Citation for this article is: Record Group FS0000, Series 1 Mary Jo Bratton Papers, Sub-series 1 Oral History Tapes, Addie Rollins Fields Oral History, February 21, 1983.
Addie Rollins Fields was a native of Bethel, NC. She taught school after completing her education and then attended East Carolina Teachers Training School during the first year 1909-10. She did not graduate from ECTTS, but continued to teach in area schools until her marriage. Mrs. Fields was 94 when this oral history was taken. She describes the support of the eastern North Carolina for ECTTS, the early faculty members, classes and events.
Items not included here are information regarding the history of Bethel, rural education in eastern North Carolina, family history and her favorite books. The entire oral history is available to researchers in the Special Collections Research Room.
Bratton: You were born in Bethel?
Fields: I was. I know I told you over the phone that I finished high school there, but I suppose I should change that a little bit. It was not called a high school then. At that time there were no high schools. It was a graded school.
Bratton: When was that?
Fields: I graduated from there in 1907.
Bratton: That's when they were even just developing the graded schools.
Fields: Oh, yes and Bethel was the first one.
Bratton: That's what I was thinking.
Fields: It was a wonderful school. We just had a wonderful curriculum. We didn't have any frills, but we got the basics and they were beat into us.
Bratton: Did you know Mr. Ragsdale?
Fields: Professor Ragsdale? I sure did. He was county superintendent part of the time that I was teaching in Pitt County.
Bratton: So you taught under him.
Fields: Yes. I took examinations for certificates in teaching under him twice, I think. I know I did. I took one to teach in Pitt County and then I took one to teach in Wake County in Wendell. I taught there the first year I was out of school in Greenville. Instead of having me to go to Raleigh to take that, he gave it to me in his office there. That was nice because travel was not quite so easy then.
Bratton: Well, at least they had trains running, didn't they?
Fields: Oh yes.
Bratton: They ran out of Greenville, which we don't have now.
Bratton: I have read a lot about Professor Ragsdale, but I don't have any sense of knowing him. What did he look like?
Fields: He was tall, gray-headed and had a mustache the first time I ever saw him. He was a soft-spoken man and very easy to, somehow he wasn't hard on you when he gave you an examination, or I felt that way. I really liked him. He did teach some, too, but I never had any classes under him.
Bratton: Yes, he taught at East Carolina.
Fields: I believe he had some at the college that first year, but I didn't have anything under him. I think he taught education.
Bratton: Yes, I believe he taught supervision or working with the public schools. He was part time.
Fields: There were about a dozen teachers there that year.
Bratton: You had already been teaching when East Carolina opened. Then you decided to go to school there?
Fields: I waited for that college.
Bratton: You did?
Fields: Yes. When I finished what I call high school in Bethel, I wanted to go to GF, Greensboro Female College.
Bratton: That's the Methodist college in Greensboro, isn't it?
Fields: Yes. My mother and father had a houseful of children, however and my father said that what he couldn't do for all, he wouldn't do for one. He didn't send me to school. They were beginning anyway to discuss this college and he was all for that college. He wasn't a man with a great deal of influence, but what he said counted. He worked it the best way he could.
Bratton: What was his name?
Fields: W.J. Rollins. He was not on any committee or any board. He was just enthused.
Bratton: He was one of the people who supported it.
Fields: It took that kind.
Bratton: It did.
Fields: I remember it all very well. I waited for that college.
Bratton: When you were in Bethel, was there resistance? Were there people there who didn't want the school or didn't want to pay the tax?
Fields: If there were I didn't know about it.
Bratton: So there was enthusiasm among many for it?
Fields: Yes. We had some wealthy influential people in Bethel who could get behind it and push it. And they did. We were very proud and excited when we found out we could have it. Then they went to work and it took two years before we could enter. In the meantime, I was teaching. In fact, when I got my high school diploma, I went with my aunt, who was reared in my mother's home and was a teacher, to Williamston to a summer school. Teachers had to go to a summer school then.
Bratton: Did they have to go to summer school to keep renewing?
