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0:00 - Interview Introduction

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Partial Transcript: 1990, I'm here with Robert Watson

Segment Synopsis: Interviewer begins the interview

0:06 - Beginnings in Greensboro

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Partial Transcript: You came to Greensboro, and what brought you

Segment Synopsis: Watson talks about how he initially came to Greensboro

0:50 - Personal background

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Partial Transcript: So where did you come from to come to this area?

Segment Synopsis: Watson talks about where he was born and where he grew up and how his early experiences were different than Greensboro

3:05 - Basics of college life and town

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Partial Transcript: Did the college seem a place unto its own- have a life of its own apart from Greensboro.

Segment Synopsis: Watson describes the atmosphere of Greensboro as a college town and as a town that was changing during the time that he was there. He also describes some of the characteristics of the students in the fifties.

6:13 - Types of women at Woman's College

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Partial Transcript: Were most of the women from North Carolina, or do you

Segment Synopsis: Watson remembers the types of women that attended Woman's College while he was teaching there.

8:00 - Battle for general education

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Partial Transcript: I see. So I wondered about the student body, but also about faculty

Segment Synopsis: Watson talks about the issue of the shift to general education and who advocated for it and who was against it.

13:36 - Female faculty members and administrators

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Partial Transcript: So then--getting into this--well, I want to ask you about some about women faculty members

Segment Synopsis: Watson describes some of the nature of the female faculty members and members of the administration

22:08 - University changes

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Partial Transcript: Tell me a bit about the arts festival

Segment Synopsis: Watson describes a few campus traditions and also mentions the ways that the university has changed over the decades

29:30 - English program

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Partial Transcript: What made the program so special that these students have

Segment Synopsis: Watson recalls the English program at the college and what set it apart from programs at other universities.

32:14 - Sixties turmoil

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Partial Transcript: Well, as you think about-- Of Course, the campus in the sixties during this change

Segment Synopsis: Watson reflects on the issues of the sixties and how that affected the campus

35:31 - Coeducation

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Partial Transcript: I see. I'm been trying to figure out these distinctions and figure this out.

Segment Synopsis: Watson describes the university's shift to coeducation and how things changed on the campus

38:44 - Integration

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Partial Transcript: Well, tell me a bit about the times of integration or when the first blacks entered school here

Segment Synopsis: Watson remembers the campus integrating and how it was difficult for the students involved

43:01 - Differences in decades

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Partial Transcript: Yeah. We think about the sixties and then--even moving into the seventies--

Segment Synopsis: Watson discusses the differences in the academics and atmosphere on campus through the decades.

45:01 - Personal teachings

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Partial Transcript: I'm sure you were teaching pure Whitman. Tell me about your own work

Segment Synopsis: Watson talks about his own teachings and what he found interesting to teach to his students

52:04 - Interview conclusion

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Partial Transcript: Yeah. that whole--that's interesting to think about and yes

Segment Synopsis: Interviewer ends the interview


AP: 1990. I'm here with Robert Watson. You came to Greensboro, and what brought you to the area in the first place?

RW: Well, what brought me was a job. I was offered a job at what was then the Woman's College [of the University of North Carolina], and I was very glad to accept because from my point of view the English department was simply marvelous with Randall Jarrell here, Peter Taylor sort of between stints teaching here, Robie Macauley, and then a history of well-known writers teaching in the English department beginning with Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon.

AP: So where did you come from to come to this area? Tell me a bit about growing up and your own background.

RW: Well, I was born and brought up in Passaic, New Jersey, where I went to the public schools. And then when I was seventeen I joined the Navy. It was the time 1:00of World War II. And after the Navy, I went to Williams College in Massachusetts. Then I went to the University at Zurich in Switzerland and finally to Johns Hopkins [University] in Baltimore [MD] and ended up teaching at Williams College before I came here to Greensboro.

AP: Did the South and did Greensboro seem quite different?

RW: It seemed very different and it was - much more different than it is now. In 1953, there were no chains of, you know, fast food restaurants. It was the year, I think, that Friendly Road shopping center was under construction. Both the North and the South were very different in '53 than they are now, but the 2:00differences between the North and South were much clearer, especially segregation. There were drinking fountains for whites and blacks, movie entrances for whites and blacks. That was perhaps the most obvious difference.

AP: Was that a great shock to you? I mean, how did you feel - ?

