John D. Bridgers M.D.
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Chapter 7 - The East Carolina Teachers Training School gets started in Greenville

Senator James L. Fleming is the man credited with providing the legislative savvy which shepherded the bill for the East Carolina Teacher's Training School through the General Assembly in 1907.

However, Professor William Ragsdale provided the professional backing for the cause of education, and David Jordan Whichard, using his newspaper, promoted public support.

Oddly enough, Prof. Ragsdale and Editor Whichard were brothers-in-law, and David Whichard and James Fleming both traced their lineages back to David Fleming, a common ancestor early in Pitt County.

These men have been cited as the trio which basically saw the project through, though many others participated.

The account of their many transactions are well-documented in many places, and won't be repeated here.

Never having run across an anecdote I didn't like, however, there are several worth telling.


One of the major impediments to seeing ECTTS secured for Greenville was the opposition of the town's No., 1 citizen of that day, Ex-Governor Thomas Jarvis.

The folk of the Piedmont particularly objected to putting such a facility east of Raleigh, although the state had no teacher training going on in the east.

The resistance particularly centered around the supporters of the Normal School in Greensboro, which would one day would be the Women's College and now the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.

These people were fearful of having to share state revenues that had come to depend on.

Gov. Jarvis was on the Board of Trustees of the Normal School and his colleagues there had enlisted him in their cause.

When the legislative pot was at full boil Senator Fleming enjoined his side-kicks, William Ragsdale and David Whichard into bringing Gov. Jarvis to Raleigh to speak to the legislators.

David Julian Whichard, the editor's son told me the rest of this story.

Travel to Raleigh then entailed about a three-hour train ride.

Gov. Jarvis was known to be a great friend of "John Barleycorn."

On the train trip up his escorts kept the Governor well oiled.

When they arrived in the capital they kept this up at a hotel, which at once kept Gov. Jarvis away from his friends who approved the bill.

He went to the legislative floor "softened" in his position and he spoke eloquently for having the school in the east.

They then hustled back aboard the train home while debate proceeded.

The news of its successful passage was wired ahead to Greenville and a large crowd of townspeople were at the station where the governor was hailed as, "the man who saved the day."

He was too mellow and the crowd was too happy to know what had actually happened.


Later when the campaign was underway to locate the school in Greenville as opposed to the other eastern towns also vying for the same, there needed to be a county referendum on a local bond issue as part of the deal.

Haywood Dail, a town activist and entrepreneur, was among those appointed to monitor the voting.

The only problem was the he wasn't neutral on the issue, but avidly in favor of the school.

After it was learned that the issue had passed by a few votes he admitted that he had chewed up and swallowed some of the ballots which opposed the bond.

In more ways than one , that's how it went down.

During the campaign our grand-father had written in the The Reflector :

"What it will cost to get the Eastern Training School located in Pitt County will only have to be paid once, while the benefits the county will reap from it will go on through the years without number."

Just how widely had spread the ripples from this wasn't brought home to me nigh a half century later and a half a world away from  Greenville.

The Fast Carrier Task force of the Pacific Fleet, an unbelievably large armada, with its many vessels "swinging on the hook," was in the vast anchorage inside an atoll of the coral islands in the western seas.

It was the waning year of the Pacific War with the Japanese Empire and I was assigned to  Air Group 15 aboard the fleet carrier, U.S.S. Essex.  (See this link too )

In the dive-bomber squadron with me was Warren Parrish, good friend who had also been reared in Greenville and had gone to ECTC.

In our fighter squadron was a fellow from northeastern North Carolina, Mervin Frizzelle, who had attended college with me.

Somewhere along the way E.C.T.T.S. had become a degree-granting school and re-named East Carolina Teachers College.

The acronym E.C.T.C. was pronounced by all "Easy Teesy."


This was simply a handy sobriquet to E.C.T.C. student, but those who identified with more prestigious colleges and universities seemed to delight in chanting this name with a somewhat derisive slant.

Warren, Mervin and I constantly put up with this from other pilots and officers in the Air Group.

A close friend and colleague was Lieut. Sumner Roulon-Miller.

He later stood with me as best-man in my wedding.

Being just beyond the age limit for flight training he had become a "ground" officer and worked in our squadron helping supervise aircraft engineering and maintenance.

He came from a prominent Philadelphia family with a long tradition of Princeton attendance and had been a first-string fullback there when the Ivy league was still a bastion of football power.

One afternoon while we were anchored in the atoll lagoon a Princeton alumnus group from the whole Task Force had a "beer bust" on one of the islands.

"Roulon" came back to the ship at evening mess, somewhat in his cups and maudlin in his praise for how much Princeton people had done for the war effort.

I asked him how many pilots in our Air Group were from Princeton.

"One," he answered -- we had one fighter pilot from there.

I then asked him how many had gone to E.C.T.C.

He didn't answer -- he just turned in and slept it off.

And so, in 1908 Governor Jarvis turned the first shovel of dirt in the ground-breaking ceremony, and laid the first brick.

In 1910 the first class entered East Carolina Teachers Training School.

Senator Fleming, tragically was killed in an automobile accident several months after his work and say not the fruition of his labors


Professor Ragsdale became the first Chairman of the Department of Education at E.C.T.T.S., and finished out his career there -- my father later said that this man knew more about more things than any person he ever encountered.

