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"He was as true a man as I have ever known — unpre- 
tentious 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 characteriza- 
tio7i of him than Edwin Markham's poem in which the 
poet refers to Lincoln as a lordly cedar going down and 
leaving a loiicsome place against the sky." 

T. WiNGATE Andrews. 




RoHERT 11. Wright hdoiiKs to the period of educational awak- 
ening? in North Carolina ushered in by Aycock ; and he became a 
I)art of the period of educational jj^rovvth that followed. From 
the time he returned to the State in 1009 as president of 
Carolina Teachers TrainiiiK 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 
couraj^e to lead in the face of adversity. The type of fearless- 
ness 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 ulti- 
mate 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 cooperative 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 pre- 
sent 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 im- 
I)rovement 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 XoiiTii (\\roi,ina 9 

II. Building Up a Great Institution for Teacher 

Training 18 
BeKiiiiiiiiK ol Kast Carolina Teachers 'I'raiiiinj,^ 

School 18 

Jar vis, Joyner, Urmond 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 Cooperation 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 

in. 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 

\y. "He Stood Foursquare to All the World" 83 

Tributes from His Fellowmen - 94 


1S7(», May 21 — IJorii in Sampson County, 

1888-1890 — Tauy:ht in "Huny:ry Neck," Bladen County. 

1890-1892 —Student at Oak Rid^e Institute. 

1892-189-1 — 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 In.stitute. 

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 — \'ice-President of North Carolina Teachers 


1916 — President of North Carolina Teachers Assembly. 
1917-1922 — Chairman State Educational Commission. 
1925-1926 — President American Association of Teachers 

1928 — Doctor of Education conferred by Wake Forest 

1934, Aprir25— Died. 


"It is a story of Kast 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 
liave 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 wres- 
tling; 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. 
inii)r()ved 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. 

Rol)ert Herring Wright, the second of these five sons and four 
(laughters, was born ]\Iay 21, 1870, a "significant year in which to 
l)e born, in the South." His youth was that of the average farm 
1)()\' of the ISTO's in castciMi Noi-tli Cai'olina. }]v pldu.ehed and 

10 Robert Herring Wright 

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 neiKhhorhood 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 recon- 
struction and poverty. Living was a strujrgle. 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 
e.xtended 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 
si.x 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 exami- 
nation 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 
N'eck." 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 

A Son of North Carolina 1 1 

of diU'ereiiL jjutrons of the school. W riKlit taiiKht this school for 
two years, from 1888 to 1890. 

His mother, Betty Vaiden Wright, at this time realizing the 
iiia(le(iuacies of the subscrii)tion-e.\ten(le(l public schools, aiul the 
necessity of better preparation of her own children for college, 
toward which Robert was now definitely headed, conceived the 
idea of Rivinj;. 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 i)reparation 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 de- 
termination to make his mark in the world. 

According to his schoolmates at Oak Ridge, he was an ex- 
cellent 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 

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 


Robert Herring Wright 

A Son of North Carolina i:5 

tauKlit ill t^i''"^ same schooi in the suninicr of IHlKj, dui-ing a 
c-ollcKf x'acation. 

Entering the L'nixcrsity of North C'arcjhna as a s(jphomore 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 determi- 
nation 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 pro- 
fessional career in iMaryland 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 im- 
pression 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 some- 
thing in the (luiet. 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 

14 Robert Herring Wright 

societies and otlu-r University honors. Wright is best remembered 
by his coiitfinporarii's at Chapc-l Hill for his prowess in football. 
First a star lini'snian. 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 189G. He was a marshal at com- 
mencement in ISIh;. when his cousin. Tom Wright, was chief 
marshal. The ^irl to whom he jrave 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 

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 im- 
portant life-work in North Carolina. It was on December 31, 
^^^190/ 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. 

A Son of North Cakolina 15 

Pearl was in the rlass of I'J'i."), ihc first t()Ui--ycar class to entor as 
frc'shnu'ii and k<> strai^lit through the lour year course. She 
taught in the Wilmington and Raleigh High Schools, and at- 
tended 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 Kast Carolina 
Teachers College in 1935, and taught in (Joldsboro 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 P^ast Carolina Teachers College in the summer 
but graduated from the University of North Carolina, and re- 
ceived 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 
190G, 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 adminis- 
tration 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 mem- 
ber 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 ofi'er. 
They felt that he was peculiarly endowed and specially trained 
for the successful heading and guidance of the young North 
Carolina institution. 

IG Robert Herring Wright 

Love of his native State, and earnest desire to render it a real 
sorvice; his conviction that training teachers was the most im- 
portant 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 
|)ossibilities 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 determi- 
nation, 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 insti- 
tution 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 interpre- 
tation by his colleagues, a few excerpts from his addresses pre- 
senting 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 

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 

A Son of Xokth Carolina 17 

and a member of the World's Federation of P^ducational Asso- 

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 Roard of Stewards, 
and. for years, as teacher of the Baraca Class. He became 
alliliated 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 Green- 
ville Country Club, He was a Director of the Home Building and 
Loan Association, a member of the Greenville Chamber of Com- 
merce, 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 asso- 
ciates, and the community in which he lived, in any way. in any 
capacity, at any time, than Robert H. Wright. 