Fields: You didn't have to go every year. I believe it was every other year, but it had to be done. I was just out of high school and sort of at loose ends. So I said, "Well, I think I want to go." It was really just to be doing something. My father let me go. Before I finished my examinations that the superintendent of schools in Williamston was conducting, he came to me and said, "Miss Rollins, I have a school for you." I said, "I can't teach school, Mr. Peele, I haven't even finished these examinations." He said, "I know you haven't, but I've read what you've done and I know you are going to pass." So I had a school right then. That was in June. In July I went to Martin County, which was Mr. Peele's county and taught in a country summer school. There were two teachers. That was the way I was launched into teaching.
Bratton: You taught a range of ages?
Fields: I did. In my experience I taught from the first grade through the seventh, but not much of that primary work. That's the way he started me out. The qualifications weren't too much for a teacher then, and teachers were scarce.
Bratton: Yes, even with the training in the summer, it was hard to get them.
Fields: So, I guess if he found somebody somewhere that seemed to have some potential, he thought I had potential.
Bratton: You say you taught in the summer. Did the children not need to work on the farm in the summer months?
Fields: Yes. I started that school in July and August and part of September. The school closed and the children had to go in the cotton fields. After that was over, we went back and taught about six weeks before Christmas.
Bratton: That was all cotton up there, not much tobacco?
Fields: No. After Christmas, we went back and finished out the term. That's the way the schools were conducted then.
Bratton: You probably got more basic education that what they get today.
Fields: Yes and after all is said and done, that's the most important part, that foundation.
Bratton: So you knew what you were looking for when you went to East Carolina. Having taught some, you had a good idea of what you wanted to do.
Fields: Yes, I knew what I wanted to do. I had really always wanted to teach, because my sister taught and this aunt of mine, who was my mother's half sister and was reared in our home, was a teacher. I was hoping to follow in their footsteps, but I wasn't ready at that time when he said he had a school for me.
Most of my teaching was done in two teacher country schools. I don't know anything about your years or what you remember, but at that time, the countryside was dotted with school buildings everywhere. They were in every community. That was the way the schools were conducted then. By the time I began to teach, they had gotten into two teacher schools. I was fortunate enough that I was the principal wherever I taught.
Bratton: Tell me about starting at East Carolina. Can you remember when you first got there?
Fields: Well, my remembrance is somewhat hazy. I was not there the first week, because I was teaching this school in broken portions. I had to wait a week to finish out what I was doing, then I went. I don't remember too much about it. I remember all the people we associated with, the faculty and everybody. I feel like I could name all of those.
Bratton: Well, what about Dr. Wright? What did you think of Dr. Wright?
Fields: Oh, I just adored him. He was just wonderful. I had some little run-ins with him.
Bratton: Oh you did, what kind?
Fields: Oh it was nothing to amount to anything.
Bratton: No. But he was so interested in every area.
Fields: Well, this was not anything. I had not broken any rules intentionally. My family was living in Bethel at the time. I had a little sister who became very ill with appendicitis and they didn't think she was going to live. She was the apple of my eye. She was eight years old and I was in college. My parents called me and told me to come. I went to bed that night and got up the next morning at six o'clock and through a pouring rain walked to the administration building. I was in the first dormitory nearest town.
Bratton: The one they called West Dormitory?
Fields: Yes. I walked down to the administration building and I woke him up at six o'clock in the morning. When he came out, he said, "Miss Rollins, what in the world do you mean by waking me up at this time of night?" I told him my story and he was so sweet. I've always remembered that.
Bratton: Yes, that very personal touch that seems so characteristic of him.
Fields: The story didn't turn out so well with the matron, Mrs. Beckwith. Have you heard her name?
Bratton: Oh, I've heard of her. Tell me about Mrs. Beckwith.
Fields: Oh, she restricted me for leaving town without informing her.
Bratton: What did that mean?
Fields: Just privileges going down the street.
Bratton: You couldn't leave the campus?
Fields: Yes, that was all, but I thought it was unfair.
Bratton: She was very strict.
Fields: She was, but she was good.
Bratton: It seems like all of the teachers there were so interested in their work.
Fields: They were dedicated, I think.
