UNCG graduate student Susan has created the first blog entry for our new series “Collection Spotlight” in which we will highlight selected items from the North Carolina Room archives and special collections. This series will run once a month so keep a look out!
This news article (July 31, 1937) announces Mary C. Wiley’s upcoming feature series, “From My Book Press” and is one of many pages within her scrapbooks. Often the dates of the articles, and sometimes other notes, were handwritten in the columns. Click on the images to enlarge.
Does “Mostly Local” ring a bell to you? How about to a parent or grandparent who grew up in Winston-Salem? “Mostly Local” was a daily column from Winston-Salem’s Twin City Sentinel whose author recalled historic lore on the local and state level. That author, Mary Callum Wiley, wrote what were essentially quips of information that revealed the attitudes and issues of a time before hers. Clippings of these editorials and other articles of Wiley’s comprise 11 scrapbooks and range from 1932 to 1963. The Mary C. Wiley Scrapbook Collection is located in the North Carolina Room’s archives.
Wiley was born in Salem, as the section of the city was then known, in 1875. Her father, Calvin Henderson Wiley, was an advocate for education and became North Carolina’s first superintendent of public instruction in addition to being a lawyer, editor, author of the North Carolina Reader, and member of the General Assembly. It is easy to see his influence on a young Mary Wiley who chose a career in teaching, as did her two sisters.
This typical scrapbook page of Mary C. Wiley’s “Mostly Local” series from the Twin City Sentinel contains four articles from March, 1944. Together they show the breadth of historic lore that Wiley wrote about. Here she tells about the great number of named 1900’s tobacco brands and their manufacturers from Winston; the establishment of the Bell Telephone System in Winston-Salem in 1891; a fire that broke out in 1923 at the Cherry Street High School; and how a young gun apprentice in Salem happened to stumble into the watch repair trade.
After attending the State Normal School in Greensboro (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG)) for both her diploma and degree, and teaching for a few years in the eastern part of the state, Wiley returned to Winston-Salem where she taught for 47 years. To her students at Richard J. Reynolds High School, where she was head of the English Department for the last 22 of these years, she was affectionately known as “Miss Mary.” Wiley left a legacy as a teacher as well as a writer, editor and historian. She was awarded an honorary degree by UNCG in 1946 for her years of service in all of these disciplines.
Wiley retired from teaching in 1945. In August of that year she began writing the “Mostly Local” columns. She had been published in the newspaper before this, however. Wiley’s first column in the local paper appeared on August 1, 1937 and was part of a 12-week series entitled “From My Book Press.” These columns appeared in the Sunday editions of the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel and were more in-depth articles than what the daily “Mostly Locals” were. The historic subject matter, however, was a precursor to that of the later and more long-lasting series.
This article (February 9, 1949) tells of the first girl and boy born in the newly established county town of Winston, which was in 1849. Carolyn Elizabeth Rights White came first, according to Wiley, and was followed by Robah Gray. Wiley includes detail about the landscapes surrounding their homes and the paths the two pioneer citizens followed.
Topics from both series ranged from information about important dates in Winston-Salem history, laws, political figures, city landmarks, personal glimpses of Salem and Winston, early Moravian settlers, the weather and crops, and many other views of the past. A September 19, 1962 “Mostly Local” piece referred to a report from 1878 about crop damage in the area due to heavy rains, detailing that “two thousand two-horse loads of pumpkins were carried off by the Yadkin [River]” as a result. Another “Mostly Local” article from October 19, 1945 reported that George Washington visited Salem on May 31, 1791. Apparently his coach pulled up in front of Salem Tavern and “it was in the upper room, northwest corner, that he was entertained during his stay… .” On November 5, 1945 Wiley wrote about Winston’s first jail, remarking that it was not built until 1859 and, according to county records, cost only $54.47.
The scrapbook collection also includes longer feature articles published in the daily and Sunday papers, such as one about the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic where “services were discontinued in churches” and “public gatherings of all kinds were prohibited” (October 3, 1949), as well as articles from several other publications, such as The State, a weekly newsletter from Raleigh. Most of Wiley’s articles from The State were published as the “Carolina Clippings” column and date from the 1930s and 1940s.
Wiley did not stop teaching after retiring from the classroom; her pen carried on. She provided rich details of life in Winston, Salem, and North Carolina from a time that could easily be forgotten if not given attention. Her details about daily life and more significant events painted vivid pictures so that readers could then, and can now, see life in an earlier day–details that make this collection of scrapbooks of great value to The North Carolina Room and those interested in the history of Forsyth County and our state.