Guilford College alumna was first UNC woman graduate, a pioneer and a practical historian

The first woman to graduate from the University of North Carolina came from Guilford College. Sallie W. Stockard in 1898.stockard_sal_0

Admitting women to UNC was controversial. One newspaper wrote, “We hope the day is distant when unsexed bipeds shall be privileged to [romp] over the land to the shame of women and the merriment of man.”

Treading lightly into the controversy, UNC’s trustees adopted a resolution in 1897 that “post-graduate courses at the University be opened to women.” But then Edwin Alderman, the (wily) president of the University interpreted that resolution to mean that women who had graduated from women’s colleges (most of which were two-year schools) could enroll as juniors and seniors at UNC. (Alderman had been an ally of Mary Mendenhall Hobbs in lobbying the General Assembly to establish UNC-G in 1891.)

Biped that she was, Sallie Stockard enrolled at UNC in the fall of 1897. She had graduated with a four-year degree from Guilford in the spring. She had ambitions to continue her studies of history at UNC. After a year in Chapel Hill, in 1898, Stockard became the first woman graduate from UNC (She got a second B.A.). Later (in 1900), she was awarded a masters degree. (Several other women had enrolled with Stockard in 1897, but they either graduated later than she, or did not graduate.)

Having been prepared by four years of study at the oldest coeducational college in the South, Stockard was ready to break new ground at Chapel Hill. Despite warnings, she dared to take a course in Shakespeare’s plays, even though this put her in the bold position of studying and discussing the ways of Sir John Falstaff with male classmates. She was also set apart by being called upon to cast the deciding vote in the election of the senior class president.

Armed with a practical liberal education from Guilford College and a master’s degree in history from UNC, and bent for action, Stockard returned to Greensboro in 1900, and solicited subscriptions, including a grant from the County Commissioners, for what became The History of Guilford County, North Carolina, which was published in 1902. (Stockard’s debts in her research to Mary Mendenhall Hobbs are acknowledged at several points in the book.)

Something about the Guilford County project prompted Stockard to quote the Book of Job on the title page of the work, “O would that my enemy would write a book,” and also to write in her preface,

This book may be severely criticized. A chapter from the Kingdom of Glory would be distasteful to some folks. The writing of this history, the collection of the data, and getting up the subscriptions, has indeed been hard work. This has been no child’s play. The writing of local history is truly arduous. It is hard to write history, hardest of all to write local history. Advice has not been wanting. May all the good live immortal and all the bad be buried.

Stockard was later to write another local history, which became a valued source of early Arkansas history, and other books. She has been acknowledged as “a historian, author, and frontrunner in the equality of women in education,”

Sallie Stockard was no pale flower. She was instead, a Guilford alumna, a pioneer in co-education, and a practitioner of  “civil and useful” liberal arts.

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