Bratton: Do you remember Governor Jarvis being around any?
Fields: Halfway. I had known all about him and all before I ever went to school and I know I saw him, but I didn't come in contact with him in any way in school.
Bratton: I guess he was the best known figure in the area.
Fields: Yes, and had it not been for him, I doubt if we would have gotten the college. He had been governor and he used his influence. He went to Raleigh and he worked for it.
Bratton: He knew how to do it.
Fields: Yes, he knew just how to do it. Professor Ragsdale was with him, too. And the business people, lawyers, educators, and many others.
Bratton: And the farmers and all through the area. I guess it wasn't really finished when you started that first year.
Bratton: They were still furnishing the buildings.
Fields: They were useable. We used all of them. There weren't but about six or seven.
Bratton: I believe they said that the electricity was not even on.
Fields: It was when I went.
Bratton: I guess it was those first few days.
Fields: Maybe so. I don't remember doing without electricity. In fact, I have good reason to remember it, because I had never lived with electricity.
Bratton: So it was a change.
Fields: That's the truth. I really don't remember the exact number of students we had that first year. Do you know the figures?
Bratton: I believe there were about 174 over the entire first year. There may not have been 174 there at any one time, because after one semester some others came. But that was the enrollment figure. I think there were just about 123 the first week or two and then they gradually added more. There were young men there. Did you notice them?
Fields: Oh, I certainly did. The majority, of course were women. Of course, we were all interested in those boys. I don't know of anyone who was in school there with me who is still living. That does not mean that there is not, because I haven't kept up with everybody.
Bratton: Well, I have not heard of anyone. In fact, I did not realize that you were here, because I had just looked at the list of those who had graduated. That's why I didn't pick up your name as being there. I've talked with several people who were there the following years, 1910 and 1911, but I haven't found anyone who was right there at the beginning.
Fields: My roommate was the first student to matriculate there. You've read about her? Pattie Dowell?
Bratton: Yes, I sure have.
Fields: She was my roommate.
Bratton: Well, tell me about her. I've got the name, but I don't know again anything about her.
Fields: I didn't keep up with Pattie too well after we were in school. I didn't know her when I went to college. We were just put together. She had had a year at Meredith when she went. Her father was a Baptist minister in Raleigh at that time. She had a beautifully trained voice and she sang in the choir in the Baptist church in Greenville. She was a Baptist, I was a Methodist. I taught eight years after I got through and got married. Pattie furthered her education and never married. In fact, she was not interested in boys when I knew her. But she was an attractive girl and had a fine mind. I was so proud to be with her. I felt like some of it rubbed off on me. I believe she taught at Rock Hill. What was the school there?
Bratton: She taught at Winthrop for a time.
Fields: That's it.
Bratton: She died in the early seventies?
Fields: I don't recall. Of course, I knew Pattie was dead.
Bratton: It wasn't so long ago. She didn't have a roommate when you arrived?
Fields: It wasn't quite that way. I had a roommate, but somehow they discovered that there was TB in her family and so they didn't exactly isolate her, but they felt it would be better if she had a room to herself. That left me by myself. So I talked with Mrs. Beckwith and I mentioned that I would love to room with Pattie if I could. I knew she had so many advantages and that I had really gone to Greenville to school to learn more than what I could learn in books. I felt like I could learn from Pattie, so she let me have Pattie.
Bratton: That was Dr. Wright's concern, too. To give a total education experience, not just the books. That's what I've read in some of his descriptions. Well, who were some of your favorite teachers?
Fields: Miss Sallie Joyner Davis was my history teacher. Do you know about her?
Fields: She was strict, but thorough and she could bring it right to you.
Bratton: She was a good teacher.
Fields: She was just wonderful. Of course, now, I realized that when I was with her, but when I got away. You know how you look back and appreciate your teachers more than you did when you were dealing with them. But she was just wonderful.
