the “grandchildren”, the children of the graduates of East Carolina Teachers Training School .
The campus, more than doubled in size, spread out over a hundred acres. The old field had been turned into a lawn stretching
out for a third of a mile along the street. The artistic grouping of shrubs and plants, walks laid out, a fountain in the circle, with the background of the original woods filled with its undergrowth of dogwood and holly, made one of the most beautiful campuses in the State.
The plant had grown from the group of the original six buildings, which were completed according to the blue prints, into seventeen buildings. “Fleming Hall,” “Cotten Hall,” and “Ragsdale Hall,” which the women teachers occupied were the new dormitories. The dining room and kitchen facilities had been greatly increased. A new dining room was connected with the old by the kitchen, with the old laundry and power house absorbed, making lobbies, a room for informal social life, and a postoffice, all under one cover. A new power house and laundry, far removed from living and teaching quarters, reached by a spur of railroad track for hauling coal, was a plant within itself.
A new infirmary had been built and the old one soon to be turned over to the domestic science department for a “practice house.”
The center of the campus had moved eastward and a circle of buildings built around this. The large campus building, containing an auditorium, with capacity for 2,300, used as a gymnasium, later named the “Wright Building,” faced Cotten Hall across the “Wright Circle.” The library and a new classroom building for the science departments faced each other. A fire-proof Administration Building, “Ragsdale Hall,” the teachers dormitory, and beyond that, the Training School faced the street.
Tangible evidence that Robert H. Wright had, in the twenty-five years, built up a great institution upon firm foundations, can be seen in the campus and buildings, in the number and equipment of the staff, in figures representing the young men and women sent out as teachers, and in the type of training these received while in College.
Such intangible evidence as the record of the work done by the thousands that have taught in the classrooms in the public schools of the State, the influence these have had in the communities, and in the lives of the children they have taught could give truly the story of his work and influence.
Only the tangible and intangible taken together can show how well East Carolina Teachers College has fulfilled the purpose for which East Carolina Teachers Training School was established: “to train young men and women to teach in the public schools of North Carolina.”
CONTRIBUTIONS TO EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS
North Carolina progressed more rapidly in Education in the first twenty-nine years of the century than in all the preceding years in its history. No man of his time had broader knowledge or finer understanding of educational conditions in the state or worked more earnestly and steadily to further progress than did Dr. Wright.
East Carolina Teachers College is concrete evidence of his leadership in teacher training, which will stand as his chief contribution. It would be unfair to let that completely overshadow invaluable services he rendered in other ways.
Neither his thinking nor his activities were confined within the limits of his campus or the classrooms of the public schools. While he believed the improvement of teaching was of the utmost importance, he was not blinded to other phases of educational work. The nature of his activities in national and state organizations gives proof of this.
He was a member of the National Educational Association for over thirty years. He was a familiar figure at the winter meeting, that of the Department of Superintendence, and frequently attended the general meetings. He served a term, 1925-1926, as president of the Department of Teachers Colleges, was on the Legislative Commission for ten years, 1925-1934, was director from North Carolina for twelve years, appeared on the programs occasionally, and served on committees.
“The American Progress of Education as Related to the Work of Teachers Normal Schools and Teacher Training Institutions” was his subject at the meeting of 1920. In Salt Lake City in the summer of 1921 he delivered an address before the Normal School Division on “Religious Education in Teacher-Producing Institutions”. “Character Education” was the subject upon which he spoke at the Superintendent's meeting in 1924.
Elected by the N. E. A. as a delegate to the World's Federation of Educational Associations which met in Edinburgh in 1930, he was unable to attend. His name stands on record in the N. E. A. minutes as having favored a Department of Education with a cabinet member at its head.
Influential in many ways, he was better known in the council chamber than on the platform. He was frequently the center of informal groups that gathered in hotel lobbies, around the luncheon table, or in the smokers on Pullman cars. The real work of a convention, he would say, was done by such groups. The North Carolina delegation looked to him as leader. He was a leader in the North Carolina Teachers Assembly, later, the N. C.
Education Association, from the time he returned to the State. Elected vice-president in 1915, he was advanced to the presidency in 1916, and continued on its executive committee for a number of years.
Movements started during his term as president had far-reaching effects. “Standardization” was the theme of the meeting of 1916. The Legislative Committee had worked throughout the year on a report to present to the Legislature the need for a systematic and thorough study of the schools of the State, and urging that a commission be appointed to study for two years the school situation in the State so that recommendations could later be made for needed changes.
In his presidential address Wright voiced the idea and strengthened the cause by giving in concise form some of the obvious deficiencies of the public school system and outlining briefly some of the steps he thought should be taken before a good system could be established. The time, he believed, had come for constructive action. In this address he indulged in no heroics, no so-called inspirational message, but went straight to the heart of the matter, calling for the support of the entire teaching force of the State.
The Educational Commission was appointed, first for a period of two years, with Wright as chairman, and reappointed twice by successive legislatures, utilizing the period of time the study covered in six years. Lack of funds retarded the work, but in 1920 a bulletin giving a complete report of the extensive research work and surveys was presented. Codifying the existing public school laws and making recommendations for new laws was their task the last two years. Wright had said that no one knew what the laws were, new laws had been passed without the repeal of old laws, which were scattered and hard to find, and laws affecting more or less directly the public schools were not easily accessible, causing unnecessary conflicts, so that no one could say positively what was the law. The old laws were assembled, attention called to those that were dead letter laws or duplicated or conflicted with other laws. Revisions were suggested, and recommendations made for new laws that were needed.
Just how much of the report finally was incorporated into recommendations and how much went into bills that were enacted into laws later it would be difficult to say without long and careful comparative study of documents buried in out-of-the-way places. Even then, tracing through the ramifications of changes, amendments, and revisions, would be a futile task. This much can be said, the work of the Commission had great influence. The sections on teacher training were of especial importance as they seem to have been the basis of later legislation. The wave of
standardization, certification, and consolidation most certainly set in soon after the survey was made, and the report was one of the forces at work, helping to bring about these changes. If not a single item had been adopted as recommended, it would still have been worth while. In the code passed by the Legislature of 1923 can be seen at least the reflection of the report.
