Special Collections and University Archives

Memories from friends of Betty’s who worked with her through the years.

My memories of Betty Carter by Hermann J. Trojanowski

In September 1996, I first meet University Archivist Betty Carter when I began working in the Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) of Jackson Library as a graduate student. Betty and her colleagues Janis Holder, Linda Jacobson, Carolyn Shankle, and Department Head Emmy Mills were most welcoming and became my mentors.

Betty and I became very close since Betty and I shared a love of history and the University. My first project under the direction of Betty was the processing of the Mary Callum Wiley Papers. Miss Wiley was a 1894 graduate of the State Normal & Industrial School (now UNC Greensboro) and became an author, editor, historian, and teacher in Winston-Salem. Betty gave me numerous tips and guidance in processing the Wiley Papers and creating an exhibit based on the Papers.

In the late 1990s, Betty met several times with the Class of 1950 reunion committee to plan their 50th class reunion. During the meetings, several remembers of the committee fondly remembered their classmates who had served in the various military branches during World War II. Since UNCG had been founded as a women’s college and the SCUA had numerous collections relating to women, Betty’s vision was to have a collection that would not only honor women veterans but also establish a research and teaching collection.

One of my most memorable memories of Betty was when she stood in front of the over 100 guests at the first luncheon to honor women veterans in November 1997. Standing at the podium with a gray archival box in her hands, Betty welcomed everyone and asked the veterans to donate their military related papers and items to the University so that each veteran’s collection would fill several gray boxes. In 1998, the Women Veterans Historical Project (WVHP) was officially established and consisted of three components: collections, luncheon, and oral histories.

After I graduated from graduate school, Betty hired me to conduct oral history interviews with several local women who had served in the United States Naval Reserve better known as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II. Betty purchased the necessary audio equipment, compiled a list of possible interviewees, and wrote a set of interview questions. With Betty’s encouragement and guidance, I interviewed Ginny Mattson on January 9, 1999. Mattson was the first of hundreds of women veterans who would be interviewed for the Project.

Betty was very proud of the Project and wanted to make the Project more widely known. In 2005, she commissioned Brenda Schleunes to write a theatre production titled Star-Spangled Girls based on the artifacts, diaries, letters, interviews, journals, posters, and telegrams donated by the women who served in the United States military during World War II. The production has been a huge success and has been seen by thousands up and down the East Coast.

Betty was very passionate about sharing the history of the University and used every opportunity to give presentations, teach classes, and curate exhibits relating to the artifacts and collections held in University Archives, as well as leading campus tours. I vividly recall Betty and I schlepping a collapsible movie screen and slide projector across camps so she could give a presentation or teach a class.

Betty loved to collect papers and items related to the University’s history and she was relentless in pursing items that would enhance the holdings of the University Archives.  In the sweltering heat of July 2004, Betty and I drove to Caldwell County to pack the Lelia Judson Tuttle Collection. Tuttle graduated from the State Normal & Industrial College (now UNC Greensboro) in 1900 and taught in China from 1909 to 1942. During her time in China, she collected Chinese artifacts, documents, and textiles that she later donated to Caldwell County. In 2004, the collection was transferred to UNC Greensboro and has been used for classes, exhibitions, and presentations.

Between 2006 and 2007, Betty worked tireless to upgrade the Women Veterans Historical Project Curator and Assistant University Archivist positions from staff to faculty status. Betty felt that the two positions deserved faculty designation since Curator Beth Carmichael and my responsibilities were in line with other Jackson Library faculty positions.

Betty was a wonderful colleague and friend who I and many of her former colleagues at UNC Greensboro will greatly miss.

FINDING BETTY CARTER (Memories from Emilie Mills, Special Collections Librarian -1972-1997)

One balmy day in 1974 as I was leaving the NC State Archives building in Raleigh, one of their staff members came running after me. She explained that there was a former archives employee looking for work in Greensboro because her husband had gotten a job there.  Her name was Betty Carter, and she had a Master’s degree in history from Duke and until recently was a beloved and talented member of the State Archives staff. I remember that day so well that it is hard to think that was 47 years ago.

To this day I still believe the hiring of Betty for our Archives position was one of the brilliant moves of the second half of the 20th century. Once she came on board (initially part-time) she assessed and inventoried the archival materials pertaining to the history of the University. We had endless discussions about where to start, what must be saved, and determine what was missing. As it turned out, a great deal was missing from the library’s holdings, but Betty unearthed much of it over the years from various “hidey-holes” and hoarders on campus.  She had the instincts of a professional sleuth.

Betty began her magic with the papers of Charles Duncan McIver, the school’s founder and first president.  I would say she was totally immersed both professionally and spiritually with Dr. McIver, his school and family. She subsequently even named one of her cats for him!  

Another job change came to the Carters and Betty was off to Charleston, SC.  She took her McIver notes and drafts with her and continued to work on the description of the McIver papers.  Of course, there were many phone calls back and forth during this hiatus. When Betty’s family returned to Greensboro, this time for good, Betty was welcomed back to the Archives.

Betty’s dedication never went unnoticed by the library staff and the many faculty members who made use of the collections. Researchers from other institutions sang their praises over the ease of access to the archival materials and to the professionalism of the entire Archives staff.

I am proud to be able to speak of Betty as a loyal friend and colleague par excellence. I will never forget her and our years together.  She taught me much.