Tiaiiu'tl teachers. Wright was convinced, constituted tin- 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 edu- 
cational 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 

In him the trustees found the type of executive they were 
seeking to build up the institution which the State was founding 
in p]astern 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, w'hen 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. 


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 difiicult to tell 
in whose brain the idea originated, or to locate the exact birth- 

Building Up a Gkkat Insiiti iion 1!) 

place. Kill il is Well known lliat cohiiIn' and cily siipcrintciKlcnts 
an<l pi-intipals in 1 he cast cni section of the State at their meetings 
had 11(1111 time to time discussed the need for a training school 
that \\(inld siippl.\ 1 he rural schools with teachers. They were 
laniihai- with the two-year normal schools in other states. 

The spK'udid work bein^'' done hy the four-year institution 
already exist in^^ in Xoi'th Carohna ha\iiiK as its chief work the 
training of teachei's was greatly appreciated by them. They 
claimed, however, that the rural sections, especially in the eastern 
l)art of the State, got little benefit from that as the supply of 
(eachei's was not equal to the demand. Most of its graduates were 
absorbed l)y 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 
(Mty 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 popu- 
larized 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 ad- 
vantages 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 tirst 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 

20 Robert Herring Wright 

time, however, he came in with the promise, "If you do as I say, 
I'll get the school for you." 

dreenville lined up her forces and left no stone unturned in 
her preparation for the fight, in which other towns and leaders 
were jt)ining. 

While to the general !)ul)lic 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 or- 
ganized, with Ragsdale as general chairman and Jarvis as chair- 
man 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 im- 
mediately afterwards was introduced in the House, meeting with 
no opposition at first. Then it came before the Educational Com- 
mittee, 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 pas.sage 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 IMarch 8. 1907. 

Fcjrtunately 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 de- 

Building Up a Great Institution 21 

niands of (he public' schools. Its purpose was "a teachers' 
traininji: school lor young white men and women." Its object 
was "to give young men and women such an education and 
training as shall fit and (lualily 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 em- 
phasis on those subjects taught in the pul^lic 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 ap- 
propriated originally for the purpose of "erecting and etjuippiiig 
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, de- 
pended 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 

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 

22 Robert Herring Wright 

them in writti-n form. One town. Greenville, had centered its 
attention on one point, "the largest linancial aid". 

The permit i.ssued to the contesting towns for a bond election 
to raise the sum pledi?ed by them for establishment of the .school 
specified that siirh 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 com- 
mittee and who hatl promised to get the school for Greenville if 
given a free hand, had lallcd 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 con- 
sidered 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 w-ould 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 conTmunity. 

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 

Buii.DiNc Up a Gkkat Institution 23 

and roiiduct said school". With I he "'I raining School" chartered 
and the location sclcclcd, the institution was turned over to the 
newly aiJpointcd IJoard with inst mict ions, as soon as possible after 
organization, "to j)rocc'i'd to build and equip the necessary 
buildings", "make rules and regulations," and "do all other things 
necessary to the can\\ing out of thi' Act" establishing the school. 

The Board ot Trustees met and organized on December ol, 
1907. James Y. Joyner, by virtue of his position, was the chair- 
man. He and two other members, Jarvis and Yancey T, Ormond, 
formed the executive committee. These two had been among the 
leaders in the fight lor 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 w-hich finally became part of the act 
that was executed into law, w-as within easy reach. 

To this committee were assigned the duties of a building com- 
mittee. It acquired the site of 47' o 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 fol- 
lowing 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 i)rediction come true." 


The sun was hurliiiK li<>t shafts dinvii 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 

"This is a work of love and not labor." replied the "Grand 
Old .Man" to the admonition of his wife. He had been diKKing 
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 semi- 
circle 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 anniver- 
saries of the occasion, however, is a plain shovel, not thus 

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 view-ed 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 busi- 
ness 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 ecjuipment 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 

Buii.DiNc I'p A Great Institution 25 

later; the (liiiiiiK hall, {lesiKiiatcd (Jii the plans as the "refectory"; 
the infirmary ; and power house and laundry combined in one 
buildiiiK- The last two had Ix'cii built from an addilional api)n)- 
prialion fi-oni the LcKi-^hiturc of 11)01). 

In ('xra\atinK. (luicksand was discovered under one corner of 
the main l)uil(linK 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 be- 
tween 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 adminis- 
tration 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 altitude toward this 
school in particular. 

Several men approached measured up to the standard set, but 
were either interested elsewhere or believed the institution would 

26 KOBKKT Hkrring Wright 

nevtM- bo more than a small loial 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 lialtimore" 
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. 0. Carr, was instructed to "usher 
Mr. Wright in for conference." Although the official announce- 
ment 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 


nialLerod to him wiicn the i)(jsili(jn was proll'ered. Jarvis and 
the other members of the executive committee never had cause 
to regret their choice. Time and hiter 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 
\-isions went t'ai" hc.voiul theirs and he knew how to K've them 

The riyfht 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. 


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 ad- 
visers, counselors, and guides. Especially close was the relation- 
ship 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 tw'o 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 alw-ays 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 in- 
experience 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' Contri- 
bution 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 ])rec()ncei\'ed ideas to those better in- 
formed than he." 