At the same time Dr. Wright was working on the Commission, he found rich material which he utilized in other ways. In 1920 he delivered a series of ten lectures at Peabody College for Teachers, five of which were on the subject “Curriculum of Normal Schools and Departments of Education” and the other five on “The Preparation of Teachers of Normal Schools”.
In collaboration with A. C. Monahan, Dr. Wright prepared a bulletin on “Training Courses for Rural Teachers”, which was issued by the United States Bureau of Education in 1913.
Manuscripts of addresses, lectures, chapel talks, introductions to reports presented at meetings of organizations, notes and jottings, fragments, are the chief sources of the records of his ideas and principles. Little besides bulletins, reports, and speeches as published in minutes did he leave in printed form.
Equality of Educational Opportunities, Education as the Safeguard to Progress, Education for Leisure, and the Function of a Teachers’ College are four subjects that were of vital importance to him and they reappear time and again in his addresses, sometimes as central themes and again in relationship to other topics.EQUALITY OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
No man in North Carolina strove harder and more consistently for educational opportunities for the country child than did Robert H. Wright. In season and out he advocated equality in educational opportunity for all children of the state. In his estimation the farm boy and the farm girl should be as well educated for their problems as are the urban youths, and the rural population should have the same school facilities as the city.
He made an extensive study of the intelligence and educational achievements of pupils in small towns and rural districts as compared with the cities and found that the urban children were distinctly in advance of rural children. Comparing children of the same chronological age in the country and cities, he found that the urban children were a number of points ahead of rural children both in intelligence quotients and in educational achievement.
Commenting on the above findings, he said: “Our democracy is founded upon the intelligence of citizenship. Anything that tends to develop classes, whether it be the type found in Europe known as the peasant class, or whether it be found in industries
such as manufacturing or transportation, is a direct blow at the fundamental principles of democracy.”
Mr. Wright believed that every child has the right to an equal educational opportunity with every other child in America. This, he said, is one of the basic laws of a democratic society. But of course he knew that all children are not born equal, and he recognized the fact that there are biological predilections called inherited tendencies over which the teacher has only limited control. “The wise teacher,” he said, “will recognize these, and not condemn but strive to help and mend. When all efforts fail she will not emphasize these so-called short-comings, but will overlook them and strive to help develop the child along the lines of his native talents.” He offered as the chief challenge to teachers to help every child use to the maximum the talent or talents with which he was endowed.
His theory may be summed up in his own words as follows: “For education to become most effective, it is necessary for teacher and parent to discover the natural ability of each individual and to make the most of the talent God has given him. To educate we must recognize individual differences, otherwise we will find ourselves attempting to make all alike and this, fortunately for human society, is impossible. Parents and teachers should study children more and try to give to each child that education and training that will fit him for his place in human society.”
In 1928, when the state-wide eight-months’ school term was uppermost in the minds of North Carolina educators, Mr. Wright fought vigorously to get the measure providing an 8 months’ term passed by the General Assembly. He argued that as long as the rural child does not have an equal educational opportunity with the city child, ambitious parents will continue to move from the country to the city, thus draining the rural districts of their most ambitious and intellectual citizens.
“The form of government that we have places no handicap on a child because of birth or social standing,” he said, “but gives him a chance to work out his own plans and make the most of his life. The state of North Carolina owes it to her citizens to offer them the best educational opportunities, and she owes it to herself to give her young citizenship that form of education that will enable each individual to become the greatest possible factor for good in the state.”
This idea was so firmly entrenched in the mind of Mr. Wright that he contended that it was one of the duties of every state or social group to transmit its social heritage with a view to its own continuous existence and growth. He expressed this idea as follows: “It is the business of the schools of every nation to
bring up its youths so they will fit into the civilization of that peculiar people, and it is the business of the schools of every state to acquaint its youth with their own form of government so that they may fit into organized society with as little jar as possible.” That function of the nation and the state to him was a necessity for the preservation of society and for the stability of government.
“But,” he further explained, “while governments are using the schools for this form of adjustment, the proper development of the individual must not be lost sight of, for human society is only individuals that make up the society. The more efficient each individual becomes, if he realizes his social obligation, the better the type of society which is developed. This thought is making itself felt in our schools and among our people. Education is no longer an ornament for human society, but it is a working tool in the hands of human beings. As Joe, the Book Farmer expresses it, ‘there isn't any more sense in packing a lot of useless junk around in your head than in hauling it about in a wagon’.”EDUCATION AS THE SAFEGUARD TO PROGRESS
No educator in recent years believed more strongly in the humanitarian doctrine that education was necessary for the perfectionability of mankind and that progress toward a higher order of civilization was inseparably linked with education than Robert H. Wright. In season and out he was an apostle of progress. This philosophy of progress is probably no better expressed than in the following quotation from his inaugural address as president of East Carolina Teachers Training School.
“Every nation that has ever been upon earth has stood for some ideal. Civilization has advanced by the maintenance, clash, and ultimate confluence of these ideals. The ideal that America has contributed to the stream of human civilization is political freedom. We are the most individualistic people upon the earth, and as long as our present ideal dominates, we can never have a national or state religion. So long as the ideal that now rules lives, we, as a nation, are secure and will be until this ideal dies and another takes its place as the central thought in our life. If this ever happens, and God forbid that it should, then we will follow the new ideal until it, in its turn, is emptied into the great stream of life.”
About two weeks before his death, President Wright referred to the foregoing quotation and said:
“I have lived to see this come to pass. We are at the dawn of a new era. Collectivism, as a new ideal, has trickled into the stream of civilization. Collectivism is democracy moving forward and adjusting itself to the machine age. It does not destroy
individuals; in fact it does exactly the opposite—develops individualism by making the individual group-conscious. It makes one realize that he can get the greatest freedom only when he realizes his obligation to others. We are at the dawn of the greatest period of human freedom the world has ever known. We have come to a realization of human interdependence, and the realization takes the form of what I call collectivism—human beings working together for the common good.