RW: No, I don't think it would be a shock to anybody coming from the North because that's what you read about the South. [laughs]

AP: I see.

RW: So it was, it's - no, it wasn't a shock. I think that Greensboro was a - in a way was an overgrown small town in 1953. It really wasn't a city. There were, it seems to me, only about three or four restaurants where you'd want to eat. There was no liquor in any of the restaurants, and it was a different era.


AP: Did the college seem a place unto its own - have a life of its own apart from Greensboro? How much town and gown mixing was there?

RW: I think there was more - in one way, it seemed to me there was more town and gown mixing in the fifties than there is now, in this sense: it seems to me there was more participation of townspeople as spectators at concerts and lectures. There was really much closer relationship. Also, there - but there were fewer cultural opportunities for the townspeople then, and so they were quite limited in where they could go for lectures and music or plays. And of 4:00course, the Woman's College was just tremendously different then. I went away on a leave of absence in the late sixties, and I came back and it was just - it was really, I felt, like teaching at a completely different place.

AP: Is that right? Tell me more about Woman's College in the fifties, you know, in - when you got here, what was happening on the campus? What was the campus?

RW: When I came here, of course, it was all women. There were about two thousand students. I believe it was all entirely residential. The rules were very, very strict. Girls were not even allowed to wear slacks or shorts. You could always tell when a girl was wearing shorts because she was wearing a raincoat and the sun was out. [laughs] That's how you knew a girl - or sometimes they'd - what they would really have on may be slacks, but they'd be turned up 5:00so that -

AP: Rolled up.

RW: - so that you could see the - they'd be rolled up. Those would be sort of a couple of the main differences or superficial differences. But I think the students seemed to be more highly qualified than now. I think part of the reason was that there weren't as many branches of the university. There was no University [of North Carolina] at Charlotte. [The University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill did not admit women except as transfer students in their junior year. And so there was a long tradition of, you know, high-powered young ladies 6:00and ambitious young ladies coming here for a liberal arts education - not specialized education but liberal arts education.

AP: Were most of the women from North Carolina, or do you know what percentage of out-of-state students - ?

RW: I think it was eighty - probably about eighty-five percent North Carolina.

AP: Were these women mostly from farms or from towns?

RW: Most of them were from small towns.

AP: Yeah. So -

RW: See Greensboro [sic] didn't really have any large cities. But Charlotte and Winston-Salem, Greensboro have grown so terrifically in population that most of - a lot of the girls did come from farms. They were very innocent girls, but that didn't mean that their family wasn't educated or someone in that family was educated.

AP: So I'm wondering - they may or may not have been first generation college 7:00students, you know, from their families, the first ones.

RW: They may or may not. Yes, I don't know what the percentage would be, but a lot of them had mothers that came here or aunts that came here.

AP: Yeah, but they were serious, quite serious students?

RW: Well -

AP: Or fairly serious.

RW: Well, I think that they - I think that there was a - the level was quite high, yes. Not perhaps - I think they used to say that a lot of girls came here who just couldn't afford Vassar or Wellesley or Mount Holyoke [colleges], and they came here not just from North Carolina but from other states, too.

AP: I see.

RW: Even though there weren't too many out of state. The out-of-state students then tended to be very good because they were more selective with them, I think.

AP: I see. So I wondered about the student body, but also about faculty. You've 8:00talked some about faculty when you got here and what was the faculty like, perhaps in English and in other departments.

RW: In English, when I came here, the department on the whole was quite old; they'd been here a long time. And the percentage of women teaching here in our department on the campus was high. I don't really know; I assume that there were two women to every man. When I came here in 1953, however, the faculty and the administration were in a terrible battle over what was called general education. Some people were for it, and some people were against it and it lasted a long time.

AP: What was the genesis of the bat[tle] - how did it begin to take place, the battle, that is?

RW: I don't know. It was going on when I arrived on campus.


AP: Was it?

RW: For how long had it been going on, I don't know. [laughs] But it was so intense, and it was so meaningless that I had a friend in the English department whose name is Noel Perrin. He's an essayist and has been at Dartmouth [College] for many years. And it was so unpleasant for young faculty members that we would go and we would have lunch together and pretend we were living in Paris, not in Greensboro. We weren't allowed to say Greensboro. But that passed - that was a period that's passed long ago. And since then the faculty, I think, has been amazingly harmonious and friendly and open to ideas, new ideas and changes.

