Scrapbook gives peek at early campus life
A student scrapbook now on loan to Belk Library is offering the university a rare glimpse of campus life in the 1920s. The book, which belongs to a family with historic ties to Elon, includes letters, music programs – even photos taken inside the Old Main administration building just hours after a 1923 fire threatened the future of the school.
Descendants of Margaret Joe Ballentine have loaned the collection to the Belk Library to study the material and then make copies of everything contained within. It’s a project expected to run through mid summer.
“Since a lot of materials were lost in 1923, anything that pre-dates 1923 is a gem and gives insight to what was going on at Elon before the fire,” said Katie Nash, the university archivist. “It helps the university understand more of its history — where it has been, what life was like, and often sheds light onto the beginning days of many organizations and groups on campus.”
The book itself has been likened to a “Facebook” account for the 1920s. On a few pages in the front of the leather bound volume, Ballentine had collected the names and addresses of many classmates, along with brief messages from her friends that often referred to their collegiate adventures.
Several classmates even sketched amateur self-portraits similar to the profile photos on Internet social network sites.
Margaret Joe Ballentine graduated in 1926 and taught for a year in Ruffin, N.C., before marrying and moving to her hometown of Fuquay Springs, now Fuquay-Varina, to the south of Raleigh. After adopting twin 4-year-old boys, Ballentine briefly gave up teaching, though she stayed active in civic life when her husband was elected mayor.
She later returned to the classroom to teach home economics. In Ballentine’s later years, she and her husband would spend their lives traveling the world.
“We called her the first Martha Stuart. She was raised in a very prominent family in Fuquay and she could make anything,” said Donna Lane, Ballentine’s granddaughter and mother of Heather Broughton, a current Elon student. “You should see some of the work we still have of hers. She could make anything or cook anything.”
The outgoing Ballentine took part in many activities during her time at the college. She served as vice president of the senior class and class historian her junior year.
The 1926 edition of the PhiPsiCli yearbook described her this way: “Margaret Joe is an excellent student. A person who never says no to a friend’s request. She is an earnest hard worker, always optimistic and happy. She is a conversationalist, able and energetic. Whether in the presence of the most dignified faculty member or in company with the humblest freshman she is ready and willing to engage in a conversation …”
Margaret Joe Ballentine’s father, William Joseph Ballentine, was an 1897 alumnus of Elon and later served on the Elon College Board of Trustees.
So what would Margaret Joe think of her alma mater today?
“I think she would love it, especially the flowers,” Lane said. “My grandmother loved flowers and loved gardening. She would be in awe of the landscape, I know she would.”
Elon is currently in possession of only a few scrapbooks from the 1910s and early 1920s, Nash said. “While we do have some from the early 1920s, there are not many compared to other years and decades,” she said. “Any item that pre-dates 1923 is rare and unique.”