“If we are to have political freedom, if the civilization of tomorrow is to be the highest type ever known, what is needed is intelligent cooperation. Through long ages human beings have realized that ignorance and selfishness have been millstones around the neck of progress. Intelligence has at last asserted itself. We cannot carry on in this new era unless we educate for cooperative endeavor.
“At last we are beginning to realize that the human family is replenished from the bottom and that civilization travels upon the feet of the children. The quickening of the human consciousness has caused people to realize that all men everywhere should be enlightened. Therefore we have the world-wide movement for universal education.
“It is said that an archeologist in excavating the ruins of an ancient city found that three cities had stood there and that each city represented an epoch in the world's history. In the third city down he found a tablet that bemoaned the fact that, in that early time, conditions were not like they used to be. Six thousand years ago the following inscription was carved on a Chaldean tablet, ‘Our earth is becoming degenerate in these latter days. Children no longer obey their parents.’
“No doubt men lived in the second city who bemoaned the fact that the times were changed. And it would be surprising if the last city to stand upon this site did not have people in it who were singing the refrain, ‘The times have changed, and conditions are not as they were in the good old days.’
“Civilizations come and civilizations go, building stratum upon stratum, ever going higher and higher, but the wail of the departing is ever the same: ‘Conditions are not as they used to be.’ It is the voice of a dying civilization; it makes up the stratum that separates the past from the future. We are passing out from the things of yesterday to the more glorious life of tomorrow. The city of Sorrows is slowly sinking and the new city of Hope is rising upon its ruins. The stone that the builders of yesterday rejected is being placed at the head of the corner. The civilization of tomorrow must be an intelligent one, for this world from now on is to progress in proportion to what each generation does to enlighten each succeeding generation. Each generation
must come into the total inheritance of all preceding generations before it can build its structure of civilization. ‘I am all I have inherited plus what little I can add to this inheritance’ is not only true of the individual, but it is true for each epoch in human progress.
“It is manifest to every thinking person that we are in the midst of a great change in the structure of human society, and what the outcome will be, no one has been able to forecast with any degree of certainty. The youth of today will no longer accept the traditions of yesterday, but they are seeking light through education as they have never sought it before.
“One cold winter when I was living in Baltimore I saw the harbor completely frozen over. I saw an ice boat slowly making its way up the channel into the harbor, smashing this ice into small fragments. This kept up until the ice-bound boats in the harbor were liberated. Then pilot tug after pilot tug led the big ships out of the harbor through the narrow channel and into the open water. I sometimes think civilization was frozen over by the chill of tradition until youth could not move from its mooring and then the great World War came and smashed all of civilization's traditions, thus liberating youth. Education stands by as the pilot tug to direct youth through the narrow channels of early life and into the open waters of maturity. Shall we give our children a chance? If so, we must have pilot boats of education for our sons and daughters, some one to guide the youth from the home moorings, through the dangerous channels of early life, and out into the free waters of maturity. Already too many misguided youths are stranded and are blocking the channel, thus handicapping others in their efforts to attain life's open sea.”
In the fall of 1932, President Wright addressed the student body at East Carolina Teachers College as follows: “Young people, I am sorry for you in one way, because the civilization that we have worked out pretty well has been broken up literally, and many of the standards that we have adhered to are being discarded. On the other hand, I am not sorry for you but congratulate you on being young in this particular time in the history of the world, when all standards of civilization are being questioned. Every standard is being questioned, and if it cannot stand up and justify itself, it will be discarded. You are truly living in a critical period in the history of the world. Justice is one of the things we should hold to and character is absolutely essential if we are to go through this period successfully. You may order your life in keeping with the things that are worthwhile in this new civilization when many of the things that we have held to will pass and new things take their places. Regardless of what the rest of the world may say, may think, hold to
your ideals; ring true to the best there is in life. What a glorious civilization we are coming into, if this generation of young folk can hold to their ideals! And what a mess the world will be in if they cannot!
“If we are to go forward, we must have an educated citizenry; we must have the highest character that it is humanly possible to build. Education of tomorrow must carry with it character, intelligence, and a realization of our human obligations to one another. Only in this way can we make the needed adjustments in this changing civilization.”EDUCATION FOR LEISURE
Robert H. Wright showed his educational statesmanship nowhere more clearly than in his ability to correlate his theories and practices of education to practical problems. For instance, he saw clearly the problem growing out of the increased use of machinery in industry and realized that people must be trained to make wise use of what is generally referred to as leisure time. His insight into human nature led him to understand that the average individual has little inclination to leisure. His real philosophy of education for leisure was that training should fit people to fill that time which has been released from the grind of toil with the activities of real living. He deplored the recent trends in education towards the elimination from the curriculum of the so-called “frills”, such as appreciation of music, industrial and fine arts, and other cultural subjects. “The children,” he said, “should be trained in the activities that go to make up real living and the worthy use of leisure.”
In 1933, he expressed the fear that “the utilitarian trend in education all over the country would eliminate many of the things that people need most for full living.” His idea was that we must train the youths of today to appreciate the finer arts and to engage in the activities that are sportsmanlike and upbuilding to character.
Mr. Wright was concerned over the changes that have come about as the result of increased use of machinery. He reminded his students constantly that industries are shortening the working hours and increasing the “living” hours. “A few years ago,” he said, “people worked fourteen hours a day six days a week; today they work eight hours a day only five days a week in many places. When laboring fourteen hours each day, only two hours open time were left, allowing eight hours for sleep. Today there are eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours free time. That has been brought about by the increased use of machinery.”
Here is the outlook for the civilization of the future. “Agriculture will be so organized as to give more freedom to the men,
women, and children who live on the farm—more time in which to live. It means that we are going to be slaves to a machine for perhaps forty hours a week while we are making a living, and we are going to have forty hours a week when we shall be free to live. During the slave time when we are working, we owe an obligation to our fellow-workers.” He emphasized the last point by the following example: “Take an assembly plant for automobiles: There may be fifty men working beside the track to be in place on time and to work as long as they are supposed to; each has an obligation to the man who employs him also. After the working day, he is free until time to go back to the factory. If he is of artistic temperament, he can work along that line; if he has a taste for good literature, he can read and study. He is a free man with time for recreation, growth, and study. This is going to give the human being the maximum of freedom.”