AP: Yeah. Was this, the emphasis - well, general, what was the term you used? General -

RW: Called general education.

AP: Yeah. How - ?

RW: It was - the idea was to break down departmental lines. You know, you would 10:00have a department of languages, and I guess English would be included in that, and you would have a department of social sciences, which would include history, political science, sociology. And I've forgotten where psychology went and so that students would get a bro[ader] - come out with broader vision. It never - it didn't - the proponents of general education lost, and by the time the war on this campus was over, it had been adopted at Harvard [University] and then discarded at Harvard for the elective system.

AP: Are we talking about turf wars, or did the war - ?

RW: The war affected almost every department. Our department, the English department was divided about half, half and half, and that was true of a lot of the departments on campus.

AP: So that made for, well -

RW: It made for a lot of personal unpleasantness among the older - especially 11:00the older members of the department.

AP: What about the administration? How - you know, did people take sides or how - what was going on in the administration?

RW: Well, unfortunately, we had a very weak chancellor who did not handle the faculty well at all, and he finally resigned under pressure.

AP: So that didn't - that was just a difficult time?

RW: Yes, it was, it was difficult. Now it did not interfere with the students' education. This was a faculty affair, not a student affair, and I don't even know whether - [telephone rings]

AP: - the struggle takes shape, and how did it affect the student body and faculty?

RW: Well, in the end it meant a lot of personal animosity among faculty 12:00members. It didn't affect the students at all. And shortly after the chancellor who was interested in general education left, it was all forgotten, and new problems that were peaceful problems -

AP: I see. Were there faculty meetings during that time?

RW: Oh yes. And they were very - they were, at times, vicious in their comments on each other. It got out of hand. I mean you want on a campus a lot of good intellectual stimulation, and you want people in departments to speak their minds about the way they think education should be. And somehow this had got out of hand, and it became sort of more a series of personal vendettas than it should have been. But that's been - again, that's - we're talking about 13:00thirty-seven years ago at that point of time. I imagine most of the participants are dead now. I'm retired, so -

AP: Well, just wondered, it's part of our history and I wondered how volatile it got.

RW: But the students in that period - in the fifties, we had some simply marvelous students here who went on to do very well in their careers.

AP: So then - getting into this - well, I want to ask you some about women faculty members and also about deans - the different deans perhaps in the fifties and on into the sixties. You said that there were perhaps two-to-one women to men faculty when you came.

RW: Yes.

AP: How do you account for that, or why? Who were these women? Were they 14:00married; were they single? Or -

RW: Well, I think that since it was a women's college, they looked very favorable on women, prospective women for - as faculty members. And I think, though, that those faculty - those women were in a way a different breed than the women who come to teach now. They were almost all spinsters. They were unmarried and hadn't been married, and they were - they felt that their dedication was to teaching and scholarship. And this was true, I think, of women college teachers all over the country. I think most of them were not married.

AP: I would guess that and -

RW: This is a guess on my part.

AP: Yeah. It does seem to be a feeling.

RW: My wife went to Wellesley College and, there again, I think that the 15:00faculty was probably two women to every man, and very few of the women were married.

AP: I'm thinking of my own dean of women who was just a wonderful, gentle woman.

RW: Where was this?

AP: At Wake Forest [University].

RW: At Wake Forest, yes.

AP: And quite a scholar, Dean Lois Johnson.

RW: Yes. Yes.

AP: And was totally dedicated. I mean, I think she even had a room in our dorm. And that reminds me of what I've heard about Woman's College days before coed - before coeducation because faculty members or house mothers stayed in the dorm and simply saw a good bit of the daily life of women - of the students.

RW: Yes, I've forgotten what they were called. They weren't called house mothers, and they weren't called counselors. I've forgotten. But they did, each dormitory had a woman - [laughs]

AP: A woman, a resident woman. [laughs]

RW: - a resident woman who was the authority there. But there was a very 16:00strong honor code so that the student body was self-governing to a large extent.

AP: Yeah. Well, getting into the sixties, and we maybe haven't covered all of the fifties that we should - well, tell me a bit about the deans, I guess, before we leave the fifties. Tell me about Dean [Katherine] Taylor or other deans.