Wright gives one instance illustrating Jarvis' fairness in 
x'ieJding to th(> judgment of others on a poitit on which he did not 

28 RoBKKT Herring Wright 

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 Hoard 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 neces.sary 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 in- 
cident 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 execu- 
tive committee, three men representing the best types of leader- 
ship 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 

Building Up a Great Institution 29 

public schools hut to other state oducational institutions. As a 
result, he saw it as pai't ol" the whole. 

Yancey T. Orniond, 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 fair- 
mindedness, made chairman of the joint committee that drew up 
(he 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 relation- 
ships 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. 
l)ut 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 recommenda- 
tions to the executive committee, which they, after careful con- 
sideration, 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 achieve- 
ment, for accomplishing results that could not have been gained 

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 ex- 
cei)tion. He had his share of both, from the beginning, but he 
was generous in sharing the i)raise with his co-workers and su})- 
porters. gi\ing credit to the Board or Trustees and to his stall", 
and did not shirk taking tlie blame on his own shoulders. 


Robert Herring Wright 


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 reahties 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. 

Building Up a Great Institution 31 

As a hoy ((vuhcf he must have been as much learner as teacher. 
While he I'ouikI liis calliuK early, he soon realized that he could 
not K<> 'ill' in it withoul coIIck*'. 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 objec- 
tives ahead. At the same time he had a decidedly i)ractical side, 
lie knew what he wanted and had ideas of how to K'» about 
Kcttin^ it. 

When W riKht reached college this definiteness stood him in 
irood 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 tind 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 en- 
trance 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 
I)laced 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." 

32 Robert Herring Wright 

Forty years later one of these assistants, still living? near the 
site of the Stanhope school, put the stamp of approval upon the 
"(all, earnest, black-haired youn^ 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 re- 
sponsibility 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 in.structorship at Oak Ridge. 

One of his co-workers at Oak Ridge, later the head of the 
school, said tw^enty 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 w'hom were women, it is a testimonial of his 

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 

Building Up a Gr?:at Institution 


principal's idea of adniiiiislralion incJLuk.'d thai of sujjervisioii 
over his teachers and responsibility for the quality of their 


The sLigj^a'stioii was made the next Tall that it "would he well 
for all to take up some outside work," and the leader would be 
"k1;i(1 to take up agrain and carry forward the work of the 
Psychology class begun the year before" and would "welcome 
new members." In connection with the History Teachers Asso- 
ciation, he was conducting evening classes in civics for the city 

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 princij^alship is an indi- 
cation that he would undoubtedly have risen higher still. 

I.iltlc lime was left from teaching, Wright found, to give to 
researches that would lead to the doctor's degree at Johns Hop- 
kins, although he continued for awhile to carry on his studies at 
the same time. Teachers College, Columbia University, in the 
meantime, had become the ?kTecca for teachers. esi)ecially tliose in 

34 Robert Herring Wright 

administration, so ^Ir. Wright went there the first summer term 
after he became principal of Eastern High School. 

The experiences at Teachers College must have had great in- 
fluence 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 edu- 
cational 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 w^as as holy to him as theirs was to 
them. But his way led him into the world instead of away from 


When he arrived at Greenville and took charge in 1909, Presi- 
dent 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 
w'ould 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 

r.riLDiNc I'l' A (Jk?:at Institution 35 

in every way possible. Plans were immediately set in motion to 
reach the youny: 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 in- 
tending 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 repre- 
sentative 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 w^ished to become 
teachers and were capable of being trained for teachers. Many 
teachers in service would almost certainly wish to avail them- 
selves 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 ap- 
peared, had l)e('n printed or related. Things were in susj^ense. 
Ironi a i)ul)lic standpoint, everybody waiting to see if the fair 
promises would he fulfilled. 

36 Robert Herring Wright 

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, familial* 
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 leader- 
ship 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 w-as justified by the results. 

Students came, the number small in comparison with the en- 
rollment 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 w^ere swept out. There were 123 on the first day, "104 
females and 19 males," as the record quaintly reported. Enroll- 
ments 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 w'ho 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 w^ere 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 w^re 62 counties in the catalogue 
and in the last years averaged each year about 75. with enough 


\ai"iMtion to include iiract ically all hundi'cd in any period covering 
a few \ears. 

Those who had aiKncd Ihat the school would be largely local 
proved to be false prophets. In the first year the students came 
from 87 counties and four other states. While Pitt County 
natui-ally took the lead, and has always kept it, neighljoring 
counties frecpiently have not ranked next in numl^ers and some 
counties at a distance have been strongly represented. 