To him this condition meant that people must be so educated that they can give concentrated effort to the working hours and then know how to spend the living hours; and to him that time spent away from the drudgery of labor was living time. Working hours meant keeping time with a machine; living hours meant being reasonably free for self expression.
One of the greatest individual problems of the day to Mr. Wright was teaching the youth how to make worthy use of his leisure. To serve this generation of children better it becomes the task of each instructor to teach the children to use their spare time to advantage, to give them a realization of the aesthetic things in life, to give them a realization of the things uplifting and ennobling.
Quoting from one of Mr. Wright's addresses, he said: “If we are to have planned human activity and cooperation of all the people, then, of necessity, we must have an enlightened citizenry. We must have an educated citizenry, and not educated school teachers, lawyers, and ministers alone. Even cold-blooded business men are realizing this. If we are to go forward so as to have an educated citizenry, we must have the highest character it is humanly possible to build. The education of tomorrow must carry with it the three R's plus; it must carry with it character, intelligence, and a realization of our human obligations one to another. The children must be educated for work, and they must be educated for leisure. It is up to the teachers to train the youths so that they can render the maximum service to the new civilization, which is going to be the most glorious in the world.”HIS CONCEPTION OF THE FUNCTION OF A TEACHERS’ COLLEGE
After a period of specialization in the training of teachers, it has been a common tendency among American teachers’ colleges to institute a liberal arts department and make their original
purpose subsidiary to what is commonly considered a higher intellectual aristocracy. During his long tenure of office as President of East Carolina Teachers College, Wright fought off vigorously every attempt to swerve the college from its primary aim.
His philosophy of teacher-training was to fit the teacher definitely for a specific task. He believed that in training a teacher we were potentially educating a community, for the teacher's work is essentially with the group. It is the teacher who goes back into the public schools and really shapes the growth and development of the citizens of the state. Therefore, the standards of teachers’ colleges have to be high, for if they are high the standards of the entire public school system will be likewise high. The colleges must have worthy ideals and purposes so as to project those ideals into the life of the community and develop a worthy citizenry.
“Teachers’ colleges”, he said, “form an integral part of the state, and they must live, in a sense, some ten, twenty, or thirty years in advance of their time, because the teachers must train the children for their future lives. If the boys and girls are to be trained today to meet the responsibilities of life tomorrow when they are mature men and women, the advisors must forecast as far as possible what that life is going to be.”
He believed firmly that the teachers’ colleges turned out both a primary and a by-product. The primary product was the ability to teach; the by-product was good citizenship. He often commented on the importance of this by-product. He used the following illustration to make this point clear:
“Some years ago I was in the camp of a gold mine, and was told that the by-product in silver was sufficient to pay the expense of the operation of the mine, and the gold was clear profit.”
The by-products of a teachers’ college were to him what the silver was to the gold mine. “There is training in the teachers’ college”, he pointed out, “for good citizenship, which is absolutely vital in the teaching process and essential for every rightminded citizen. There is training in homemaking, for the course of study that is necessary for good teachers fits one for a place in the building of a home. Another important by-product is cooperative community workers, for in the training for teachers the proper relationship between them and their environment is always given primary consideration.”
“Then,” he concluded, “I sum it all up by saying that this kind of training makes a person an efficient worker in every useful occupation. I feel that the by-products in teacher training are among the most important things our graduates carry away with them. When we come to the final analysis the big work the State
of North Carolina is doing in East Carolina Teachers College is training teachers, homemakers, good citizens, and that type of human being who makes the world a better place in which to live, who quickens the lives of the children and who makes life worthwhile.”
ROBERT H. WRIGHT IN THE MID-YEARS
“HE STOOD FOURSQUARE TO ALL THE WORLD”
Except for his thick wavy black hair gradually graying and then whitening through the years, and his face gradually becoming etched with lines of character, there was remarkably little change in either the appearance or the manner of Robert H. Wright from the days of the boy teacher to the veteran leader in education.
He stood 6 feet 3 inches in his stocking feet, slim almost to thinness. Forty years after he had left Stanhope he was remembered as the young man who had to stoop in order to get through a doorway without bumping his head—which may account to some extent for the slight stoop which was characteristic of the Lincoln-like young man—like Lincoln without his ruggedness.
His mouth was mobile, flexible, but settling firmly in a straight line when his mind was made up on a policy or a principle. There was an arresting quality in his voice with its touch of soft Southern drawl. His manner was mild, deliberate, calm, self-possessed—not aggressive nor argumentative. His willingness to hear the other side, his ability to listen with interest and intelligence, gave him almost a conciliatory air which tended to disarm opposition. There was something of the judicial in his manner of listening or waiting—not hesitant or wavering, but detached, free from prejudices, allowing all the evidence to be placed before him before passing judgment. He could even accept setbacks and temporary failure with outward equanimity. They never discouraged him or weakened his determination to achieve the goals he had set for himself and for the institution he headed. Where the differences were of opinion or method rather than principle, he often bowed to the will of the majority. Especially was he not a crusader, at least in the violent upsetting of everything which happened to be in the path of his ultimate objective. He believed there was a better and more effective way than headlong assault.
His method was not to impose his ideas or present them for rubber-stamp approval, but he frequently knew beforehand what direction he thought a course should take, so he led his co-workers on to think through and arrive at the same conclusions he had reached. If by superior knowledge or fuller grasp of the subject others convinced him of a better way, he would yield, but he was not easily changed. Sometimes when he himself had arrived at conclusions before the matter came up he would not reveal his stand. In the end the conclusions arrived at might be the same he started with, but the effect was not the same. His position had been strengthened. Instead of a servile corps of assistants,
carrying out orders from a chief, or a lock-step system, his staff was an intelligent group of co-workers who fought through problems, until principles, and procedures were determined and a line of action agreed upon.
This method was adhered to not only in such matters as courses of study, but those of student welfare, campus activity, social life. It was in these that he found greatest help from his faculty. His interpretation of advisership of student activities was that the person of maturer judgment should be at hand to help when help was called for, to make suggestions when desired but not to take the initiative or step into the leadership. If the group were foundering or divided, the adviser should manage so tactfully that the girls and boys would not know they were being managed.