RW: There were two deans, really. There was a Dean Taylor, who was the dean of students, and Dean [Mereb] Mossman, who was - I've forgotten what it was called then - the dean of instruction, I think was her title. And my impression is this: that there were many, many fewer administrators in comparison to today. It 17:00seems to me that in a few more years there'll be, you know, one thousand vice chancellors and twelve thousand students, and nobody to teach them. [laughs]

AP: No faculty.

RW: In those days, it's hard to believe the registrar's office was run by one woman. And remember there were - I - there were a good two thousand students then. Today they're probably ten [thousand]. I'd like to know how many people are employed in the registrar's office. And there were two deans, Miss Mossman and Miss Taylor, and then there was the chancellor. It was very easy for any faculty member to drop in and see either dean or to see the chancellor. But today I think you may have to make appointments to see the chancellor a couple of months in advance. And it's very difficult to get anything done today because it has to go through so many rungs up the ladder and then back down the ladder. 18:00But I don't know that that's anybody's fault. It may just the times. But in the fifties and in the early sixties, we had a very small administr[ators] - small number of administrators.

AP: Yeah, yeah. And the two deans - Dean Taylor, how would you characterize her? How could you describe the two women? What about their personalities, their vision, their wishes for the institution?

RW: Well, I don't know. I never knew Dean Taylor as well as I knew Dean Mossman, who became, later on, - ice Chancellor Mossman. But Dean Mossman really ran this university for many years. When there were acting chancellors, and often I would - Chancellor [Otis] Singletary was away in Washington [DC] in - 19:00I've forgotten what it was, The Peace Corps, I think. [Ed. note: Chancellor Singletary was at the Jobs Corps.]

AP: A government - some government agency.

RW: And she was a - from my point of view, she was a simply marvelous administrator, and she should have been made the chancellor. She really should. I mean she had everything going for her, except women weren't made chancellors in those days.

AP: I was going to ask you about that.

RW: Even though this was a women's college, it had always had a man as chancellor, and it still does.

AP: I was going to ask you.

RW: Even though it's now coeducational. But no, she was the perfect choice. She had charm, she had grace, she had vision, great intelligence, sensitivity, very smart woman.

AP: Yeah, and tremendous drive and discipline it seems, I've heard.

RW: Yes, and very pleasant, very pleasant. She was a lovely person.

AP: Seems quite a bit all in one person.

RW: Yes, it is. But she must have worked - she must have put in about a, you 20:00know, eighteen-hour workday. I remember when I was acting head of the English department, we had some personnel difficulties of a minor nature, and she said, "Bob, call me. It doesn't matter if it's two in the morning, you know, if anything comes up, call me." [laughs] Well, I never did, but she wouldn't have been upset at a two o'clock in the morning call, you know, if a faculty member had been in an automobile accident or something like that - a member the English department was in an automobile accident.

AP: That is amazing because just this week I did hear a story that a woman administrator called a man, and she called about two or three o'clock in the morning, and he said, "Do you have any idea?" And she said, "I'm just sitting here looking at these blueprints for these plans, new plans." And he said, "Do you know what time it is?" And she said, "No, I'm just sitting here doing this work." So women did - leaders here did devote that sort of energy and time -


RW: Yes.

AP: - had that dedication?

RW: Yes.

AP: What about Dean Taylor or - ?

RW: As I said, I didn't know her as well because her office mainly dealt with the lives of the students, and I - and she would have been in charge of all of the dormitories. And she's also in charge - I did meet her in Elliott Hall, the student union, and I remember her as someone who was extremely good at - oh, things like arts festivals. She had a great deal of literary taste and taste in music, and she was also a very, very able woman.


AP: I heard striking looking also.

RW: Very striking.

AP: Tell me a bit about the arts festival. How did that work, and how do you see the arts now as compared to the arts festivals then?

RW: Well, when I came the English department, the art department, theater and dance, had a week in the spring which was called arts festival, and visiting writers, poets, dancers, painters, sculptors were brought to the campus. And students came from many other colleges around - Hollins [College], Chapel Hill, some came as far away as Vassar or Oberlin [colleges]. And it died in the 23:00sixties. It was part - it was a casualty of the student rebellions of the sixties when, you know, they weren't going to trust anybody over thirty. And they decided that they would run the arts festival themselves. But they just took the money and, well, this is not a fair thing - whoops! [something falls] - for me to say, but anyway it simply died. It couldn't - it really couldn't exist without some kind of faculty supervision, and so it just died. And then, of course, the university changed. We have graduate students in - you know, a great many graduate students in English and in art and in the theater, and I guess, too, in dance. I don't know as much about dance anymore. And so the graduate 24:00students began to be the ones who got all the - got the attention, rather than the undergraduates. [laughs] So this is one of the penalties of having a lot of graduate students. The emphasis of the instruction and events on campus, the nature of them changes, and sometimes what happens is that the undergraduates seem to take a back seat. This was a casualty of - more a casualty of the sixties and another casualty of - I mean of student action in the sixties - and a casualty of our development of graduate programs.