The Board of Trustees had begun assembling the faculty by 
ek'cting three full time teachers at the same time they elected 
I he president ; they evidently had in mind the same general quali- 
fications for guiding them in their choice. All were natives of the 
state, graduates of colleges of high standing, all had had pro- 
fessional training in institutions that specialized in teacher 
training, and had had graduate work in universities. The three 
fuiuhimental 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, w^hich 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, es- 
pecially. 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 repre- 
sented 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 depart- 
ment 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 
departnu'nt. with whicli lie t'ontiiuied until his death in 1929, 


Robert Herring Wright 

Charter Members of the Faculty. 1 909 
Beqinninti at top roir: Katk W. Lkwis, Art: W. H. R.uisdai.i:. Education: 
BrKDiK M( KiNNKV. Latin: Sai.i.ik Joynku Davis, History: Makia D. Gkaham. 
Mathematics: Mamik E. Jknkins, English: C. W. Wilson. Education: Mhs. M. 0(;i)KN. Home Economics: Fanmk Bishoi'. Piano; Hkijukkt E. 
ArsTiN. Science; Roukkt H. Wkigiit, President. 

ni'ii.DiNc I'l' A Grkat Institution 


"I'i"imai\\' Mictliods", alliliatcd willi tlic iMlucat Idii department, 
which was iiit i-odiiccd tlic first suinnici-. conibiiu'd with super- 
xisioii, or critic tcaciiinK. tlic secuiul year, one teacher doing both. 
Twciit y-five years later there were nineteen "critic" teachers. 

PuhHc School Art was considered of special imjjortance because 
few of the teachers had any training for it althcuigh 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 

Saiiik Jovnku Davis, Mamik E. Jk.nki.ns, Rohkut H. \Vki(;ih. Katk W 

Lkwis, Mauia D. Gkaham. Lkon R. Mkadows. 

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 Balti- 
more 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 

40 Robert Herring Wright 

lurniint^ the laiiKuai^e dcpai-tnu'iil, was restored after the insti- 
tution 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 w^ere those of the registrar, and who was installed 
by the second opening, and she, too, has served continuously ever 

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 to- 
gether. 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 

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 


"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." 

nriLDIXC- I I' A (iKP:AT iNSTI'irilON 11 

"Never fnr a niomciil has this institution dcvialed from its 
I)iirp()se," he I rut hfiillv- said, t'ni- he held tenaciously to the pur- 
pose throuKlioLit his entire achinnist I'at ion. The very wordinj^ 
of this i)urpose has never been changed since the first bill was 
passed chartering the school: "for the purpose of giving young 
while men and women such education and training as shall fit and 
([iialify them to teach in the public schools of North Carolina." 

Room for growth, he saw in the beginning, depended upon the 
(jualifications 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 
(jualify" them for teaching also remained unchanged. This is as 
follows : 

"The Board of Trustees shall have the powder 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 iniblie 
schools as a teacher must have in order to teach them 

"'2. A knowledge of other studii's that are related to the 
In'anches taught in the pul)iic st'hools. 

42 Robert Herring Wright 

*'3. A knowledge of the mental and physical powers of the 
child and their methods of development. 

"4. A knowle(iK<^' of the i)riiK-iples 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 man- 
aging 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 w^ork. 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 'profession- 
alized 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 be- 
tween 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 

HuiLDiNc. Ui' A Great Institution 43 

as a cotimiil t ('(■ nf the whole, was imilcd to "tear it to jjicces," 
and each one was given the privik'Kc of Kiviiig 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 
ttic ft'clinu- of nnity that was so desirable. Each one kept in- 
formed about the woi-k of others and saw his own as part of the 
whole. It was stinnilatinK and inspiriuK. in spite of occasional 
long meetings when ti'dious details or differences of opinion 
laused 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 else- 
where, there were easy, logical transitions rather than radical 

Uilliculties were greatest in the early period when the founda- 
tions were being laid. Never afterwards was more serious at- 
tention 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 
I)urpose 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 
cunieula 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 olfer helji to all, i)repared or 
unprepared, who were going to teach in the public schools: "Take 

44 Robert Herring Wright 

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 after- 
wards in one of his talks on the anniversary of East Carolina's 

"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 begin- 
ning 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 

It was not the students who had graduated from the high 
schools that caused his faculty to "come down," nor was it alto- 
gether those that had not completed high school. Other colleges 
then had to have sub-freshman classes or preparatory depart- 
ments 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 j^ears, after entrance re- 
quirements 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 

I'.riLDiNG Up a Great Institution 45 

review of siihj'cct-iuatlci- and adding coui'scs in wlial were tiien 
called "p('daK<>K>'" and "cdiu'at ional i)sych()i<JKy." 

Shorl-tei-ni coui'scs substituted for tile institutes were ofl'ered 
only in the spring and summer terms. 

When the only reciuirement for admission to one course was 
"Seventeen years old and K<JinR to teach next year," the faculty 
felt the l)ottom 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 

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 w-as 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 re- 
chartered as a teachers' college. The two-year course or curricu- 
lum, 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 i)rincipals 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 

46 Robert Herring Wright 

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 1\)'Z6 this institution was received into full member- 
ship 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" 


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 

Opposition, which had raised its head at every advance, never 
affected Dr. Wright's determination to go on. It merely stimu- 
lated 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. Pre- 
dictions 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 certifi- 
cation 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 

Building Up a Great Institution 47 

policy lor Kusteni Carolina Lu enter the higher held. (JcjUegciS 
which had been the source of supply for the high school, while 
perhaps not expecting the school ever to become a ft^rmidal^le 
lival, did not welcome the newcomer. Members of the stall", 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 labora- 
toi'ies. a greatly enlarged library, and complex machinery re- 
quiring 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 insti- 
tution 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 Con- 
ference agreed that only those teachers holding the M. A. degree 
could qualify as critic teachers. Dr. Wright felt that this college 
should offer w^ork 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 

48 Robert Herring Wright 

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 19.'i4 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, some- 
one replied, "Why Wright has been connected with every edu- 
cational 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 com- 
mission 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 
w^hat 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 

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 


Extension of the time for training was needed so that prospec- 
tive 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. (Jpporlunity must he ollcrt-d the "teachers-to- 
be" to acquire the art of teaching, and the "in-service teachers" 
1(1 pi-M^M'css without loss of time. 