A law-abiding man who believed in following the law to the letter, Wright accepted the will of the majority without question. As long as a question was debatable, before it became a law, he took a firm stand and fought hard for his side, but the matter was settled with him after it had been decided. His course if he did not like a law was to take steps to get the law repealed or a better one substituted. To him regulations were laws governing conduct, made for the good of a majority or by a majority, and he believed they should be followed. Dead letter rules should be taken off the books. So long as they existed, it was his duty as a law-abiding citizen to obey them. A student was a citizen of the college community and it was a student's duty to abide by the regulations, or campus laws, regulating the conduct of students.
When the student council, which handled minor cases of discipline, petty violations which could be anticipated and had penalties attached, would encounter difficult cases he was ready to give advice. Culprits brought before him whose excess of animal spirits had led them into scrapes or whose delinquency was traceable to any of the common varieties of psychological state at the period of transition from adolesence to maturity found a sympathetic hearing. In the days before the student-government council when discipline was managed by the faculty these conferences were more frequent. In those that were confidential he must have proceeded almost as a psychoanalyst would have done. Fatherly admonitions and advice saved many an offender from nothing more than a “restriction” or suspended sentence. Incorrigibles who showed criminal tendencies, lack of character, or open defiance must have thought him a stern judge. Those who were a menace to campus society, persistent cheaters, or law-breakers, he did not hesitate to turn back to the Council and finally they were brought before the bar of the faculty, the final court of appeal. The parent's point of view he could see but he could also see that parents were to blame for much of the trouble,
and he would have liked to have had the punishment meted out to them rather than to their daughters and sons. He took the stand that he and his staff stood in lieu of the parents and chastisement was sometimes necessary as a preventive measure.
He gave serious consideration to recommendations from the student council. At the annual meetings of the larger body, the school council, of which he and a faculty committee were members, he carefully followed every item in the suggested changes of regulations, penalties, privileges requested, and all the tedious details in revising the handbook.
Students did not always see the difference between regulations governing matters of conduct that were merely conventions and those that involved moral questions. When fundamentalist and liberal elements in the council would not see eye to eye on some matter he would ask that cases causing dissension be turned over to him. An instance of this was cases of smoking by girls, which he handled so there was never a serious conflict on the subject.
A text he used in talks to the student-body was, “If to eat meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no meat.” A teacher, he would say, must not defy public opinion, must conform to the conventions of the community, or she will be socially a misfit. It was his business to see that they would make acceptable teachers, so he would give advice on behavior. After all the girls had short hair he liked to recall a chapel talk he had made against bobbed hair when superintendents and the majority of the people were prejudiced against it. Lip-sticks, dancing, card-playing, once tabooed, he would show no longer offended public sentiment.
He never lost faith in youth. The question, “What's the matter with the young people?” he would answer by citing examples in generations all the way back to David and Absalom, proving this was no new problem. He would not stop until he gave a series of examples showing how the terrible young people of one generation had managed the affairs of the world the next. The youth of all periods in history had faced new worlds, he would say, and must have the forward look.
The kinds of homes the students came from he knew, the “homefolks,” and their manner of living, and this knowledge gave him sympathetic understanding of both the parents and children. The annual spells of nostalgia that afflicted freshmen, and from which upper classmen were not free, he took as good signs. He would have been disappointed if they had not been homesick. “Don't write all the bad news or pour out your homesickness and get your home people excited; when the sympathetic letters come you will be feeling fine and then you will get all upset again,” was his protest when phone messages and letters coming into the office would show how seriously students’ letters had been taken.
Dr. Wright was not a fluent or easy writer or speaker. One of his most difficult tasks in his earlier career was that of facing the public and giving an explanation of his purposes and policies. He avoided fine phrases, grandiloquent climaxes and all the tricks of oratory either in speaking or writing. He depended on clear, logical statement, embellished only with apt illustrations from his own experience.
NOTE-CARD FROM WHICH HE SPOKE
It was not hard for him to talk informally to individuals or small audiences. His chapel talks were perhaps his best utterances. Also, he could write personal letters easily and fluently. A trick of his to get started on formal addresses or articles was to have a stenographer take down an informal talk, such as his chapel talks, or a letter, and later for him to work it over into an address or article. He had to have the free and informal atmosphere to get his thoughts down easily. He would speak from a brief outline on a small piece of carboard which he held in his hand.
Because of the nature of his position, he was in constant demand as a speaker and finally grew used to it and felt at ease on the platform. But he never made any attempt to develop into an orator of the conventional type. Besides addresses, he did little writing except that which was in the form of reports. He was a faithful attendant at meetings of the N. E. A., N. C. E. A. and similar organizations and considered himself as a representative of his institution. As one of his official duties he brought back a full accounting of educational meetings, digests of speeches, summaries of discussions, which he presented to faculty or student body in clear and concise form. Such reports were well organized,
logical, comprehensive. He attended such meetings because he liked to get into movements at the source.
Dr. Finnegan, State Superintendent of Schools of Pennsylvania, said of the report of the Educational Commission of which Wright was chairman: “I have just received a report of a survey of North Carolina that is the finest thing of the kind I have ever seen.”
Although frequently on the platform, he was even better known and more effective in the council chamber. It was at the informal gatherings that he did his best work and built up his greatest reputation for getting things done.
Clyde Erwin, who was coming into leadership himself in the early Thirties, who became State Superintendent of Instruction and later president of the board of trustees of the college about six months after Wright's death said:
“He had the greatest following personally among school men of any man in the State. They listened to him.”
Dr. Charles Crabtree, secretary of the National Educational Association for a generation, said virtually the same thing. In calling the roll of national educational leaders who were “Bob” Wright's close friends, he said that Wright was the center of informal groups in hotels, at luncheon tables, on trains, in Pullman smokers or diners—in his quiet way questioning others, probing problems, analyzing situations, presenting plausible theories, or laying down sound principles. Dr. Wright often said he got more value from such contacts than from formal addresses or programs at conventions. Speeches and reports could be read, but reactions and criticisms had to be garnered in personal conversation and informal interchange of ideas.
