UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

Ring that bell, a resounding part of UNCG’s heritage

Photo of Matthew Moss, Class of 2013, and Gayle Hicks Fripp, Class of 1963, ceremoniously rang the university bell at 2013 Spring Commencement.The university bell will sound at commencement. Anne Prince Cuddy, Class of ‘64, and Lindsay Ives, Class of ‘14, will do the honors.

The old bell has been a part of our campus experience since its earliest years. It connects us to our past.

It’s the same peal heard in 1897, when overjoyed students heard news about expanded legislative funding for our university. At least a hundred Normal School (UNCG) students ran to ring the bell, the Greensboro Record reported. “The young lady who first reached the bell, in the exuberance of her spirits, pulled the rope off of the wheel, but this accident did not deter her desire. In an instant the ladder was scaled … the rope was replaced, and for an hour or more joy resigned unconfined.”

Its most illustrious moment? On a frigid January 1904 night, Brick Dormitory (located at the site of today’s McIver Building) caught fire. Student Josephine Scott ran over the snowy ground to alert everyone. (This was an era before modern fire alarms and sprinkler systems.) She, too, broke the rope, a classmate recalled, and climbed the bell stand to ring it with her hands again and again. In a phone call at age 84, she said, “I still don’t know how I climbed up that ladder, but it was just one of those things you do when you have to.” Every student got out safely; no one was injured. The bell played its part.

Students and alumni became fond of it. They called it “Prep” because it prepared them for dinner and meals, according to an alumna cited in a letter in UNCG Archives.

A January 21, 1938, letter in The Carolinian noted the several locations the “Old Bell” had held on campus since the 1890’s – near Foust Building and Brick Dormitory (where it would first sound at 6:30 a.m. each day), then near the College Avenue bridge over Walker, then near Spencer and Woman’s Hall (near today’s Moran Plaza). Even after it was no longer needed to call students to classes and meals, students still rang it to signal celebrations.

For much of the second half of the 20th century, it was displayed near the College Avenue/Spring Garden entrance. It hung at the location where President McIver and his family had once lived.

A 1963 Carolinian article suggested it was clapperless there so the Curry school children wouldn’t be tempted to ring it. It was bronzed in 1968, according to a Greensboro Record clipping, and for the next couple of decades it was featured in a “modernistic arch” at that location. (Note: This paragraph was corrected. The bell was bronzed in 1968.)

Today, the old bell is no longer silent. It is ceremoniously brought out at UNCG celebrations each year, its peal a reminder of our history.

It has been referred to over the years as the “Old Bell.” The “University Bell.” The “School Bell.” The “McIver bell.” “The Normal bell.” The “farm bell.” “Prep.” It has never been automated. When it rings, it’s because a Spartan puts effort into ringing it. No one said ringing a large bell is easy. But it’s a glorious sound. It’s our sound. Long may it ring.

By Mike Harris
Photo by Chris English. Matthew Moss, Class of 2013, and Gayle Hicks Fripp, Class of 1963, ceremoniously rang the university bell at 2013 Spring Commencement.

Sources: Feb. 26, 1897, Greensboro Record article transcription in UNCG Archives; 1968 letter by Bessie Heath Daniel (Class of 1905) of Roxboro to Clara McNeil recounting the January 1904 incident, preserved in UNCG Archives; Feb. 6, 1938, news release in UNCG Archives; Jan. 21, 1938, letter to The Carolinian in UNCG Archives; Feb. 22, 1963, article by Diane Oliver in The Carolinian; May 7, 1968, Greensboro Record clipping in UNCG Archives; Typed notes from telephone conversation with Josephine Scott (Mrs. Hudson), circa 1968, of Raleigh, in UNCG Archives; online photographs and captions in UNCG Digital Collections; Student Affairs’ UNCG Traditions web page; Allen Trelease’s “Changing Assignments” and “Making North Carolina Literate”