Miss Mamie Jenkins was an English teacher. I thought a great deal of her but I didn't have classes with her. When I first entered, I signed up for her class. She taught English grammar and literature. I stayed in that class three weeks and she called me in one day and she said, "Miss Rollins, you just don't need this work. You've already had this in your school work. You've had the same things practically that I'm going to have over here. We're going to change you to something else." I said, "Well, what is that going to be? What have you decided?" She said, "Chemistry." I said, "Oh, my goodness. I don't know one thing about chemistry. I'm not interested in it, I'm not going to teach it, and I don't believe I can even learn it." "Oh," she said, "yes, you can." So then I was sent to Dr. Herbert E. Austin and he was wonderful.
Bratton: Was he a short man?
Fields: Sort of short.
Bratton: Did he have dark hair? Was he an exciting teacher?
Fields: No. He was very, very smooth and thorough. He taught geography and chemistry. I had both of those under him. Of course, he died in Greenville. I believe Mrs. Austin, his wife was from Boston. She was well educated. She was our Sunday School teacher at the Methodist church. I enjoyed her so much and considered it such a privilege to have her as a teacher. She didn't teach at the college.
Bratton: You were encouraged to attend Sunday School?
Fields: Yes, everybody was. I don't remember that everybody did. I couldn't even remember when I didn't go to Sunday School. It was just natural for me.
Bratton: So they arranged for you to go?
Bratton: That was Jarvis Memorial that you attended?
Fields: Yes. It was so near that we walked.
Bratton: The college was on the edge of town at that time, wasn't it?
Bratton: Was there much beyond the college?
Fields: Residential section more or less. It was out back of where the church is now.
Bratton: I guess you had Miss Graham in mathematics?
Fields: Oh yes, I did have her. She was nice too. She was very firm, but she was thorough They were all good.
Bratton: They were all fine teachers.
Fields: Oh, they were.
Bratton: Dr. Meadows was not there when you were.
Fields: No, I believe Dr. Wright stayed about twenty years or such, and Meadows followed him.
Bratton: Yes, he did, but he came in 1910. He wasn't there the first year. You didn't know him?
Fields: No. Miss Birdie McKinney was the Latin teacher.
Bratton: Was she stern?
Fields: I didn't have Latin under her. I had had enough of that and I didn't have to take anymore.
Bratton: Did they have any organizations the year you were there?
Fields: They did that a little later. There were a few efforts at organizations, but I don't think we ever accomplished anything.
Bratton: The next year they started the Y.
Fields: They began that Y while I was there, because I was nominated for the president of it. I didn't want it. I didn't feel confident to take it. I didn't feel I was Christian enough. I was not eligible because I did not belong to a church. You had to be a church member.
Bratton: To hold office, but not to belong. So they were beginning it?
Fields: Yes, but I don't think they got very far with it. I was not a member of it, I know. I don't think they had completed that when I was there.
Bratton: Well, you mentioned something interesting about the school colors. I'd like to know more about that. Was that at a meeting of the student body in the auditorium?
Fields: It was just a group. I don't remember who was included in that group. We were asked to make suggestions. To the best of my memory, we were just asked to stand up and suggest something. Whoever was conducting this business meeting wrote down what we said. I don't remember what procedure we used to decide, but mine was elected. I was so delighted. I had old gold and royal purple. They took that, but it wasn't long before "old" was dropped off of gold.
Bratton: I think that old gold is much darker. Weren't you thinking of the dark gold?
Bratton: That's what was described. I know when they were talking about Dr. Wright's inaugural, they said all the businesses downtown were decorated with the school colors.
Fields: That first year, naturally, there wasn't any graduation exercise. Nobody graduated. But we had a commencement and a speaker and whatever else went with it. I was a marshal and I remember wearing that rosette in purple and gold with the ribbons down it on my long white dress. I never was any prouder of anything I ever had than I was that.
Bratton: I know it was very impressive to be the first group of marshals. How did they choose the marshals then?
Fields: I don't know that.
Bratton: Later they did it from the two literary societies. They chose from the Lanier and Poe societies' students who had the top grades. You must have been one of the best scholars.
Fields: No, I don't think that, but maybe I had had a little experience and that made me seem a little different. I don't think I was superior to many of them.
Bratton: You must have had good grades.