In his public addresses, he took as much care with talks to small and apparently unimportant audiences as in formal addresses to large conventions. He rarely refused invitations to speak to small schools when his schedules permitted. The last time his name appeared on a program was for a commencement address scheduled for April 25, 1934—the day of his funeral. Dr. Meadows, who succeeded him as president, went direct from the funeral to the school and made the address instead, as he knew how Dr. Wright regarded such engagements.
History was his favorite study next to education. His work in this field tended to give him a basis for his traditionally historical point of view, for his broad comparisons, for his ability to look far back for causes and for judgment of the future. He found a parallel in the Bible and modern life and sometimes had what seemed prophetic powers.
His philosophy was that “somehow good will be the final goal of ill.” The World War was a shock to him, although he had by
no means been blind to the conditions that brought it about. He had faith that some means would be found to avert war, but when it came he faced the inevitable and did what he could, encouraging the students in their war activities and in development of their initiative and resourcefulness; he served on committees, and made patriotic speeches, but the World War and its aftermath did not destroy his faith in the ultimate good of humanity.
Of a deeply religious nature, he at one time considered the ministry as his calling. He was a strong believer in affiliating with religious organizations and encouraged church and other religious activities. His first talk of each year was to the Y.W.C.A. But he was careful to leave the leadership of this and other student organizations in the hands of the students themselves. He had a Sunday School class of his own—the room not being large enough for those who came to hear him—and he encouraged his faculty to be active in Sunday School and church work. He thought there was no better medium for rendering service.
Besides the church, he was active in fraternal work, being a Mason, and in such civic and humanitarian organizations as Rotary. As a trustee he had worked hard to cancel the debt that had been hanging over his church for a long time. It had been at last paid off, and the Sunday before he died he took pleasure in a ceremony when he, with others, burned the notes. The last check he ever made out was for his church.
Not by nature a politician nor a “mixer,” Wright did not know how to “pull wires,” strike bargains, make compromises, or to gain his objective in devious ways. His outstanding characteristic, perhaps above all others, was his uncompromising honesty. This was shown in his biennial reports with their exact estimates for permanent improvements worked out to the odd cents, without the least indication of padding for “trading purposes.”
Part of this phase of his character was his almost entire lack of showmanship or the dramatic instinct, either personally or professionally. So detached was his point of view that he almost shrank from doing or saying things which made newspaper headlines.
Another characteristic was his policy of suppressing no facts about the school which the public had a right to know. When there was a case of smallpox on the campus, for instance, he announced the fact calmly and thereby prevented a flood of wild rumors. The same course was taken when discipline became necessary. His statement was taken at its face value and there was no scandal.
He knew none of the “stunts” for gaining publicity and would have scorned to use them. He did not give out “releases” and never had a press agent for himself or the school. His school was off from the beaten news tracks, not near metropolitan or state papers, so the reporters did not often find their way to him.
The members of his faculty, individually, were well known for their teaching and for their work in educational organizations. They have been in demand, especially in the eastern part of the state, on programs of clubs or civic organizations, and in church work. Dr. Wright encouraged their participation in any community activities or accepting any invitations. Few, however, expressed themselves in print.
Little writing has been done by the members of the faculty, and few reports of researches have been made beyond the theses and dissertations necessary for degrees. Crowded teaching schedules, heavy committee work, and advisorship for organizations or for activities, have left scant time for getting materials in shape for publication. There has been no dearth of raw material for textbooks, articles, and books, but the teachers, too busy with other things, did not seek publishers and they were not discovered by publishers.
Disclaiming the oft-repeated remark that he had made the college, he gave credit to the alumnae, to his administrative staff, his supporters, the Board of Trustees, friends of the institution in the community and throughout the State—to all who had helped in any way.
Work of another that appealed to him made him think of the creator of that work. In his files was found a carbon copy of a letter to Henry Turner Bailey thanking him for “I Heard America Singing.” In this he says, “I do not understand why some people today still believe that the youth of today is headed in the wrong way.”
Wright's sense of humor was his own. He found some things amusing that others did not get at once. He enjoyed a good pun, for which his name furnished countless opportunities. “I may sometimes be wrong,” he said on more than one occasion, “but I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am always Wright.” While enjoying raconteurs, he realized that he was not one himself and was not given to telling jokes just for the sake of their telling. He gave emphasis to his points frequently with apt illustrations from his own rich experience. The subtle appealed to him. The flavor of the stories and jokes which he did tell were individual and of the moment, apt to be lost in the re-telling.
Once, for instance, an incinerator salesman was giving him figures on the low cost of disposing of garbage with his incinerator. Wright solemnly told him that he had a garbage
disposal system that made money for the school. When the salesman demanded proof, Wright led him to the pig pens which composed his “incinerating plant.”
“Frazier's Mule,” one of his apt illustrations, became a college by-word. This mule of Frazier's, he said, knew just one thing to do—go straight down the furrow. The mule had sense enough to get started in the right direction, and keep going.
Homely illustrations he delighted to use. He knew the people of eastern North Carolina, their folklore, superstitions, old sayings, weather signs, cures, and provincialisms. Errors of structure and corruptions of language were offensive to his ear, but not the old forms of speech, the idioms or pronunciations. It did not seem unnatural to his ear for the first syllable of “forward” to rhyme with “how,” and “put” had a right to rhyme with “but.” The response “It's been a-being so” had a subtlety of meaning that made literary form seem circumlocution. He could fraternize with the guides with whom he “went a-fishin’ ” or “a-huntin’ ”. His advice to the students was that it was wise to put aside their old-fashioned ways or they would not be understood. Fashions in speech were as binding as those of dress.
He hated to see anything go off “half-cocked,” and wanted to be sure of the ways and means before starting. A relatively poor plan that is workable, he thought, was preferable to an ideal one that could not be carried through. Some improvements or developments consequently were delayed, awaiting a blue print plan and appropriations. Beautification of the campus was one of these. Appropriation was not made for planting according to the blue prints accepted when a landscape architect laid out the original plans, so nothing could be done at the time beyond the grading and conditioning of the soil by coverage planting. Dr. Wright was delighted when the societies made campus improvement their project, consented to the revision of the plans, and the original campus was beautified. Planting of trees and beds of flowers by class groups he appreciated, but little more was done for a long time. After the front campus was doubled in size, the new part remained for sometime an unsightly stretch of old field until finally he was convinced it was unnecessary to wait for another campuswide planning and planting scheme. Shown ways and means of getting this done in small units over a long period, he allowed a beginning to be made. He lived to be justly proud of the campus, which he thought one of the most beautiful in the State.