AP: Yeah. When - that seems a shame -

RW: It's seems to me that in the last half of the sixties we began lots of graduate programs. We became coed, all clothing regulations were changed, 25:00drinking regulations were changed. We were integrated, or integration began. And we didn't have the very, very clear cut aim that Woman's College had in the fifties and in the decades before, which was to teach undergraduate women and give them a liberal arts education.

AP: So it really was becoming a different institution?

RW: Yes, and it is. It's completely different now. It's different in appearance, and there are very few teachers left from that now who would remember the fifties. It's gone.

AP: Just a different -

RW: It's gone, and I think, I guess it's the nature of lots of institutions to change.


AP: Yes. And yet it's still, I think, hard to grapple with. Well, we may or may not grapple with it, but I think it's hard, maybe, to do that grappling with.

RW: Oh, another change is that we're now a commuter school. Only a percentage of - I don't know what the percentage of the students live in dormitories, but by far the most students drive to campus, which makes it very different because they don't know each other. And therefore, after classes, they don't go back to the dormitory and talk about what they've been studying and exchange ideas. They just get in their cars and go away. And a lot of them, a very high percentage of them, get in their cars and go to work. They hold down jobs. They just can't do it; they can't do it otherwise. Another change is that our students are older in the English department. We have many, many students who, both men and women, who 27:00get a divorce, then come back and start in on new careers. This is very, very common, especially in our writing program in the English department. I think we figured not long ago that the average age was something like thirty-four. Now that's - to get the average thirty-four, you've got to have some in their forties to get - I think it's low going down again now, though. So that the university here in Greensboro doesn't have as clear cut a mission. I hate to use that trite word as it, as it -

AP: When was the push for graduate education - more graduate education in English?

RW: It began oddly enough by Chapel Hill saying that they couldn't take all of 28:00the graduate students, and they felt that - this is in our department in English - and would we please give an MA. And then somehow we got a PhD, offered a PhD. But it was from external pressures, oddly enough. It wasn't - the English department was not anxious to give an MA. or a PhD. And I believe the history department - they were asked many times to give a Ph - and I don't think it's offered yet, is it?

AP: No, it's not. It's not.

RW: The history department just refused to do it. So that's a change.

AP: Well, that's interesting that you perhaps -

RW: And our graduate students in English and the writing program have done very, very well. We've had Robert Morgan who became - he's a well-known poet and for a while he was head of the English department at Cornell. We have Kelly 29:00Cherry, who's a full professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and we have many more. And one of our graduate poets, Rodney Jones, this year won the Critics Circle Award for Poetry. It used to be called the National Book Award. It's about the best award you can get short of - probably on a par with Pulitzer [Prize].

AP: What made the program so special that these students have, you know, have become such excellent writers and thinkers and leaders?

RW: Well, one is that we are very selective. We admitted people entirely on their writing sample - no, I say entirely on their writing sample - mostly on their writing samples. We weren't interested in their academic grades or their test scores. But it was very interesting that usually the best writers, the 30:00people whose stories and poems and novels we thought were the best, did have the best scores. They didn't always have the best grades, but they tended to have the best scores. So we were very selective. And then we gave them time to write. That is, some writing programs just load the students up with academic courses, and they're writing so many papers they don't get the chance to write their poems and their stories. Another small - we have about twenty students - that's about what we have enrolled at a given time, although on paper it may be thirty because some of them haven't finished their books or what have you.

AP: But that makes a difference - I mean to write well.

RW: And we've had just a wonderful staff that gets along well. We get along very well together.

AP: Yeah, makes a big difference.