The nic;ms I'oi- providini,^ foi- the former has l)eeii a satisract(;ry 
system for observation and practice teaching. 'I he hitter have 
t'ouiid the Summer School to be their salvation. 

Pi'actice teachinjjr. together with observation woik. apprentice- 
ship, and other in-eliminaries, has been a requirement for the 
diploma ov ilegree. Kxplanations in the catalogue, although they 
have varied somewhat, changing' with the fashions, have been 

I\aeh stutlenl 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 
ol)sei-vati()n. 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 con- 
ferences 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 

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 
suiHTvision 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 Flast 
Carolina Teachers College, in cooperation with the city schools 
of Greenville, has been able to work out a satisfactory arrange- 
ment by which the difficulties invoh'ed in administ i-at ion and 
fmance have been overcome. 

Utilizing grades in the local schools. President Wright believed. 
was the only feasible way of getting desired results. Student- 

50 Robert Herring Wright 

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 con- 
venient 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. Further- 
more, 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 al- 
ways 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 re- 
sponsibility. 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 

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 

i;rii.i)i\-(; I'l- A (Ikkat Institution 51 

"special iliartcr" schools in the towns and cities, and training t'>i' 
teaching one Ki'Jidc onlx' and for scNcral ^I'^idcs forming a unit 
ictlLiired tlill'crcnt i)ri'i)arat ion. A rural thrcc-teuchcr schofji in 
ritt County, the Joyner School, selected as the type in which it 
was thought many of 1h(^ ^irls would teach, was also used as a 
practice stiiool for se\eral years until the era of consolidation 
|)uslie(l out schools of this type. Practice teaching was then 
transftired to tlu' Winterville school, a typical consolidated 
village-rural school. Finally, the county schools ceased to be used 
as i)ractice schools. When the Training School was l)uilt 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 
t he 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 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 in- 
teresting 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 
k'ligthened 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 iilans sullicient 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 

52 Robert Herring Wright 

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 oltices. 
Propagandists can no longer use assemblages of summer students 
as convenient agencies for publicity. Contrasts are marked on 
every cami)us. Reflections of the changes in educational thought 
and methods have been shown nowhere more than in the summer 

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 adver- 
tised that he wanted only those who were in earnest. He rejoiced 
that his campus had never been a "summer playground." Com- 
plaints 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 in- 

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. 

llni.DIXC I'l' A (iRKAT I NSTITl'TION 5:i 

Lcng'th (»!' the suiiiiiicr term has xai'icd, at lirsl eight weeks; 
then twelve weeks, a sti-aight cjuarter equal to that of the terms 
ill the regular year; and finally, the twelve weeks divided into 
two terms of six weeks, in contorniily with other summer schools 
in the State. 

Realizing tlicy could pi'ogress \vilh(nil haxing lo give uj) their 
positions, iiiaii\ men and women have attended from summer to 
summer and toniijlctcd the whole series leading to a diplcjma or 
degree. (Jirls and 1)(»\ s 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, satis- 
tied with the dii)lonia. 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 begin- 
ning 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 diflicult tasks ; 
even in the worst years he would not consider dropping it and 
his staff supported him. 

Director of the summer school for live years. Dr. Wright 
studied the problems from every angle. He stood ready after- 
wards 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 


Robert Herring Wright 

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. 


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. Facultj^ 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, fre- 

Building Up a Great Institution 55 

quently fought through, referred back to the committee for re- 
visions 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 
(lid 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 free- 
dom 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 ow^n w^ork 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 

While the earlier plan seemed to newcomers a rather loose or- 
ganization, 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. 

Efiiciency, 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 i)est 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. 

56 Robert Herring Wright 

Departments were cooperative ^I'^Jups until college complexities 
and interdepartmental problems made it necessary for each de- 
partment to have a responsible head. "Advisors" were named 
whose chief function was to advise students majoring in a depart- 
ment 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 ofHcially 
"Directors of Instruction," Many matters he still considered 
facultj'-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, ad- 
visorship 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 I\Ir. Ragsdale as county 
superintendent, w^as 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 im- 
portance. This school co-operated in these by allowing it to be 

Building Up a Gkkat iNS'rrrrTiox 57 

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 hook- 
woi-m study through the school. Revisiting? the place twenty 
years later, in reviewing with great satisfaction the line of hun- 
dreds 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 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 ar- 
rived. 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 im- 
posed 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 eft'orts 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. 

58 Robert Herring Wright 

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 staflF, as those closest to the girls, have con- 
tinued 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, re- 
sponding to emergency calls, and giving the routine health 
examinations, inoculations, and check-ups. 

