Upon the Past


The 'helping teacher' arrives

Miriam McFayden


far as I know this idea has never been tried out,” President Robert Wright says in a 1921 letter to local school superintendents announcing that East Carolina will dispatch the principal of its teacher-training Model School, Miriam McFayden, on a weeks-long trip around the state to meet with and coach young alumnae, many of whom are working in one- and two-teacher rural schools.

ECC’s “helping teacher,” as Wright calls McFayden, journeys from Manteo to the mountains bringing encouragement and supplies to about 80 recent grads. She recounted her experiences in the spring 1922 issue of the Teachers College Quarterly condensed below:

“The girls acted just like I was someone from home and I believe they were sincere, for superintendents and supervisors in so many cases told me how the girls had talked about and looked forward to my coming, hoping that I would find they were doing everything just as we here at the school would have them do it. They asked for and wanted help along most every line, and were glad to try out anything suggested, almost invariably writing me afterwards telling me that they had acted on my suggestion and what an improvement they could see.”

Known as a tough taskmaster in the classroom, McFayden issued this report card on the job the young teachers were doing: 10 got A’s, 14 got B’s and 53 made C’s. She gave three failing marks for not maintaining discipline in the classroom and two were chastised for “automobile riding at night” and other perceived violations of the social order.

The message from superintendents to ECC, McFayden concluded, was: “Send us some more teachers just like the ones we have.”

ECU Timeline

100 years ago

Robert Wright

Becoming a
year-round school

In early 1912 President Robert Wright proposes that ECTTS take the novel step of elevating summer school (left) to the equal of fall, winter and spring. Any three of the four terms will compose a school year, Wright decides. The school operates informally on this year-round schedule until the Board of Trustees institutionalizes it in 1922, making ECTC among the first colleges in the South where a student can obtain a bachelor’s degree in three years.

 75 years ago

Clifton Britton
Clifton Britton
takes the stage

A freshman steps forward in the fall of 1936 to take charge of The Maskers, the theater group that has been dormant since the departure a year earlier of ECC’s only drama teacher. With Clifton Britton ’40 ’42 in charge, The Maskers reorganizes as the Chi Pi Players, which stages its first student-acted, student-directed show in February 1937. For six years Britton (at center in photo, directing a 1939 production) is both a student and the school’s director of dramatics. Britton’s master thesis becomes a widely used handbook for high school English teachers who also direct school plays. In a long career at the Waterfront Theatre, he is stage manger and then director of The Lost Colony outdoor drama.

50 years ago


His final frontier

On Oct. 29, 1961, John Glenn and the other original “right stuff” astronauts arrive at Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill for the first of many training sessions in celestial navigation taught by, among others, East Carolina professor James W. Batten (right). As a Navy commander in World War II, Batten was twice decorated for guiding ships across oceans using just the stars. That’s a skill astronauts Scott Carpenter (seated in simulator Batten designed) and Wally Schirra (next to Batten) will need in orbit if navigation systems fail. Such an emergency occurs in May 1963, forcing Gordon Cooper, who had trained under Batten, to take manual control of a crippled Mercury 9 in final orbit. Using stars as beacons and his wristwatch to time the retrojets, Cooper navigates the capsule through a fiery reentry and to a perfect splashdown within sight of his recovery ship. Batten works with the astronaut-training program until 1982. He retires in 1989 after nearly 30 years on faculty, and dies in 2004.

25 years ago


The Howells depart

Chancellor John Howell, for whom the science building is named, announces his retirement in the fall of 1986 and departs the following April, 30 years after he arrives as a political science teacher and eight years after he is named East Carolina’s eighth chancellor. It’s a double loss for the campus because the Howells are a team and among the campus’s most successful two-career couples. Gladys Howell taught sociology for 20 years while they were raising two sons, which required both to juggle work schedules to care for the children. The Howells, now in their late 80s, still reside in Greenville.

                  Images courtesy University Archives