Fields: Well, I made my grades all right. I didn't have much trouble, except for that chemistry.
Incidentally, I had a brother four years younger than I who died a year ago this past February. About two months ago, his widow, who lives here, brought a book around here to show me. It was my loose-leaf chemistry book with all my chemistry experiments in it. He had kept that book all these years.
Bratton: Do you have that?
Fields: Yes, I do?
Bratton: Could I see it?
Fields: Well, it's nothing to look at.
Bratton: I know, but I would be so delighted to look at it. Do you have any pictures or photographs.
Fields: Not a one. It isn't anything to show. It's just old. My brother used my book, that's why he kept it.
Bratton: You write so clearly.
Fields: I don't know why he didn't have us write it in ink. I don't see any sign of any corrections or anything on there. I think there are about forty experiments in there.
Bratton: And this is the workbook that came with it?
Bratton: I haven't seen anything of the work in the early years.
Fields: Well, that's not much to show. I'm not too proud of it, but I'm glad I have it.
Bratton: Oh, it's so interesting. Where did they have this chemistry lab? Was it in the building where the classrooms were set up?
Fields: Yes. They had a right good set-up. It was the best I had ever seen at that time.
Bratton: Do you remember Mr. Wilson?
Fields: I do. What did he teach?
Bratton: Well, he directed the summer school for one thing.
Fields: Well, I don't remember that part.
Bratton: He taught psychology and education courses.
Fields: I think so. I didn't have anything under him.
Miss Bishop was a music teacher. I took music but I didn't get it under Miss Bishop. The lady that I had, had never taught music before. She knew music, but she didn't know how to teach it.
Bratton: Who was she?
Fields: Annie Lee Davis.
Bratton: Oh yes, she was just there a short time.
Fields: She was Miss Sallie Joyner Davis' niece. She was a pretty little woman. I expect I was almost as old as she was. I think she married a Mr. White in Greenville, but I'm not sure.
Bratton: Did you take art with Miss Lewis?
Fields: Yes, I did. She was lovely too.
But speaking of the boys. The most we saw of the boys was when they played ball. We weren't allowed to be with them, you know. They had a ball club and we girls would go sit on the bleachers and watch them. We had a nice yell that we used.
Bratton: Do you remember it?
Fields: Yes I do. I wouldn't know how to write it down. It was:
Bratton: You would go cheer. That was baseball, wasn't it?
Fields: Yes. They didn't have any matches with any other schools that I know of. They would just be out there and have two teams practicing.
Bratton: That was right on the school's campus.
Fields: Yes. There was no competition with outsiders at that time. You see, we were not really well organized in anything. There were no sports to amount to anything.
Bratton: Did the girls have sports?
Fields: I don't believe we did. If we did, I didn't take part. I had played basketball, but I believe that was when I was in high school.
Bratton: It was later that they got tennis courts and basketball courts. Did they have little gardens when you were there or did that come later, too?
Fields: No, that had not been started.
Bratton: You all ushered?
Fields: We ushered at commencement. I don't remember whether it was at that commencement that we had a play called Princess Chrysanthemum. It was a Japanese play. My roommate Pattie Dowell, had a heavy voice. She was a contralto or alto in her singing, but she had a heavy voice, so she played the emperor. Now, I didn't have a part in that play. I was just one of the girls. We marched and danced and did pantomimes. We had on our Japanese outfits with big flowers. I enjoyed that. So we were really active in that first year.
Bratton: Who had charge of that? Miss Bishop?
Fields: Yes, I believe she had part of it. I don't remember who directed it, I really don't.
Bratton: Do you remember Dr. Wright's inauguration?
Fields: I was not present at that.
Bratton: You weren't? That was November 12th.
Fields: Of that year?
Bratton: Yes, the first year.
Fields: I must have been there, but I declare I don't recall. Well, at that time it didn't seem so important. I was getting through what I had to do the best that I could.
Bratton: You hadn't planned to go back the next year?
Fields: No, I didn't think I could. In fact, from what teaching I had done, I had saved part of my money to help pay for my first year's tuition. We had a big family and I knew what I was getting was what I would get. But I was satisfied.