RW: And that includes Fred Chappell, of course, and Lee Zacharias, Tom 31:00Kirby-Smith, Jim Clark. In earlier days we had Peter Taylor and Randall Jarrell and others. And so we've had a good - there's been a very nice continuity there. Although the entire university has changed, there has been this continuity going back to the thirties with a great deal of emphasis on the writing of fiction and poetry. And then, of course, our change came in the sixties when we began having graduate students getting the MFA, master of fine arts degree, in writing. And that was a - but there has still this continuity through the thirties to right now - to 1990.

AP: I see. That is amazing, I suppose.

RW: That's a fairly long time.

AP: Yeah, that is amazing to think of the continuity.

RW: And there are few schools in the nation who have a continuity in writing 32:00any longer than that. It's [University of] Iowa and Stanford [University] and one or two others and University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

AP: Well, as you think about -

RW: Of course, the campus in the sixties during this change, it was sort of a wild and interesting time. There was a lot of students were taking LSD [psychedelic drug lysergic acid diethylamide] and smoking pot and taking speed, and I've forgotten what all. And there were a lot of protests about the Vietnam War. It was at the end - the last half of the decade of the sixties and the first couple years into the seventies were kind of wild on this campus as they were on many campuses across the country, although I don't - we never had the kind of student-faculty conflicts or physical conflicts that occurred on many 33:00campuses. They never had the National Guard called out.

AP: Yeah, I've heard that, although - and I've heard that sometimes the administration had to step over people in Foust [Building], you know, to get into their offices -

RW: Yes, yes, yes, yes, that's right.

AP: At least they were stepping over -

RW: Oh yes, there were protests, but, they weren't - they didn't have to call the National Guard out.

AP: I wonder how we account for that? I mean, what, why? You know, how - ?

RW: You mean why it wasn't more violent on this campus?

AP: Yeah.

RW: Oh, it's Southern - the gentility of Southern women.

RW: I think that's what it was, mostly, because one of these years I was teaching; in 1968 I was teaching at the California State University at Northridge in Los Angeles. And we had buildings burned. We had National Guard called out. We had helicopters over the campus and brawling - you know, 34:00policemen hauling people off and filling busloads of - buses - loads full of students and taking them to jail. And out there, why, the president couldn't take it. He resigned, the vice president resigned, then the dean resigned [laughs]. And a friend of mine who was the history president, he said, "Nuts, already!" This was - and so [Governor] Ronald Reagan ran the campus disastrously from afar in San - . [Sacramento, the state capital]

AP: Oh my. That must have been interesting. [laughs]

RW: Oh yes. It was very interesting; it was very, very exciting. And you know, every other word, you know, they have - well, this was true here, too - the four letter word was just blotted out all the time. You just might have had another word to use. But anyway, then that ended; that period ended, too, with the - in 35:00the mid-seventies it became very, very placid again.

AP: So Southern -

RW: - both the faculty - yes.

AP: Southern women remain Southern women, whatever, I'm not sure.

RW: Yes, but I'm not saying that Southern women don't have minds of their own. I think they do. I think they're very strong minded, but they didn't seem to be prone to violence, let's put it that way.

AP: I see. I'm been trying to figure out these distinctions and figure this out. Since I'm a native, I can talk about the state, but since I've been away I can also talk with another voice, sort of figure out the voices. Tell me a bit more about the coming of coeducation. Who decided that? Why did it come? Why should it have been or should not have been?

RW: I honestly don't remember the details. I believe that we became coed when 36:00Chapel Hill decided to become coed. I believe that's one of the major reasons that we became coeducational. We realized that once Chapel Hill took women and once the university at Charlotte was established, that we would probably shrink and die, just about. And so in a sense, we were forced. People thought we were forced to become a large commuting university with many different schools and aims. And there are others - now, I'm one of them - I really think we could have remained a - I'm not sure. It might have been better if we'd remained a women's 37:00college or, let me put it this way, maybe a coed college or university with no graduate work - with no graduate work. But we were told, "If you don't have graduate work, you don't get the funds," you know, so I think that's very short sighted because, you know, we have - in the nation we have places like Davidson and Oberlin and Amherst and Smith [colleges], and what have you - and why couldn't North Carolina have supported a small liberal arts college? But that was not the decision. It's all too late. There's no going back. We are what we are now, and we can improve on that, but we can't go back.

AP: Yeah, but we do see a change. I mean, you know, I feel the change and see it now. People have told me there certainly was a difference in makeup.


RW: When were you - ?

AP: Well, I have cousins who were here, a lot of cousins who were here and aunts were here.

RW: What years were they here?