As the president had his residence in one section of the dormi- 
tory in which the boys lived, for one year he had general oversight 
over them. The next year L. R. Meadows relieved him of this 

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 execu- 
tives. 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 regu- 
lations 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 individ- 
ually. Only general headings covered all cases, such as "falling 
off in his studies," "neglecting his duties or exerting an unwhole- 
some influence." A few sentences show Mr. W^right'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 

Building Up a Great Institution 59 

material toi" a tcatlicr." il" a sliulcnl does not have the proper 
attitude toward his duties he would l)e "requested to resign from 
the school." The closinji: sentence is this: "In the spirit of the 
institution is found the discipline of the school." The same para- 
graphs were printed in every catalogue until studont-^^overnnient 
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 w^hich is in fact a co- 
operative plan, with the students taking the initiative in formu- 
lating 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 prob- 
lems, 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 in- 
augurated, 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. \V. C. A., contains 
the constitution, by-laws, and current regulations. At the begin- 
ning 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. When- 
ever severe cases of discipline are turned over to the faculty, care- 
ful consideration is given to the recommendations, the evidence is 
reviewed, investigations made, and whenever the action is con- 
trary 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 

60 Robert Herring Wright 

except on evidence that would hold in a regular courtroom. When 
the offense or delincjuency 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 en- 
courage 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 edu- 
cational welfare of the students." This wording is still in every 

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 w^hen 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 break- 

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 stu- 
dents, 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. 

r, III. DING Up a Great Institution Gi 

Dr. Wright hiiii.-^clf followed the Siiiiday Sfhool les.soii.s, and 
most of the time taii.uH< a men's IJiblc cla.s.s, but whether as 
tcaciier or member of a class, he enjoyed the sustained study, 
following? a theme, a character or a book through the whole 
.scries. He would base many of his chapel talks on the lessons. 
Me loved to take a situation from the Kil)le and draw parallels 
wilh the times, oi- interpret one of the patriarchs. The Book of 
-lob was his favorite. Reading the Bible, two songs, the Lord's 
I'rayer, 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 
roach them. When he had attended a meeting, he culled the best 
thought and shared it with his students, or explained the pur- 
poses 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 
nunil)er 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; 
l)ut 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 com- 
mitted 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 imi)atient about young people. 'Towder 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. •"), if with only a few words, calling attention to the signifi- 
cance of thi' day which marked the opening of the institution. 

Entertainments were si)onsored by student organizations, such 
as classes, societies, and the Y. \V. C. A. until a more satisfactory 

62 Robert Herring Wright 

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 Presi- 
dent or some member of the faculty. A concert by a glee club 
from some other college in the State was the favorite contri- 
bution 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 

Building Up a Great Institution 63 

sacrificed lor l)uil(iinKs. a mimosa tree, each addiiiK something if 
only a speck on the landscape, until the class of 15)30 made a Kreat 
^ift in the lake project. A later class started the W^right 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 num- 
ber of smaller gifts were made, among them several pictures. 
"The Reading of Homer," given for Dr. Wright's own enjoyment, 
hung in his otlice 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 Govern- 
ment Association and was inaugurated in 1925. 

Great musicians, artistes, lecturers, and plays have been pre- 
sented 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 enjoy- 
ment 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 

A budget committee composed of students and faculty advisers, 
a l)U(lget 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. 


Robert Herring Wright 

Two student publications, the Tecoau, 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 stu- 
dents for suitable names, the first part being taken from President 
Wright's idea. 

The Training School Quarterly changed to Teachers College 
Quartcrlji, 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 atti- 
tude, 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 de- 
mands, 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 compe- 
tition 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 cot- 
ton 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 con- 
tributions 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. 

Building Up a Great Institution 65 

A little French ^\v\ was supijorled by (Mie Kroup, aiid an Anncnian 
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. Home- 
made 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 i)e ample for the armed forces of 
America and the civilian population of our allies. 

Citing the zeal, initiative and ingenuity of the students dui'ing 
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 student- 
body 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 

Rising to emergencies cuperbly 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 
l)lame, he thought, they were seeking a way out of the "muss" 
for which they were not responsible. Ushered in by the depres- 
sion, 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 in- 
tuition he said the world is entering an era when youth will be in 
the lead. 


Alumnae and ex-students to President Wright remained mem- 
bers of the college family. He had a peculiar right to that 

"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 home- 
coming 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 
Ihem in a farewell address. 

Hack 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 

66 Robert Herring Wright 

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 gradu- 
ating classes, without taking these into account, cannot tell the 
story as these could do if the school had been a college through- 
out 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 pre- 
sented 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 
w^ould 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 

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 commence- 
ment 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 

Building Up a Great Institu-^ion 67 

alumiuu' arc (lilliciilt to haiutle. as a wliolc, as a V()\n' ol" sand, he 
pcrliaps 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." 



