Special Collections and University Archives

by Kathelene McCarty Smith

In April 1939, Dixie Lee Bryant presented a large comprehensive scrapbook of the early years of the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) to her friend and Alumnae Secretary Clara Booth Byrd. Perhaps arising from a wave of nostalgia inspired by attendance at a birthday celebration held the year before for then president, Julius Foust, Bryant lovingly created an album that included photographs of students, faculty, and campus grounds. In retrospect, this might be considered unusual as Bryant had not worked at the small women’s’ college since 1905, when she left under problematic circumstances.

Faculty of the State Normal, 1893
Dixie Lee is top row, middle

Dixie Lee Bryant was one of the first faculty members at the newly formed State Normal and Industrial School. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Bryant was educated at the Columbia Female Institute in Columbia, Tennessee. Her interest in science led her to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. Shortly after her graduation in 1891, she accepted the position of head of the science department at State Normal. Initially, she was the only science professor on campus, thus she was responsible for teaching courses as varied as geology, zoology, chemistry, and physics. She also introduced hands-on instruction, instituting the first science labs on campus. With the addition of Mary Petty to the faculty in 1893, Bryant was able to shift some of the science-related teaching load to her.  

Science Lab established by Dixie Lee Bryant

In 1901, Bryant made the decision to further her education by attending the Bavarian University of Erlangen in Germany, earning a PhD in geology, and graduating magna cum laude. On returning to State Normal, she was the first faculty member with a doctorate, and was disappointed when her already meager salary was not increased. This resulted in a falling out with President Charles Duncan McIver, and Bryant left the school in 1905, spending the rest of her career in Chicago’s public school system.

Students who attend the State Normal in the early years

Yet, Bryant remained connected with State Normal through continued contact with staff, and the lasting bond with the college was mirrored by the creation and the content of the scrapbook, which captured a visual memory of her early career at the college. Included were photographs of students and faculty, as well as images of her science lab and various campus views. It ended with a photograph from Foust’s birthday event, which represented the attending charter faculty members of the college. Bryant also added blank pages to the back of the album, hoping that they would be filled with images of students and campus views not incorporated in other campus publications. In a letter to Miss Byrd that accompanied the scrapbook, Bryant concluded by wishing the college all the best, with hopes that it would continue to exceed its “small though important beginnings.”

Dixie Lee Bryant (second row, middle) joins charter faculty members
for Dr. Foust’s Birthday Celebration (1938)

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