AP: They were here in the forties, some were in the late forties and some even in the fifties. Right. And aunts were here; my father's sisters came here, so it was a different place. I sat through a number of graduations in Aycock [Auditorium], too.

RW: And physically, some of - say you graduated, someone who graduated in 1948 and came back, they wouldn't recognize it. They'd have an awful time finding their way around the campus. And, by the way, they'd have a terrible time finding their way around Greensboro, too.

AP: Well, tell me a bit about the times of integration or when the first blacks entered school here in the sixties, the early sixties [Ed. Note: Woman's College was integrated in 1956]. Were black students accepted by other students and by faculty? Well, I'm sure by faculty, but -


RW: I believe that it was very difficult for the first blacks who came. They were women, and they were few, and some of the white students were very much against their being on campus and made it known. And there were faculty members - there's even one person in the English department who - I remember more than one - who were very, very much against blacks coming.

AP: Is that right?

RW: So it was very hard for them; it was very, very difficult. There were lots and lots of very sympathetic faculty members and members of the administration who wanted their educational experiences to be good and to feel at home here and not to feel uncomfortable or terrorized. The ones who wanted the black students 40:00to have a pleasant time - a good education her - they were much of the majority. Only the minority was against having black students on campus.

AP: I see. Yeah, but there was a minority. Well, the integration of the campus took place slightly after the Woolworth Sit-in [Ed. note: Woolworth Sit-ins began February 1, 1960].

RW: Yes, it did.

AP: And my question is, did some Woman's College students participate in the Woolworth Sit-ins and - ?

RW: No, [At least five Woman's College students participated in the sit-ins.] not in the Woolworth Sit-ins, but there were marches later on that Jesse Jackson [North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College student at the time] led up from the black section of town. Up they'd come - singing and chanting up the 41:00street. He, Jesse Jackson, would be at the head of the line. He would stop at a cafeteria where he'd buy a newspaper and then try and go in - get the newspaper that was coming out of the machine - then try to go in the door, and they wouldn't let him in. And so he then went to the head of the line and the demonstrators walked down Elm Street, and they circled around, going past other restaurants and the movie theaters, where they were denied admission to each one, until finally, after several weeks of this, the theater owners and restaurants caved in. And so - but in those marches there were students from Woman's College - not many, but there were some. There were.

AP: Were they given sanction or blessing by the administration to do this, or was the administration involved, or embarrassed?


RW: I don't think - I think the administration felt it was none of their business, and so they didn't - as far as I know there was no interfering with any girl who was acting perfectly within their rights.

AP: To do that?

RW: Yes, they weren't staying out too late or anything else.

AP: Yeah. I wonder if you -

RW: They were allowed, as far as I know, they were allowed to.

AP: I wonder who the women were who marched or who participated in demonstrations? I wonder if they had some sort of special background or consciousness raising?

RW: I don't know. It's been so long ago I can't, I can't remember.

AP: That would be hard. In any group, there were men or women, college -

RW: And then I didn't always know who they were either, you know, unless I was downtown every night sort of taking attendance at the demonstrations. I really wouldn't know. But I heard stories from some of them who had.


AP: Yeah. We think about the sixties and then - even moving into the seventies - there just was a feeling, and certainly from the fifties to the seventies, we could say that Woman's College and then UNCG [University of North Carolina at Greensboro since 1963], that it was a different institution because, as you've outlined, the commuting and the coeducation and the push toward integration and also more graduate work and less emphasis perhaps on the undergraduate.

RW: And the emphasis also changing so that in the fifties and the early sixties there was a kind of core curriculum that just about all of the undergraduates as freshmen and sophomores had to take. They had to take so much English, so much history, so much foreign language, so much science. And then this school - the 44:00individual schools became very powerful and that collapsed. And so the - it had a tendency for the schools here - the School of Education to - they would have their own curriculum, and so that's changing. And, of course, as you said, you were teaching at the residential college. The residential college was - I think was established to sort of counteract some of the weaknesses in the curriculum, hoping that things would work, ways of teaching and things that were taught in the - there, would work their way into the general curriculum.

AP: Yeah. This morning Murray Arndt [English faculty] gave a wonderful lecture on [poet Walt] Whitman, and it was just pure Whitman. And I thought, "We don't hear pure Whitman." Well, I'm -


RW: Yeah.