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 

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, 
lieginning 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 seven- 
fold 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 

68 Robert Herring Wright 

branched out from another department. Physical Education be- 
came a department soon after the change to collej?e. Athletics 
before that had been supervised by members of the staff in- 
terested, 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 ad- 
ministration 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 
efl'ects. 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 enroll- 
ment 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 pro- 
vided, 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 oflfered, 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 

Building Up a Great Institution 69 

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 pro- 
moted thereby." The effect of this was that boys dropped out 
by degi*ees, 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 col- 
leges. 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 hun- 
dred acres. The old field had been turned into a lawn stretching 

70 Robert Herring Wright 

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," "Gotten Hall," and "Rags- 
dale 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 ab- 
sorbed, 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 

The center of the campus had moved eastward and a circle of 
buildings built around this. The large campus building, con- 
taining an auditorium, with capacity for 2,300, used as a gym- 
nasium, later named the "Wright Building," faced Gotten Hall 
across the "Wright Gircle." 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 Gollege. 

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 com- 
munities, 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 Garolina Teachers College has fulfilled the purpose for 
which East Garolina Teachers Training School was established: 
"to train young men and women to teach in the public schools of 
North Garolina." 


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 con- 
tribution. 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 organi- 
zations 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 at- 
tended 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 Institu- 
tions". "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 Feder- 
ation 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 X. C. 

72 Robert Herring Wright 

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 strength- 
ened 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 con- 
structive 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 aflfecting 
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 w^ere 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, amend- 
ments, 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 

Contributions to Educational Progress 73 

standurdizatiun, certilicalion, 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 jot- 
tings, 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 Safe- 
guard 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, some- 
times as central themes and again in relationship to other topics, 


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 esti- 
mation the farm boy and the farm girl should be as well educated 
for their problems as are the urban youths, and the rural popu- 
lation 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 com- 
pared 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 achieve- 

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 

74 Robert Herring Wright 

such as manufacturing or transportation, is a direct blow at the 
fundamental principles of democracy." 

Mr. Wright l)elirve(l that every child has the right to an eijual 
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 recog- 
nized 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 indi- 
vidual 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 

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 w^e 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 her- 
self 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 everv nation to 

Contributions to Educational I'k()(;ress 75 

brin^ 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 lit 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 Ihc stability of K'>^'<'rn- 

"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'." 


No educator in recent years believed more strongly in the 
humanitarian doctrine that education was necessary for the per- 
fectionability 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 bj^ the maintenance, clash, and 
ultimate confluence of these ideals. The ideal that America has 
contributed to the stream of human civilization is political free- 
dom. 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 th? 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 

76 Robert Herring Wright 

individuals; in fact it does exactly the opposite — develops indi- 
vidualism 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 to- 
morrow 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 conscious- 
ness 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 de- 
parting 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 Sorrow^s 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 civili- 
zation 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 

Contributions to Educational Progress 77 

iiiiist come iiilo (he total iiilicritaiR'c ol' all pi'rccdiii}^ generations 
before it can build its strueture of civilization. '1 am all I have 
inherited plus what little 1 can add to this inheritance' is not only 
true of the individual, but it is true for each epoch in human 

"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 civili- 
zation'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 w'e give 
our children a chance? If so, we must have pilot boats of edu- 
cation 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 con- 
gratulate you on being young in this particular time in the history 
of the world, when all standards of civilization are being ques- 
tioned. 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 worth- 
while in this new civilization when many of the things that we 
have held to will pass and new things take their places. Regard- 
less of what the rest of the world may say, may think, hold to 

78 Robert Herring Wright 

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." 


Robert H. Wright showed his educational statesmanship no- 
where 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 en- 
gage in the activities that are sportsmanlike and upbuilding to 

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 

Here is the outlook for the civilization of the future. "Agri- 
culture will be so organized as to give more freedom to the men. 

Contributions to Educational Progress 79 

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 
l)y the following example: "Take an assembly plant for auto- 
mobiles: 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 busi- 
ness men are realizing this. If w^e 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." 


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 

80 Robert Herring Wright 

purpose subsidiary to what is commonly considered a higher in- 
tellectual aristocracy. During his long tenure of office as Presi- 
dent of East Carolina Teachers College. Wright fought off 
vigorously every attempt to swerve the college from its primary 

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 like- 
wise 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 fore- 
cast 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 com- 
mented on the importance of this by-product. He used the fol- 
lowing 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 

Contributions to Educational I'kogress 81 

of North Carolina is doiiiK in Kast Carolina Tcafhers Collei?e is 
training teachers, homeniakers, good citizens, and that type of 
human bein^? who makes the world a better place in which to live 
who quickens the lives of the children and who makes life worth- 


Robert Herring Wright 

Robert H. Wright in the Mid-Years 


Except tor liis thick wavy black hair Ki"Ji<lually jj^rayinj? and 
then whitening (hrouyfh the years, and his lace KJ'adually he- 
coniiiig 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 l)oy teacher to the veteran leader in 

He stood G feet 3 inches in his stocking feet, slim almost to 
thinness. P'orty years after he had left Stanhope he was re- 
membered as the young man w^ho had to stoop in order to get 
through a doorway without bumping his head — which may ac- 
count to some extent for the slight stoop which was charjjcteristic 
of the Lincoln-like young man — like Lincoln without his rugged- 

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 in- 
telligence, 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. Thej' 
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 every- 
thing 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. 

