In 1972, Josephine “Jo” Hege retired as an associate professor of history at UNC Greensboro. On the occasion of her retirement, history department head Richard Bardolph wrote of her as “a highly popular teacher, as well known for her sparkling wit, her ebullience, and her razor-sharp intelligence as for the rigorous standards she required of her students.” He noted that she “waged relentless assault upon sham and shoddy worksmanship,” but added that “four decades of unswerving dedication to classroom excellence only deepened and strengthened her inner kindliness, her unfailing sense of the comic and absurd, her allegiance to the highest intellectual virtues.”
Elma Josephine Hege was born October 18, 1904, in Salem, NC, to Frederick Christian and Augusta Sitterson Hege. The Hege family’s roots could be traced back to the earliest years of the Moravian settlement in Salem. When Josephine was six years old, her family moved to Roanoke Rapids, where her father worked at Rosemary Mills.
After graduating from high school in Roanoke Rapids in 1923, Hege enrolled in the North Carolina College for Women (now UNC Greensboro) to study to become a teacher. She was a very active student, serving as the Literary Editor of the Pine Needles in her junior year and as President of the Student Government Association in her senior year. In the 1927 yearbook, Hege was described as “exact and correct about what she does, but she expects others to have the same standards. This means that she makes an inspiring teacher, although she is a difficult person to please.”
Hege’s high standards led her to graduate with honors as a history student at NCCW. She was also awarded the Weil Fellowship, which provided a year of graduate study at Yale University. After teaching in public schools for a few years, Hege returned to her alma mater to serve as a counselor in Shaw Residence Hall and part-time instructor from 1934 to 1938. She spent one year away from Greensboro to complete her master of arts degree in history at the University of Virginia. Then, in 1939, she was named an assistant professor in the history department.
Throughout her time at the school now known as UNCG, Hege wrote poems, litanies, and scripts for numerous services held on campus. Perhaps her proudest achievement, however, was writing the Litany of Commemoration for Founders Day, which was first performed at the university’s 50th anniversary celebration on October 5, 1942.
Hege’s contributions to the development and growth her alma mater, however, continued in other avenues. When the institution became a university in 1963, Hege took on an unofficial role of mentor to the new faculty members hired. She drew on her background to provide them with instruction in the art of teaching, helping them adjust to the role of professor. Converse D. Clowse, a history department professor, wrote that “she supported young, green faculty members as well as her students. I know that she gave me sound advice on numerous occasions and saved me from a number of errors. She guided others in the same way … I think that she saw this as a part of her functions as an experienced teacher, to make the next generation of teachers better.”
In 1972, Hege retired from UNCG. Six years later, a group of faculty and alumni nominated Hege for an honorary doctorate degree for her commitment to UNCG and to excellence in teaching. The degree was awarded in 1979. In a note informing Hege of this decision, Chancellor James Ferguson wrote “you have made fine contributions to this institution, to the consolidated University, and to higher education throughout the state. For many years your litany has expressed the spirit of the Woman’s College and the University, and of course your teaching has had a special meaning for those students whose good fortune it was to be in your classes.”
Hege saw the institution transform from the North Carolina College for Women to the Woman’s College to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her high standards for excellence and her personal emphasis on passing along knowledge to the next generation of students and faculty members ensured that the spirit of the university’s founders carries on today.
By Erin Lawrimore