From Mary Rebecca Denny to Paula Gallant Eckard — I recently received an email from JuliAnna Ávila in which she mentioned Mary Rebecca Denny, the woman for whom the Denny Building is named (see the story below for more information about JuliAnna’s email). I remember asking about Denny when I first came to UNC Charlotte in the mid-1980s since I often taught in the Denny Building at the time. The person I asked told me that Denny was one of the first faculty members hired to teach at Charlotte College, the predecessor to UNC Charlotte. That conversation was the last time I thought about Denny until I received JuilAnna’s email. However, now that I have done some research on Denny, I am convinced that we should all know something about her, for she truly is the founding mother of our English Department.
In 1946, Bonnie Cone hired Mary Denny as the first full-time faculty member at what was then called the Charlotte Center of the University of North Carolina. Denny had been an English professor at Queens College (now called Queens University), but she decided to leave her position at Queens College and join forces with Bonnie Cone. When the Charlotte Center evolved into Charlotte College in 1949, Denny stayed on and created the English Department. From 1949 until 1964, she served as the chair of Charlotte College’s English Department. Shortly after Charlotte College became the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Denny retired, becoming UNC Charlotte’s first professor emerita. During her time as the chair of the English Department, she founded the college newspaper and a college literary magazine. Denny continued to support UNC Charlotte, the university she helped create, until her death in 1979.
Last Friday, I talked with Paula Eckard about my research on Denny, and she shared a story with me about an experience she had in the Denny Building while she was an undergraduate student at UNC Charlotte. I asked her to send me an email about this experience, and here is what she wrote:
I met my husband as a freshman taking Introduction to Chemistry in one of the big lecture halls in Denny. During the first two weeks of the semester I sat in the back of the room with friends, but one day I was running late to class and someone had already taken my seat. I suddenly remembered I had passed a vacant seat next to a dark, handsome young man a few rows closer to the front. I hurried back down the aisle and took the empty seat. Not being shy, I introduced myself and shortly thereafter we started going out. Three years later we were married during my senior year of nursing school. I guess the Chemistry was right.
I think it is fitting that Paula is about to become the chair of the department that Mary Denny founded seventy years ago. Paula never met Denny, but she met her husband in the building named after Denny, and Paula studied English in the department founded by Denny. Like Denny, Paula developed her leadership skills in this department. As I see it, Paula is the perfect person to carry on Denny’s legacy. The chemistry is right.
Mary Rebecca Denny’s Thoughts on the Purpose of a Liberal Education — JuliAnna Ávila is a member of the group of faculty and administrators who are writing the college’s Phi Beta Kappa application. One of her roles in this process is to proofread the application. While proofreading, she noticed a paragraph about Mary Rebecca Denny’s thoughts on the purpose of a liberal education. JuliAnna sent me an email in which she quoted this paragraph, and she suggested that I share it with the English Department. I concur with JuliAnna’s suggestion. Here is the paragraph:
Writing in the student newspaper in October 1960, Mary Rebecca Denny, the first Chair of the English Department, quoted John Milton’s 1644 tract Of Education, that “A liberal education is that which best fits a man to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously all the duties both public and private of peace and war.” This comprehensive perspective, she wrote, includes intellectual and spiritual development as well as social responsibility: a combination of self-discovery, self-discipline, and the development of the power of independent judgment. In an age before formal Mission Statements, Denny summarized the purpose of the university’s core enterprise. “The purpose of a liberal education then,” she concluded, “is human excellence, both public and private.”
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of the English Department. Here is the latest news:
Boyd Davis is the co-author of a paper titled “Challenges of Creating an E-Mobile Support & Archive for Community Dementia Caregivers: The Emerging Story-Call Collection” presented at the VA VISN7 Research Summit, Birmingham, AL, November 14, 2019.
Janaka Lewis recently participated on the following two Program Administration and Development panels of National Women’s Studies Association Conference held in San Francisco: “Advice to New Chairs and Directors” and “Africana Motherwork in the Academy.”
Upcoming Events and Deadlines — Here is information about upcoming events and deadlines:
November 21 — The Fifth English Honors Colloquium will take place on Thursday, November 21, from 4:00 to 4:50. There will be two panels. The panel titled “Addressing Subjugation” will take place in the English Departmentment Conference Room, and the panel titled “Elements of Gothic Literature” will take place in Fretwell 206.
November 22 — The English Department faculty meeting will take place on Friday, November 22, from 11:00 to 12:30 in the English Department Conference Room (Fretwell 280C).
November 22 — The English Learning Community’s “Meet and Greet Coffee Hour” will take place on November 22 from 1:00 to 2:00 in the Faculty/Staff Lounge.
November 22 — There will be a gathering to celebrate the life of Leon Gatlin and to honor his many contributions to our department on Friday, November 22, from 3:00 to 4:30, in the English Department Seminar Room (Fretwell 290B).
Quirky Quiz Question — Mary Rebecca Denny’s interest in the writings of John Milton overlaps with Paula Eckard’s interest in the writings of Thomas Wolfe. The title of one of Wolfe’s novels is based on a line from Milton’s poem Lycidas. What is the title of this novel by Wolfe?
Last week’s answer: Imaginon
EpicFest always takes place in a unique facility in Charlotte that houses both Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and a large children’s library. What is the name of this facility?