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Textiles, Teachers, and Troops: Greensboro, North Carolina 1880-1945 Public Launch and Programs in April 2014

Greensboro--Elm St. at RR Crossing Looking North
from a Greensboro College scrapbook, of student Mabel Pitts, circa 1920.  Courtesy of Greensboro College

How did Greensboro become the city it is today?  From 1880-1945, three distinct forces helped transform the city: textiles, teachers, and troops.  Now, six important area institutions have come together to create a free online tool that documents that transformation and makes it available to the public.  Two upcoming programs will highlight that tool and are free and open to the public.

On Tuesday, April 8, a public launch of the digital project Textiles, Teachers, and Troops: Greensboro 1880-1945 will be held at the Greensboro Historical Museum at 7 p.m. In addition to demonstration of the project website and a brief outline of Greensboro history during the period, Dr. Kevin Cherry, Deputy Secretary of Archives and History in the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources will speak.  On Wednesday, April 16, a panel discussion, “Historians, Digitization & the Future of Historical Research" will be offered in the Martha Blakeney Hodges Reading Room in Jackson Library on the UNCG campus at 4 p.m.  Panelists will include UNCG historians Lisa Tolbert and Anne Parsons, and PhD candidate Alexandra Chassanoff of UNC Chapel Hill.

Textiles, Teachers, and Troops makes available more than 175,000 digital images including photographs, manuscripts, rare books, scrapbooks, printed materials, and oral histories documenting the social and cultural development of Greensboro. For the first time, all five colleges and universities in Greensboro, along with the Greensboro Historical Museum, have collaborated on a project to make primary source materials available online. By documenting the vitally important influence of the textile industry, public and postsecondary education, and the massive World War II military presence, Textiles, Teachers, and Troops provides context for understanding the growth of Greensboro from a town of two thousand residents into one of the leading manufacturing and education centers in the Southeast. The project, coordinated by the Digital Projects unit in the University Libraries at UNCG, was made possible in large measure through funding from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources. 

The project partners for Textiles, Teachers, and Troops were selected due to their roles as leaders in the preservation and presentation of cultural heritage in Greensboro. Each holds responsibility for a different and unique perspective on the history and shared culture of the city.
  • UNCG University Libraries is the lead institution for the project and provided content, digitization, metadata creation, website hosting, and longterm storage of archival masters. Project Manager David Gwynn, ably supported by J. Stephen Catlett, was based at UNCG. Most of the content was provided by the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives.
  • The Holgate Library is the library serving Bennett College, a historically black college established in 1873 which has been an active part of Greensboro’s history, particularly during civil rights movement. The Holgate Library provided content and metadata for the project.
  • The Brock Historical Museum of Greensboro College preserves the history of the College, life at the College, and the College's relation to and influence on both the surrounding communities and society in general. The Brock Museum provided content and metadata for the project.
  • The Friends Historical Collection is the archival repository of Guilford College. Guilford College provided item selection and metadata creation and also assisted with the creation of contextual materials.
  • The Greensboro Historical Museum is the principal collector, interpreter and exhibitor of Greensboro’s history. The museum provided significant content and performed much of the digitization and metadata creation of these resources onsite.
  • The Greensboro Public Library is the municipal library system of the City of Greensboro and is home to the North Carolina Collection of local history resources. The library provided content and some metadata for the project. 
  • The Bluford Library of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University serves the campus of the largest historically black university in North Carolina. Some digitization and metadata was done onsite at N.C. A&T State and some at UNCG.

Among the most significant materials related to the textile industry in Greensboro are the Bernard Cone Photograph Albums and the Cone Mills White Oak Plant Stereo Card Photographs. Digitizing these collections make available for the first time over 1500 images of life in Greensboro’s textile mills and mill villages. The Cone photographs are particularly unique in that they were taken by a member of the Cone family, allowing something of an “insider” perspective into the spaces and the social and labor history that are preserved in the images. Greensboro’s textile mills and mill villages are documented by the inclusion of Harriet L. Herring’s book Welfare Work in Mill Villages and the Cone Mills promotional booklet Thirty Years of Progress: 1895-1925. 