84 Robert Herring Wright 

carrying out orders from a chiel", or a lock-step system, his staff 
was an intelligent group of co-workers who fought through prob- 
lems, 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 con- 
duct, 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 w^as 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 disci- 
pline, petty violations which couJd be anticipated and had penal- 
ties 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 trace- 
able to any of the common varieties of psychological state at the 
period of transition from adolesence to maturity found a sympa- 
thetic hearing. In the days before the student-government 
council w^hen discipline was managed by the faculty these con- 
ferences 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. In- 
corrigibles 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. 

"He Stood Foursquare to All the World" 85 

and ho would have likod to have had the punishment meted out 
to them rather than to their dauKhters 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 mem- 
bers, 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 off"end, 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 gene- 
ration 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 seriouslv students' IcttiM's had been taken. 


Robert Herring Wright 

Dr. Wrijrht was not a fluent or easy writer or speaker. One of 
his most cliMicult tasks in his earher career was that of facing the 
public and giving an explanation of his purposes and policies. He 
avoided fine phrases, grandiloquent clima.xes 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. 

It was not hard for him to talk informally to individuals or 
small audiences. His chapel talks were perhaps his best utter- 
ances. Also, he could write personal letters easily and fluently. 
_ A trick of his to get start- 


ed on formal addresses or 
articles was to have a 
stenographer take down 
an informal talk, such as 
his chapel talks, or a let- 
ter, and later for him to 
work it over into an ad- 
dress or article. He had 
to have the free and in- 
formal 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 faith- 
ful 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 ofiicial duties he brought back a 
full accounting of educational meetings, digests of speeches, sum- 
maries of discussions, which he presented to faculty or student 
body in clear and concise form. Such reports were well organized, 

Note-Card From Which He Spoke 

"He Stood Foursquare to All the World" 87 

loi^ical, comprehensive. He attended such meetings because he 
liked to get into movements at the source. 

Dr. ?"inney:an, State Superintendent of Schools of Pennsylvania, 
said of the report of the Kducational 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 

Although fre(iuently on the platform, he was even better kncnvn 
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 Pull- 
man smokers or diners — in his quiet w^ay 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 con- 
versation 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 ad- 
dresses 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 his- 
torical 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 

88 Robert Herring Wright 

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 them- 
selves. 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 

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 charac- 
teristic, 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 

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 

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 Stood Fouksquakk to All the World" 89 

IIo knew none of the "stunts" for ^aininK publicity and would 
have scorned to use them. He did not j^ive 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 fmd 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 com- 
munity 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 organi- 
zations 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 

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 him- 
self 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 in- 
cinerator. Wright solemnly told him that he had a garbage 

90 Robert Herring Wright 

disposal system that made money for the school. When the 
salesman demanded proof. Wrigfht 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 wdth 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 under- 
stood. 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 de- 
velopments 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 improve- 
ment 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 

"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 

"He Stood Folksqlake to All the Would" 'j1 

riiiKiny:; voi^i have a iMKht to leave it when the l)('ll riiiKs at the 
end of the hour." The first faculty minutes have adnicHiitions 
about dismissing classes on time. He was restless if the curtain 
ol' 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 otiicials 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 
ill 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 
liis 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 w^ould 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 personali- 
ties 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 re- 
markable 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 "IMolly" to an open l)uggy. if the mule had 
snorted and blown for the girl, he would never again had the 

92 Rohp:rt Herring 

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 ottice 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 w'onders 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 I 
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. 

"He IStoou Foursquare to All the World" 93 

"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 1 uni t he 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 linger, 
he said to a friend, and then as he suddenly gave a quick down- 
ward 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 bv 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 otlicers, representative alumnae from each class, and towns- 
people 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 frustra- 
tions, 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 monu- 
ment, 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 

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 fellows-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 INIemorial 
Loan Fund." 

Thus thi-ou^h Fast Carolina Teachers College, "he will work 
oil foi- the Nouth and for the commonwealth through all gene- 
rations of \(>uth tliat are to come." 

94 Robert Herrint. Wright 

tributes from his fellowmen 

Appreciation of the character ol the man. appraisal of his work 
and his worth to humanity and society, summaries of his achieve- 
ments, 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 edi- 
torials 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 pre- 
ceding 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 Decem- 
ber 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, im- 
mediately 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 mes- 
sage 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 relation- 

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 resc 
lutions praised the virtues of the man who had been one of th( 
most efficient of their number for many years. 

The Rotary Club devoted a meeting to this charter member ant 
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 

"He Stood Foursquare to All the World" 95 

Sincere expression of appreciation emphasizing the (|iialit.v that 
each jrroup had \'v\{ had been of special benefit to it, characterized 
the tributes rather than perfunctory resokitions usually spread 
on minutes. 

Telegrams and letters from the Governor. Supreme Court 
Justices, the member of Congress from his district, from most of 
(h(> 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 lirst one to register to members of the last 

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. 

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 "fhe 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 

96 Robert HEKiUNr. Wright 

of humanity. He y:ave to the colleije 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 hipher 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 pur- 
pose ; 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 w^ould change his mind and attitude on 
these points. 

"President Wright was patriotic. He believed in North Caro- 
lina. He w^as 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, w^as the training of teachers. He was not satis- 
fied merely w-ith 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." 

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