A native of North Carolina, Viola Boddie (1864 – 1940) was a charter faculty member of the North Carolina State Normal and Industrial School (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). Graduating at the top of her class at Peabody Teachers College in Nashville, Tennessee, her diverse teaching experience gave her a deep understanding of the poor conditions of education in North Carolina. Miss Boddie traversed the state in an open carriage pulled by a mule, exploring country school houses that had such wide gaps between the log construction that you could “throw a cat through, if not a dog.”i Considered a pioneer of early women’s education, she worked with “early radicals,” Charles Duncan McIver and Edward Alderman to open State Normal and Industrial School, the first public college for women in North Carolina.
At the age of 25, she accepted the position of head of the Department of Latin at State Normal – a title she would hold for the next 43 years. Miss Boddie seemed a very romantic figure to the young women in her charge. They found her beautiful and her mode of dress very stylish. Her students knew that she had turned away many gentleman callers, and they even imagined she might be in love with President McIver.ii In the early years, Miss Boddie hosted parties for her students and was known for her love of flowers, which she always kept in her classroom. Her graciousness, wit, and interest in world affairs, made her a very popular teacher, but she tended to be more reserved than some of her colleagues and was considered a taskmaster who broached no nonsense in her classroom.
Until 1914, Latin was required to gain an A.B. degree at the college; therefore, for almost half of the registered students, the coursework was mandatory. By 1919, Latin became an elective and enrollment dropped substantially. Although Miss Boddie blamed the falling numbers on the elective system, others believed that the drop reflected the professor’s increasingly harsh, sarcastic manner and “fearsome disposition.” Her popularity began to wane and she was relieved of her dormitory duties in 1918. She began to be viewed as “behind the times” by both the administration and the students. As the college grew in both size and viewpoints, many felt that restrictions on student privileges should be loosened, yet Miss Boddie led the charge to keep the more traditional values of the school’s early years. Additionally, she was not inclined to collaborate with other campus departments, believing in such cases, there was a “danger of the big fishes devouring the little fishes whenever departments were asked to work in tandem.”iii
Eventually, there was talk of replacing her; yet, Miss Boddie was not going to make it easy for administration to do so. In 1926, when a new teacher, Marie Deneen, was hired to teach Latin, Miss Boddie used her position as head of the department to block college credit for the new professor’s classes. As the years went by, the Latin Department had progressively fewer students, reflecting both a national trend and Miss Boddie’s increasingly contentious personality. By 1934, she agreed to partial retirement, only teaching one course, and took permanent retirement the next year. Soon after, the Latin Department was folded into the new Department of Classical Civilization, headed by Dr. Charlton Jernigan, a dynamic young professor from Duke University. Miss Boddie passed away in 1940 and was buried in Nashville.
By Kathelene McCarty Smith
i Greensboro News, October 11, 1925
ii Trelease, Allen W. Making North Carolina Literate: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro from Normal School to Metropolitan University. (2004)