Educational Change in Western NC

 

Introduction 

Between the 1920s and 1940s, education in North Carolina was vastly improved, giving new prospects for agriculture and mountain music. Yet those changes occurred in specific causal relationships, which corresponded with the life at that era of Miss Pearle Anna Webb, an ordinary school teacher who lived in Avery County.

 

Background 

The enormous changes to quite a few of the societal aspects of the State of North Carolina, especially agriculture and mountain music, began with the federal aid of education through the Smith-Hughes Act, which passed on February 17, 1917, at the end of the First World War.

The Smith-Hughes Act was an act of the United States Congress that promoted vocational agriculture to train people "who have entered upon or who are preparing to enter upon the work of the farm" and offered considerable federal funds for such educational purpose.

 

About Miss Pearle Anna Webb

Gender and Education

Since the Smith-Hughes Act, the demand of educated people with farming knowledge and high diploma, people like Miss Pearle Webb, to become school teachers suitable for vocational education, was increasing astonishingly fast. In the 1920 census with Heritage Quest, she was already listed as a school teacher, only at the age of twenty. The year with the greatest increase in the number of school teachers happened to be the year when Miss Webb became a school teacher, 1920. Thus, the demand of rapidly expanding the education loomed so huge that school needed to hire Miss Pearle Webb at the age of twenty.

Yet Miss Pearle Webb might have not worked as a school teacher if she was not in North Carolina. The reason behind is that the federal funds for Agricultural Education were appropriated to the states in the ratio that the rural population of a given state bore to the total rural population of the United States. North Carolina being to a very large extent a rural state naturally had secured a larger share of Federal funds for the promotion of agricultural education than for the other vocational subjects. As a result, gratifying progress had been made in extending agricultural education to those students, both boys and adults, who live in consolidated school districts. 

School Year

Number of Schools

Enrollment

All-Day Classes

Enrollment

Part-time

Total Enrollment

1918-1919

21

323

None

323

1919-1920

44

721

None

721

1920-1921

53

1019

644

1663

1921-1922

65

1468

2100

3568

1922-1923

79

1957

2450

4407

1923-1924

88

2282

2811

5093

1924-1925

105

2943

2350

5293

1925-1926

111

3377

2167

5564

In 1930s, the enrollment statistics became relatively stable between 6000 and 7000 students, twenty times more than the number of students enrolled two decades ago.

Although the significant educational progresses had been made between 1920 and 1940, the gender of teachers was highly disproportional, as shown below in the table of “Teachers And Term” of Avery County statistics of teachers of school years 1920-1922 and school years 1924-1926.

Year of Biennial Report

Total Number of Teachers

Number of Male Teachers

Number of Female Teachers

1920-1922

75

17

58

1924-1926

93

30

63

 

Women Educators

The astounding ratio between male teachers and female teachers wasn’t a unique occurrence. The same phenomenon happened in every county in North Carolina. The ratio in 1920-1922 for Durham even reached one to ten. The major factor was the First World War, which induced such believable ratios in two different ways. Firstly, from the viewpoint of females, the war had taken countless men away from their homes, making it hard for women to marry someone. Women had no households to do and no kids to take care after. In response to the huge demand brought by the Smith-Hughes Act, educated women thus chose to become school teachers. Secondly, women at that time were having a really hard time finding a decent job with decent salaries, given women’s relatively low status at working places. The following sentence is from a journal describing women’s working conditions between 1880s and 1940s, “Seiniger hoped to draw Truman’s personal attention to her many work-place concerns: long hours, inflexibility, a capricious supervisor, an unresponsive union, health and safety hazards, and assaults on her dignity”. Here, Boston pharmacist Minna Seiniger wrote to President Harry S. Truman to seek his help with a workplace dispute with her longtime employer, Liggett’s Pharmacy in 1946. However, this dispute, according to the journal, was not an unusual  occurrence; it instead symbolized the general women working conditions that had existed for two decades before the letter.

 

Vocational Training

Starting in 1920, part-time classes emerged, to cater the educational needs of adults, in addition to the day schools for vocational education. It turned out to be a great success.