As five of the six partners are institutions of higher learning, materials relating to education in Greensboro are, of course, a major part of the project. Particularly significant are the records of Charles Duncan McIver, first president of the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG). This massive collection, the largest collection to be digitized as part of Textiles, Teachers, and Troops, documents the founding of that institution as well as McIver’s perspective on the town of Greensboro at the dawn of the twentieth century. Additional education-related collections include course catalogs from UNCG and Bennett College, plus student handbooks and materials related to Board of Governors at UNCG’s predecessor institutions. Scrapbooks and correspondence collections from students at what are now UNCG, Greensboro College, Guilford College, and North Carolina A&T State University document not only student life but also the culture of the larger Greensboro community in the early to middle twentieth century. A collection of commercial photographs documents NC A&T State University and Bennett College in the 1930s and complement photographs of UNCG and other institutions that are already online. Guilford College is also providing an album with numerous photos of that campus in the late nineteenth century.

Several collections from Guilford College also document regional education themes in general, particularly in the area of women’s education (Mary Medenhall Hobbs Papers, Rachel Farlow Taylor papers), the interaction between colleges  (Robert and Lyra Dann Papers), and Guilford College’s history and connection to the community (selected series from the Binford papers, Duke Memorial Hall papers).

Also included, however, are several collections pertaining to public primary and secondary education in Greensboro. The Abraham Peeler Papers document African American education in the then-segregated city. The dual system of public education is also a theme of the Greensboro Board of Education Collection which includes a minute book from 1906 documenting all aspects of the system’s operations. Finally, a 1937 insurance survey records all buildings owned by the Guilford County school system at the time, including plans, photographs, and financial details on the schools. The records of the Guilford College Parent Teacher Association document activities of a community school in what is now part of Greensboro during the Depression years.

Relating to the subject of Greensboro’s military presence, particularly during World War II, probably the most significant collection is the Paul Younts Papers. Younts was the commanding officer at Greensboro’s Overseas Replacement Depot (ORD) and the collection documents in great detail the history of the depot, which was a major presence during World War II and shaped the development of eastern Greensboro for decades to come. ORD and its predecessor, Basic Training Center #10 (BTC) are also documented in the Luis Felicia Papers and the Jerry DeFelice Photographs. Closely related is a collection of Greensboro promotional guidebooks produced for soldiers coming to the city. These guidebooks not only reflect the military influence but also social and cultural life in Greensboro during World War II, as is also true of the selection of photos from the Carol W. Martin (Martin’s Studio) Collection, which document both the base and the city in general. Finally, the Klein Family Papers include material about a notable Greensboro family who housed and entertained Jewish soldiers stationed or passing through the city. An additional set of photographs, part of the North Carolina A&T State University Archives photo collection, further documents ORD/BTC-10 and provides a glimpse into areas of the base that are now part of A&T’s campus.

Additional collections include the Ned Harrison Collection, including recorded reminiscences of Greensboro during World War II; a rare 16mm film documenting a visit home by national war hero George Preddy;  the Puckett Family Papers, which document the home front in Greensboro during World War II; the McDaniel Lewis Papers, which document this community figure’s activities and correspondence during World War II; and a collection of scrapbooks pertaining to the World War II activities of a local chapter of the D.A.R. Finally, the Army Town Exhibit Files contain material compiled for the Greensboro Historical Museum’s Army Town exhibit in 1993, including oral histories and other material related to the military presence in Greensboro during World War II.

To provide additional context into the period, Textiles, Teachers, and Troops also includes a selection of rare books focusing on Greensboro’s development during the period including Greensboro: 1808-1904 by James W. Albright and several other titles.

The project incorporates material already digitized by the UNCG University Libraries and Greensboro Historical Museum as part of other projects, including Greensboro Historical Newspapers, Greensboro Pictorials, and Greensboro City Directories. We envision this as the first step in a larger local history portal that works with other community institutions to make accessible many more aspects of Greensboro's history.

The principal contacts for more information about this project are
 David Gwynn: email
Stephen Catlett:email