Memories from former Women Veterans curator Linda Jacobson

The nearly seven years that I spent working with Betty Carter in Jackson Library’s Special Collections/University Archives (SCUA) were some of the best and most transformative years of my life.  I began working in the department in the mid-1990s in a student role, but right away Betty treated me like I was an important part of the team. With her support and advocacy, I graduated to part-time and later full-time positions in the University Archives. Betty also encouraged me to complete my graduate degree, knowing that would be the only way I would reach my career goals.

Betty and I began working closely together when she established the Women Veterans Historical Project.  Through many long hours of grant proposal writing, advocacy, and hard work, Betty took one small donation of a World War II WAVES uniform and built the foundation for what is now an assemblage of almost 700 collections.  I was honored to be appointed as the first curator of this collection which allowed me to spend more time with Betty, traveling to auctions to bid on old uniforms or working together to plan the annual luncheon.  She often encouraged me to go outside my comfort level in this role, and I am the better for it. 

It was known across campus and beyond that Betty knew everything about UNCG’s history.  It seemed she was constantly being phoned or emailed by someone with a question.  Although she did not attend UNCG, Betty loved its history. We often teased her about her fondness for the school’s founder, Charles Duncan McIver (1860-1906).  Betty’s enthusiasm for UNCG’s history helped to raise the profile of UNCG and the archives.

Betty also had a big heart. This could be seen in how she counseled us in our affairs and entertained us in her home.  She also had a propensity for saving stray cats, most remarkably a family of six!

I look back with enormous gratitude for the time I spent at Jackson Library, and for having had the honor of working with Betty. 

Memories from Former Assistant University Archivist Janis Holder

Of the 26 years I spent on the staff of Jackson Library, the last 10, from 1993-2003, were spent working in Special Collections and University Archives. Jackson Library was large enough that you could work in one department while having absolutely no idea about the rest of the staff, much less what their jobs entailed. This was especially true of Special Collections and University Archives, which always seemed to be a place apart – a place of secrets and wondrous treasures that most of us would never know. 

It wasn’t until I started work in the Catalog Department in 1983, cataloging materials for Special Collections and University Archives, that I began to get to know Betty Carter. In 1993, when a position became available in SCUA, I jumped at the chance to apply, working first with Special Collections Librarian Emmy Mills, then directly with Betty in University Archives. Both of those women were enormously influential in my life.

The SCUA office space was relatively small, divided into cubicles for some semblance of privacy, and Betty and I worked on opposite sides of a cubicle divider. The lack of privacy never seemed to bother Betty, who maintained her equilibrium even during the period when a certain History professor claimed a table in our office while working on a history of the university. Though we had the greatest affection for him, he would sometimes insert himself into staff discussions and even comment on phone calls he overheard. Betty was his mainline to the records he needed for his research, and she was unfailingly polite and helpful while the rest of us were rolling our eyes.

Betty had a habit of kicking off her shoes while working and padding around the office in bare or stockinged feet. Shoes were always slipped quickly on when a patron materialized at the reading room door, of course. The enforced closeness of the SCUA staff led to a camaraderie that I valued and helped us through one of our greatest challenges as a department during a messy, dirty, 7-month HVAC system renovation that had the stacks under wraps and inaccessible. We were survivors. Heck, we were together in the office watching when the plane hit the second tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. 

Betty was a champion, and an encourager. Fiercely protective of her staff and resources, unflagging in her promotion of University Archives, knowledgeable and scarily intelligent, she got things done while also content to work behind the scenes, and above all, she cared. She cared about preserving UNCG’s records, documents, and artifacts, and she cared about providing access to them. She modeled what a University Archivist should be, and I’m sure I internalized some of those traits for later use in my own stint as University Archivist at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Betty encouraged me to accept the nomination for a leadership position in the Society of North Carolina Archivists (SNCA), knowing that the exposure would also be good for UNCG. She gave me leadership responsibilities and encouraged me to take every opportunity for professional development and, ultimately, encouraged me to interview for the University Archivist position at UNC-Chapel Hill, knowing that it might mean losing me as a staff member. She even held a reception for me at her house before I left and was never anything but supportive of my decision.

Betty never openly cared about personal credit or notoriety, but she certainly deserved it. When the Women Veterans Historical Project was named in her honor it went a long way toward recognizing the pivotal role she played in creating that nationally recognized collection. Betty never missed an opportunity to interview a veteran, and included her staff in the process, sending us off with a list of questions and assurances that we could get the job done. 

Memories from Carolyn Shankle, Special Collections Specialist

When I joined Special Collections & University Archives, on my first day there was a sign on my desk that said: “Keep your running shoes on!” This proves to be great advice as SCUA grows and adapts to both curatorial and technological changes. Betty Carter was a leading force behind these changes.

In the almost fourteen years I worked with her, she advocated for more personnel and higher banding for current personnel. She built strong connections with alumni and those connections resulted in funding for preservation as well as digitization projects.  Carter is best known for the Women Veterans Historical Project that now bears her name. In creating this new curatorial area, she combined her love for archival collections as well as her recognition of the importance of oral histories in documenting underrepresented perspectives.

Memories from Beth Ann Koelsch, Associate Professor and Curator of The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

I’m sure I join with many others in mourning Betty’s passing, and in feeling gratitude for a very special woman who touched many lives.

What I remember most about Betty is her fierce love for the World War II veterans who were part of the WVHP collection. She befriended a few of these women and would keep in touch with them for years after their oral histories were added to the collections. Betty was justifiably proud of creating and fighting for support for the Women Veterans Historical Project, and her legacy of scholarship will endure.

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