“On time every time,” was a lifetime motto, with “if not a little bit ahead of time” sometime attached. Students were accustomed to such advice as this: “Step when the bell rings for you to move; be in your seats in the classroom when the last bell stops
ringing; you have a right to leave it when the bell rings at the end of the hour.” The first faculty minutes have admonitions about dismissing classes on time. He was restless if the curtain of a play did not go up on the minute, or a program start promptly. Audiences soon found they would miss the first act or first group of songs if they did not arrive at the hour set. He long remembered one occasion when the students invited for a certain hour to a church reception arrived en masse and he was one of the few officials in line to receive them. He was delighted when the seniors arrived so early that they had to be held back in the dressing room while the line formed for a reception given in their honor by the president and his wife.
He was as punctilious in meeting appointments as in meeting obligations. After he was stricken, he gave instructions about a meeting scheduled for the next day. He was concerned about an engagement for a commencement address on the following Friday night. Dr. Meadows promised to fill the engagement, and kept his promise, leaving immediately after Dr. Wright's funeral in order to reach the place in time.
A woman-like sensitiveness to minor matters was shown in his likes and dislikes. Certain small things either gave him pleasure or annoyed him, although he was not an irritable person. He liked dainty flowers such as white hyacinths and disliked zinnias, called them by the folk nickname of “old maids” and said that even when improved, they were still old maids.
Voices affected him. “What would my girls do if they had to listen to that voice every day?” he said in refusing to consider a person recommended for a position. “What is the matter with her clothes?” he asked about another. Interviews with those he was considering for positions he insisted upon because personalities were important in his mind as well as records of fitness.
Every member of his faculty, he said, was chosen primarily for teaching and not for ability in any other line, but they were frequently called upon to act in other capacities on committees and as advisors of various student activities. It is a rather remarkable coincidence that most of these demands, it was found, could be met by some member of the faculty, whether dramatic, journalistic, athletic, or whatever type of aid was needed.
Tolerant as he was about young people and ready as he was to make allowances and even excuses for them, some of their free and easy ways annoyed him. He could not see why a “date” could not come to a girl's door and announce his arrival by ringing instead of blowing his automobile horn. When he went courting, driving his mule “Molly” to an open buggy, if the mule had snorted and blown for the girl, he would never again had the
chance to drive up to her door, he said; but now “a boy's old Lizzie blew, and girl came running.”
Fishing and hunting were his favorite sports and he was a fine sportsman. A three day fishing trip would bring him out of the slough of despair into which his manifold cares sometimes drove him. When problems became too complicated and office bonds oppressed him, he would escape a few hours in the woods hunting, which would bring him back with cleared mind ready to take up the routine next morning. When he felt the need of a fishing trip he would write inquiring about the fishing. A wire from his favorite guide saying “the fish are running” would be the signal for him to get his party together for a trip. Golf was another sport he enjoyed, and he was a charter member of the Greenville Country Club.
Vacations he did not take, except these short fishing and hunting excursions. For the last three summers he had a place at the beach, so Atlantic Beach might be called his “summer capital.” His family moved down for the season and he spent much of his time there, but keeping in constant touch with his office and holding to the management of affairs. He loved the sweep of the seabreeze, long strolls along the strand, the surf, and the advantage of getting these without the hurry of the trips to the beach. His family thought that the time spent at the beach had much to do with keeping him fit. And he did seem to keep physically fit. The only illness of any consequence he had ever had was appendicitis three years before his death. This was not serious and interrupted his activities for only a short time. His hospital experience he found interesting. It enabled him to get first-hand understanding of things he had always been especially interested in as there were three physicians in the family, a son, a brother, and a brother-in-law. He philosophized over the wonders of surgery and anesthetics that enabled a man to watch an operation on himself without feeling it. He enjoyed the social features of his convalescence. Seeming to keep in good condition, he broke suddenly when he was finally stricken. His heart, as if too tired to go on, stopped functioning normally. The terrific strain of the years of the depression, work, cares, worries, piled up, were too much for him.
He had been the rounds of the plant, checking up here and there, at the beginning of another week, seeing that everything was in working order. Passing through the Austin Building, he greeted the members of the faculty and students as they were going to the first classes of the day, entered his office, went through his mail, and had just begun a conference with the dean of men, when, without warning, he fell across his desk.
“I had much rather carry the load as far as I can, lay it down suddenly and go West”, he wrote to one of his colleagues some years before, “than to turn the burden over to some one who does not see clearly where the load is to be carried.” “Some people go this way”, slowly tracing a downward line with his fore finger, he said to a friend, and then as he suddenly gave a quick downward gesture, he added, “this is the way I'll go”. And so he went.
A pageant presenting in dramatic form the history of the school was to be the feature of the twenty-fifth commencement. Plans were completed and rehearsals soon to begin. The thousand students, the two hundred children in the Training School, faculty and officers, representative alumnae from each class, and townspeople whose names were associated with its founding, were all to take part in scenes to be enacted in an out-door setting, by the lake. Suddenly, midway, the elaborate preparations were halted. “Go on”, the leader might have said, but the light and soul had gone out of the undertaking. Without him, the central figure in the scenes that gave life and meaning to the pageantry, it seemed impossible to do so. It would have been difficult to keep the wail of lament for the lost leader from drowning out the joyous song of achievement.
Facing an audience of students, faculty, alumnae, relatives, and fellow-citizens who had gathered to honor the memory of Dr. Wright, Dr. Frank Graham said:
“How much is crowded in that quarter of a century between 1909 and 1934! What hard work, what dreams, what frustrations, and yet, what glorious fulfillment!”
“If we were asked ‘Where is his monument’, wouldn't we say as was said of Christopher Wren, ‘If you would see his monument, look about you—here it is’?” Through East Carolina Teachers College, “he will work,” he said, “for the youth and for the commonwealth through all generations of youth that are to come.”