David Jordan Whichard went on to other things that needed an editor's and father's attention.

In other words, "The College" had been birthed and would now grow and develop on its own.

However, the members of the small faculty became true members of the small community the entered -- there was no "town and gown" dichotomy in those early days, and has been precious little since.

Essie Whichard became a member of the first class of E.C.T.T.S., but was forced to drop out because of what the family euphemistically called a "nervous breakdown."

She was to be recurrently plagued by psychiatric instability the rest of her life -- by periods of normalcy giving way to undue elation followed by a time of profound depression.

No name for her condition ever came down to me, but later as I acquired some understanding of such things. I decided she had what today is called a bipolar personality disorder, or, more descriptively, a manic-depressive psychosis -- at the opposite extreme of the mental disability spectrum from schizophrenia and the scourge of many creative persons.

At some point along the way she became a regular contributor to  The Reflector , mostly working at home and writing up such social event as weddings and parties.

She also, I believe, was at one time a correspondent for the Raleigh News and Observer -- or "Nuzum Zerver" as eastern Carolinians were want to call it.

Her brother, David, told me she once sold an article to a national magazine on her next-door childhood playmates, the Wilson brothers who had made a family business of the army officer corps.

At some point along the way "Little Hennie" went to work for The Daily Reflector , though it doubtful anyone yet lives who knows exactly when or in what capacity she started.


From my earliest recollections about the newspaper she was circulation manager and society editor.

In this latter capacity she saw to the "socials" -- the announcements of events -- whereas my mother, as indicated , attended to the longer write-ups.

In the meanwhile the Whichard brothers were wending their way through the public schools.

David worked regularly for his father during the hours he was not in class, and apparently went to work full time when he graduated from high school.

During these years he took time off to attend one session of the General Assembly as a page, an experience he would later say was intensely educational.

As a sprout he had started as a messenger and copy boy, but sporadically, with his father's tutelage, learned the art of reporting and the skills of publishing.

I know he taught himself to type for he was the fastest "hunt-and-peck" artist I ever saw at a keyboard.

Later, during the Great Depression, the Associated Press had to cut costs by removing teletypes from small newspapers, and used instead a telephone "wire service" from Raleigh.

Twice daily someone at The Reflector sat at a typewriter listening through headphones and transcribed this thirty minute report transmitted at conversational speed.

It was like court reporting of today without benefit of a shorthand machine.

David could do this, after a fashion, with his home-grown typing technique.

As to hands-on newspapering David seemed as interested in the technology of production as in the technique of news gathering or writing.

He spent much of his time in the press and composing room.


I can still see him, hand, face and coveralls begrimed with oil and ink, laboring at the old flatbed press which periodically broke down, and which was probably an antique relic when it had been installed thirty years before.

It had a back and forth movement to take up slack in the wads of paper as it alternatively was pressed against the type face and then allowed to run free.

When The Reflector went to press so did downtown Greenville; and depending on the ambient street noises and vibrations at times the operating of the press could be heard and felt all the way to Five Points:

"Wooomf-woomf, Wooomf-woomf, Wooomf-woomf!"

In the 1930's The Raleigh Times merged with its long-time rival the "Nuzum 'Zerver," and David bought their relatively modern and faster rotary press.

David, the press-room gang and the factory representatives worked busily and dirtily at dismantling the old flat-bed dinosaur.

It was being junked, the pieces being hauled down to the Port Terminal at Morehead City to be shipped to Japan as scrap metal.

Someone remarked, war clouds then being on the horizons toward both Europe and Asia, that "we'll probably be getting it back soon as shot and shell."

Nearly a decade later, as I was one day pulling out of a dive-bombing attack over a Japanese battleship, amid colorful puffs of smoke and a fountain of sparkling tracers from anti-aircraft fire, I remembered that remark and the old flat-bed press and heard in my minds ear:

"Wooomf-woomf, Wooomf-woomf, Wooomf-woomf!"

But that time what I heard in my head wasn't particularly reassuring.


It's supposed that "Crick" too worked at the newspaper while still in school, though unlikely with the gusto that did his older brother.

I never heard he had any trouble in school, but it was hinted that he found satisfaction in mediocrity and evidenced a hedonistic determination that study not be allowed to interfere with a good time.

He was allegedly a diligent and skillful athlete, and my father told me that when he was courting my mother they sometimes watched "Crick" perform as a mainstay on the high-school basketball team, this being a game just then coming into popularity.

The description which come down were of "Crick" as a very popular, happy-go-lucky youth who loved to live near the edge.

Again my father told me of one night when he and my mother attended a big revival in a tobacco warehouse held by an itinerant evangelist.

Rather than sit in the chairs provided "Crick" and several of his cronies climbed into the rafters and precariously perched on narrow two-by-fours twenty feet above the crowd.

They were apparently well situated to have been in the hands of Providence.

"Crick" must have finished school just as the older young men were going to war with Germany.

This would be the crowd to provide the grist for "The Roaring Twenties" which would break upon the scene after the war.

It is at this juncture that this story begins to become personal for me, though it would be several years before I made an appearance.

Several years before, Sam Bridgers had left E.C.T.TS. after a single term of matriculation, but he would return to these haunts.

____ ____


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