AP: I'm sure you were teaching pure Whitman. Tell me about your own work, how you approached it, about being a poet. Tell me about being a teacher. Tell me about what it was like for you, what it is, the whole - what poetry is for you?

RW: Well, it's very hard for me to say. It's sort of like asking, you know, what is life? [laughs].

AP: Yes, I realize that's pretty difficult.

RW: I really can't say. All I can say is that when I was young and an instructor here, I spent my weekdays teaching and tending to my academic work and weekends and vacations - Christmas, Easter and summer - working on my poems, most of my poems. I don't know how to answer the question other than 46:00that. I felt that they were two very different jobs that I had. And, for instance, I always had a place to write, and I always chose a place if possible with no windows, no telephone, so that when I stepped into that room I was in another world. I was in - you know, the world was - my imagination could flow more easily, and so I would step in and out of those, you know -

AP: - be good. What got you into poetry? Why? Why?

RW: Oh, I haven't any idea. I guess I wrote my first poem maybe when I was eight years old or something. I just don't know. I have no idea. It's something that sort of took over - took over part of my life. Maybe it's a compulsion, I 47:00don't know. I don't ask to do that. I don't question myself too much about how things started or what happened or anything for fear I'll - I don't know how - I won't know how to do it anymore. I mean, I won't be able - I won't do it anymore. I'll be thinking too much of how it's done so I don't -

AP: So, perhaps -

RW: I don't - I keep my mind off that.

AP: You don't want to mix up the - there is the magic about it, but there is also the craft and just from words, and you obviously - I mean, you have both, both.

RW: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, it - yes, you have to do - yes, you have to be skilled at your craft. Yes, all arts are, they're arts - they're crafts as well as art - that, there can be crafts that aren't art, but there - all art depends on craft with words or paint or your body in dance or music.

AP: So there's a magic -

RW: And a lot of discipline - tremendous amount of discipline in the arts.


AP: But then there's a magic about it that we maybe can't define or shouldn't try to, I believe.

RW: Well, maybe scholars should. [laughs]

AP: Yeah, right.

RW: I don't think that those who do it should, you know. I think, you know, deconstruction may be fine for critics, but it's an abomination for writers.

AP: Well, I want to ask what were the best of times and worst of times here for you at the college, personally, professionally?

RW: It's very, very hard for me to say because every decade or every five years seemed to be very different from the last, and each five years seemed to have something grand and then something rotten about it too. So I can't pick out a 49:00period of my life when I was much happier and much more content than others. I think I could say generally that - and this is true I think of most people - is that we're most miserable in our late teens and early twenties. And then as we get older, we become more assured or more inured, and we're apt to enjoy ourselves more. I don't know. AP: Maybe -

RW: But that's my - that's what happened to me. I liked - age did not frighten me in any sense. There's always something.

AP: I wonder if we accept ourselves more and accept our worst and our best more and really delight - I don't know. I don't -

RW: I don't know. I'm not very good at articulating answers to such general questions [laughs].

AP: I needed to ask the question. I didn't really have to have an answer. But 50:00what other joys or strengths do you think about the insti[tution] - joys about being at the school or characteristics of the school, maybe something we haven't covered? Do you think of other parts of the process of your being here that you want to comment on, something earth shaking?

RW: Oh, no, I really can't think of anything off hand. I'm just wondering - Supposing I taught in another place? I didn't - I hadn't come to Woman's College. I had two other offers, two or three other offers that year, and I chose this one because of the fac[ulty] - the English department - the writers seemed so wonderful to me. Supposing I'd gone to another place? Maybe I would have had a better life or a worse life, I don't know. And I don't - also, since 51:00I've been a visiting writer in other places - at universities, at colleges - I really didn't know them well enough to be able to say, "Well, Woman's College is thus and so, but this is not." This is - I can't - I never saw, you know, the academic world in a way from campus to campus - it's all different, but in many ways it's very much the same. The problems of the faculty are the same, and the criteria for promotion are the same and -

AP: Yeah. I've wondered about that.

RW: But there is - there's a great deal, I mean, there's a great deal of difference between say Princeton [University] and Podunk U., but in many ways, 52:00they're very much alike.

AP: Yeah. That whole - that's interesting to think about and yes, I tend to agree on that one. And it's also, I suppose, interesting to think about the road not taken - who would we have been if we had - who knows? I don't need to lapse into that. Thank you for your ideas. Good time.

RW: Okay.