This brick and mortar monument in its beautiful setting, which the eye can see, is only a sign, a symbol, of his life work. His colleagues, students, and fellow-citizens, having caught the spirit of their leader, have raised to his memory such a monument as he would have chosen, not one of stone, but one that cannot be raised with hands, one that will give more girls and boys the chance to carry on his work—“The Robert H. Wright Memorial Loan Fund.”
Thus through East Carolina Teachers College, “he will work on for the youth and for the commonwealth through all generations of youth that are to come.”
TRIBUTES FROM HIS FELLOWMEN
Appreciation of the character of the man, appraisal of his work and his worth to humanity and society, summaries of his achievements, and interpretations giving some analysis of his gifts and work were presented at the memorial services held by the various organizations, in the resolutions spread in their minutes, in editorials in newspapers, and in telegrams and letters. A sheaf of tributes culled from these would make a beautiful memorial volume, but we have been more concerned with the reasons why these tributes were paid rather than with collecting them.
In the Teco Echo many of these are preserved and in the preceding pages some have been used in their right relationship.
Dr. Frank Graham, president of the University, the only speaker at the Memorial Services held by the College, on December 16, commented on the number of organizations that had held services honoring his memory and passed resolutions. He took these as evidence that each group felt “something deep and real had gone from their midst.”
Strong testimonials of his leadership in eastern North Carolina he found these to be, and, as he saw before him people gathered from the different organizations from many places in the east, he said: “It is but a natural coming back to the man of bread cast upon the waters!”
First in the series of services and meetings held in honor of his memory was a vesper service by the students on Sunday, immediately after his death, most appropriately led by the Y.W.C.A. His favorite hymns were sung. Dr. Meadows, who was the speaker, instead of eulogizing directly Dr. Wright, selected the qualities of leadership he found in him that paralleled certain qualities of Moses.
“Alumnae Day” program at Commencement, on which his message had been the high spot year after year, was devoted to a symposium showing various aspects of Dr. Wright's life and character presented by those who knew him well in each relationship.
Jarvis Memorial Sunday School held a beautiful service with young and old assembled to honor the man who had been on their roll for so long a time, for years as teacher of one of the largest Bible classes in the East. The officials of the church in resolutions praised the virtues of the man who had been one of the most efficient of their number for many years.
The Rotary Club devoted a meeting to this charter member and ex-president whom they held up as a “true Rotarian”.
Bankers, in session in a distant section of the state, passed resolutions of respect for the man they considered a leading citizen.
Sincere expression of appreciation emphasizing the quality that each group had felt had been of special benefit to it, characterized the tributes rather than perfunctory resolutions usually spread on minutes.
Telegrams and letters from the Governor, Supreme Court Justices, the member of Congress from his district, from most of the college presidents in the state, and national and state leaders in Education, and many others in positions of leadership put high estimates upon his services to the State and Nation. But none were more illuminating than those from E. C. T. C. graduates and old students from the first one to register to members of the last class.
Impressions left upon his classmates and fellow-students should be added to the record from the files to give the true place a man held on his college campus. Those who have known him later in other relationships also can see the enduring qualities displayed both early and late.
Three members of the Board of Trustees who were also on his Executive Committee in 1934, had been College mates of Dr. Wright's.
A. B. Andrews, who had been on the Board for years, had this to say of his reputation on the campus:
“At college he stood out individually as a student and an athlete; playing on the University football team demonstrated his ability to work with others, and subordinate himself and his personality when it would advance the cause. His four years on the campus of the University of North Carolina was typical of his life work in the world, and his manner of dealing with affairs and men.”
F. C. Harding, who was appointed in 1915 as the successor of ex-Governor Jarvis, and has the longest record of service on the Board, speaks of his first meeting with Bob Wright. “One misty gray day in November, 1894”, he says, “in the late afternoon, I first met Robert Wright, when as a freshman at Chapel Hill, he came into the library asking assistance in finding books.” He was deeply impressed with the natural simplicity of his manner. The two did not meet again until in Greenville in 1909. “It was here as President of the College and as a citizen of Greenville, through a quarter of a century of service, his constructive genius, radiated an influence not only in North Carolina, but throughout our whole country.”
“There was a strong tie of friendship between us. I knew him well, I knew his personal traits, which gave added strength of character of his individualism. He did not copy any man. He was content to be himself. He had ideals, and they all led him to one common end, the fulfillment of his mission in life—the uplift
of humanity. He gave to the college the best he had in mind and soul. He made it what it is. His business standards had in them a note of sympathy for our common humanity. He lifted the level of human ideals and achievements a little higher than he found them.”
A. T. Allen, who, by virtue of his position as Superintendent of Public Instruction, had been for eleven years chairman of the Board, wrote the following: “As a student he gave promise of developing into the kind of man we all learned to know so well. He was thoroughly reliable in all his dealings with his fellow-students. No one ever questioned the righteousness of his purpose; he did not cater to popularity, but seemed to be directed at all times by the promptings of his conscience. His meticulous care in doing only such things as his principles of right would approve, made him a leading character among all of the students of his day.”
“He believed fully in the accurate workings of the processes of his own mind. While he was not quick to make up his opinion about new questions, when he had thoroughly examined all of the facts and made up his mind it resulted almost in a conviction. After having given expression to the results of his deliberations, only additional evidence would change his mind and attitude on these points.
“President Wright was patriotic. He believed in North Carolina. He was willing to undertake any enterprise that gave promise of being helpful to the people of the state. No personal sacrifice was too great for him to make freely in his effort to serve the State in every relationship in which he found himself.
“It was a part of his faith that public education had the power gradually to raise the level of civilization. He further believed that the success of public education was dependent upon the training and attitude of the teachers in these schools. His life work, therefore, was the training of teachers. He was not satisfied merely with technique, skills and information. He thought there should be something more. Personal character and the individual attitude towards the work were characteristics which he felt should dominate the life of every teacher who went out from his institution. This faith of his and this effort of his, and the power to transmit them to those who came under his tuition represent his great contribution to the life of the State.”