Our History: the 1930s

Read about UNC Asheville in the 1920s here.

Any new college faces a host of struggles during its first few years: finding the right faculty, determining the best ways to serve the students, developing a strong curriculum, even settling in the perfect location for the school all present unique challenges as a young university finds its way. UNC Asheville, or Biltmore Junior College, as it was known then, faced all of these challenges in its early years, compounded by the economic crisis facing the entire country—the Great Depression.

It was the dedication of the faculty that kept the school going through those hard years. Many of them took pay cuts so that tuition wouldn’t become prohibitive to students. While other colleges folded, Biltmore Junior College became one of the few places in the area where students could receive an education beyond high school.

And then the college nearly lost its leadership over the burning-hot controversy of…dancing. Yes, Asheville momentarily became that small town in Footloose. The Biltmore Junior College president in 1934, A.C. Reynolds, believed that “dancing created sexual passion and led to immorality,” according to William Highsmith’s book, University of North Carolina Asheville: The First Sixty Years. The students did not appreciate Reynolds’ implications, and nearly half of the 150 students enrolled went on strike. They asked the board of trustees to force Reynolds to resign if he wouldn’t allow them to have a dance at the school; Reynolds, in turn, threatened to quit if the board allowed the dances to be held. In the end, the board didn’t fire Reynolds and the students didn’t get their dances—at least, not at school.

Financial struggles caused Biltmore Junior College to drop the football team in 1937, but other sports and student activities continued on, such as the publication of Bluets, which featured students’ creative writing. Wilma Dykeman, a celebrated local author, was on the Bluets editorial board and was a frequent contributor in 1937-38. Another student group called the Masqueteers wrote and produced their own plays. In 1939 the first yearbook was published, called The Summit. Biltmore Junior College was incorporated into the city school system in the late ‘30s, and its name changed again to Asheville-Biltmore College. Enrollment began to increase again, and Asheville-Biltmore College inched out of the Great Depression and towards its next great challenge: World War II.

Keep an eye out for more stories from UNC Asheville's history as we celebrate 90 years of educational excellence--including our story about the launch of UNC Asheville in 1927--and share your own memories on social media with #UNCAVL90years. 

Photo courtesy of UNC Asheville Special Collections and University Archives. Visit their blog for more university and local history stories.