School Year

Day Schools

Part Time Classes for Adults

Number of Schools

Number of Classes

Total Enrollment

Number of Schools

Number of Classes

Total Enrollment

1918-1919

21

35

323

None

None

None

1919-1920

44

70

721

None

None

None

1920-1921

53

97

1019

22

26

644

1921-1922

65

125

1468

56

68

2100

Out of the 2100 adults enrolled in 1921-1920 part-time classes, about 2000 adults were farmers.

The progress of vocational education, both in scale and quality, greatly improved the farming conditions and economic conditions for the mountain people. As an example, below is a summarized story of a farming course from 1920.

As a typical part time course in live stock instruction, W. D. Barbee, teacher of agriculture and principal of the Seaboard High School, organized a class of adult farmers to whom he gave a course in hog raising, involving the care and feeding, and the proper methods of hardening the pork and marketing. A group of farmers fed a car load of hogs according to instructions and to market them at the times statistics showed the price of live hogs was at its highest point. Mr. Barbee and specialists from the Extension Division of the State College and Department of Agriculture carefully instructed and supervised these farmers. At the time appointed the hogs

were shipped to the Richmond market and sold for more than 11 cents a pound live weight when dressed pork was selling at 10 cents a pound in the community.

Yet the topics of such courses not only covered hog raising, but also orchard production, cotton growing, fertilizers, marketing and dairying, etc.

 

Education Helped Professor Frank Brown

We know from her job that Miss Pearle Webb was providing people with literacy for essentially her whole life. Yet what’s more is that she used her own literacy to help professor Frank Brown by writing transcripts and provide contact information for him. Professor Frank Brown recorded 9 songs from Miss Pearle Webb. Yet in Box 16 of Professor Frank Brown’s items, the folder of Miss Pearle Webb contained transcripts of more than 30 songs, either typed or written by Miss Pearle Webb herself. Same goes with many other folders, transcriptions were often found to be not written by the song collector, Frank Brown, but rather by the very mountain people who sung those songs. Those singers had to be educated to either type or write the transcriptions .

The handwriting of Miss Pearle Webb is also neat and beautiful, as shown below. In this particular part of the letter, Miss Pearle Webb provided contact information about a bus driver who might know a singer called Graybeal that Frank Brown was looking for.

 

Conclusion

In a nutshell, with the  Smith-Hughes Act as the fuse, the Education in North Carolina had gone through significant progresses from 1920 to 1940, when nearly twenty times more students could enroll in schools and an equal number of adults began to enroll in part-time classes. The newly created vocational education offered considerable help for farming people in the mountains. On top of that, the improved literacy helped mountain people sustain their linkage with mountain music during an era of industrialization. All those changes were clearly manifested in Miss Pearle Webb’s life. The social changes in North Carolina and the life of Miss Pearle Webb are both reflections of each other.

 

Bibliography 

[1] Prosser, Charles A., Layton S. Hawkins, and Lewis H. Carris. The Smith-Hughes Act. Washington DC: United

States Congress, 1917. Print.

[2] "Pearle Anna Webb (1900 - 1988) - Find A Grave Memorial." Pearle Anna Webb (1900 - 1988) - Find A Grave

Memorial. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

[3] "Pearl Webb - 1920 Census." Ancestry.com. N.p., 1990. [4] "Pearl Webb - 1940 Census." Ancestry.com. N.p., 2010.

[5] Leloudis, James L. "Preface." In Schooling the New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

[6] Turk, Katherine. “ “With Wages So Low How Can a Girl Keep Herself ?” Protective Labor Legislation and

Working Women’s Expectations." J. Policy Hist. Journal of Policy History 27.02 (2015): 250-74. Web.

[7] “Introduction” Eller, Ronald D. Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers: Industrialization of the Appalachian South,

1880-1930. Knoxville: U of Tennessee, 1982. Print.

[8] Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of North Carolina from the Scholastic Years 1918 to 1940. Raleigh, NC: State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1923. Print.