Alumnae Association alumni Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project Veterans

Spotlight on WC Alumna and American Red Cross Worker, Emily Harris Preyer (Class of 1939)

Emily Irving Harris Preyer was born in Reidsville, NC in 1919 and grew up in Greensboro. Preyer attended Greensboro Senior High School (now Grimsley High School) and then went on to the Woman’s College (WC) of the University of North Carolina (now UNC Greensboro). While at the WC she double majored in English and French and was a member of several campus organizations including president of the Student Government Association.

1939 Pine Needles (p. 57)

For the first three years at the WC, Preyer was a Town Student (now called Commuter) because her family could not afford the cost to live on campus.

In 1939, Preyer’s senior year, The Dean of Women Harriet Elliot brought her friend First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to campus. In this excerpt from her Oral History, Emily Preyer discusses her encounter with Roosevelt. “I was president of the student government, so—Dr. [Walter Clinton] Jackson lived right there on campus, and so he had a—Miss Elliott had a tea for her, and I never will forget Mrs. Roosevelt came down and we were all so excited. I had somebody from every class saying I was pouring the tea, and I said, “Mrs. Roosevelt, will you have tea or coffee?” And she said, “Well, honey, I’ll have it in my cup, whatever,” because I was pouring it right on the silver tray. Oh, she was a wonderful lady, Mrs. Roosevelt.”

College Judicial Board, 1939 Pine Needles yearbook (p. 31)

In addition to being president of the Student Government Association, Preyer was the Dance Chairman for the Adelphian Society, Chairman of the Honor Board, Class Cheerleader, Le Circle Francais member, Clogging Club, Town Student’s Board member, May Day Court, Young Democrats Club, College Judicial Board, and the Carolinian Business Staff. Preyer was also a participant in various sports such as Tennis and Basketball, as well as other organizations and honors.

In 1943, Preyer joined the American Red Cross. She chose the Red Cross over the Navy WAVES or the Army WAC because the training time was only two weeks. Preyer was stationed in Perth and Brisbane, Australia and Subic Bay, Philippines.

Preyer in her Red Cross uniform

Preyer talks about her time in Australia with the Red Cross: “Perth and Western Australia was the most beautiful place. We had the cutest little house on a lake, and it was called the Swan Lake because Perth is the only place in the world that has black swans. So we called our Red Cross club the “Swan Dive,” and they could come in and dance and do whatever they’d want to, and we’d write letters for them. Then when they would be sent to the hospitals in Perth we would go and write letters. We weren’t nurses, but we did whatever the nurses asked us to do…We went to the hospitals and did everything we could for those boys. I mean, we learned to do bandages and all. We weren’t trained nurses, but we learned to do, anything to comfort them and help them get well.”

Fremantle Submarine Base was near Perth and the Red Cross worked with many of the enlisted submariners.

“They [U.S. Navy submariners] called me ‘the Rebel.’ This boy that was on a submarine said, ‘Rebel, you know what? You always make me feel homesick because I lived up in Maine, and every winter when the wild geese were flying over my house going south for the winter, they’d go ‘Waah! Waah! Waah!’ and you just remind me of those geese.’ And of course they just kidded me about my twang till I could scream.”

Emily Preyer and her husband in the 1975 Alumni News (p. 3)

Preyer remained in Perth with the Red Cross until 1945. After her return to the United States, she married the Honorable L. Richardson Preyer, U.S. Congressman and Federal judge. Their eldest son joined the Peace Corps in the 1970s and her daughter worked with the VISTA program. Through the rest of her life, Preyer continued to work with the Greensboro Chapter of the American Red Cross and served the Triad Community in various ways. From 1955-57, Preyer also served as President of the WC Alumnae Association. In 1998, Preyer was awarded the North Carolina Award in Public Service, the state’s highest honor, in recognition for her leadership and philanthropy in Greensboro. Emily Irving Harris Preyer passed away in December 1999.

Learn more about Emily Preyer and other women who served in the American Red Cross and the United States Armed Forces at the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project.

This story was written by Sara Maeve Whisnant, a student in the Master’s in Library and Information Studies program at UNCG. Sara Maeve has worked with the Women Veterans Historical Project as a student assistant since 2014.

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