Above: Etheridge is a member of all five of these teams pictured in the 1944 yearbook. She’s on the front row left in basketball and field hockey, and she’s second from left in the others.
Whatever happened to Amanda Etheridge?
Amanda Etheridge’s picture is scattered throughout the 1943, ’44 and ’45 yearbooks. You see her as a member of five sports teams, the Jarvis Forensics Club, as SGA secretary and—in her junior year in ’45—as the president of the SGA. But in the 1946 annual there’s not one picture or any mention of the honor-roll athlete from Manteo. In what should have been a senior year filled
with accomplishments in the classroom and the playing field, Amanda Etheridge vanished.
Why she did is a cautionary tale of a gifted student who dared to live the ideals she was learning, only to be crushed when those principles led her to challenge authority.
In the summer before her senior year, Etheridge withdrew from school rather than be expelled by the Board of Trustees on charges of fulminating student unrest against President Leon Meadows, who had been forced to resign and eventually convicted of mishandling $14,000 in student funds.
Because it was student money allegedly being misused, the SGA called meetings of the student body that spring to discuss the charges. Accounts of those raucous meetings mention Etheridge’s skills with the gavel. When trustees initially exonerated Meadows, Etheridge wrote a letter to Gov. Melvin Broughton asking him to intervene. Citing the letter, the governor ordered a probe that forced Meadows to step down and which provided the evidence for his later indictment. Trustees appointed an interim president and then launched an ill-advised attempt to restore calm on campus by weeding out what they considered the trouble-makers. Three tenured faculty members were fired, including M.L. Wright, for whom the circular drive around the fountain is named. A list of dissident students was drawn up and 16 were told not to return for fall classes. Upon appeal, most were allowed to stay, if they kept quiet.
Not Etheridge, who had been watched for weeks. When she failed to sign out of her dormitory one evening that spring to meet a professor—a minor infraction of residence hall rules—the authorities pounced. She was forced to resign as SGA president, which further inflamed the campus. Students elected her editor of the Teco Echo student newspaper. Trustees then brought her up on charges of being “out of sympathy” with the administration. She also was accused of swimming in the Tar River on Thanksgiving Day and picking up trash on the tennis courts on a Sunday. Obviously knowing the die was cast, Etheridge stood before trustees and spoke like the polished debater she was. “I have always had compassion for those leaders who lack the qualities that enable them to command the respect of their followers through wisdom, reason and cooperation, rather than by force and dictatorial domination.” Etheridge then withdrew from school with the “sincere hope for the progressive development of East Carolina Teachers College.”
From there she disappears from the records of an embarrassing era that the college quickly, even eagerly forgot. Whatever happened to her remained a mystery until Mary Jo Bratton wrote her book on East Carolina’s early years. And even there the answer lies buried in a footnote deep in the appendix. Family members we contacted added details.
She transferred to Peabody College (now part of Vanderbilt University) where she received a B.A. in 1946 and an M.A. in ’47. She taught at Mankato State Teachers College in Minnesota—the first U.S. public college led by a woman president—from 1948 to 1952. She was among the first winners of a Fulbright Scholarship in 1952 and taught in Amsterdam. There she met Richard Salet, son of a Minnesota merchant family who had a Harvard MBA. Later she was a psychologist for 12 years at St. Peter State Hospital for the insane. There, she worked with the Minnesota State professors who developed the MMPI, which continues to be a widely used personality test.
She had three daughters and for years they summered among her family on Roanoke Island. After she divorced, they moved permanently to Manteo in 1975 and—30 years after she disappeared—enrolled as a part-time student here. She battled alcoholism and died in 1977 at the age of 51 after suffering a fall at her home.