Past Times

NC training school for girls had fabled name

Outdoor physical education activities included basket-ball, volley-ball, baseball, swimming and hiking.
Outdoor physical education activities included basket-ball, volley-ball, baseball, swimming and hiking. State Archives of North Carolina

Samarcand Manor was the unofficial name of the State Home and Industrial School for Girls, opened in 1918 in Moore County. In 1926, writer Nell Battle Lewis reported on the school as then-superintendent Miss Agnes McNaughton addressed the state budget commission on its behalf. The school closed in 2011.

A curious idea about Samarcand is prevalent. The popular impression seems to be that it is a social sink full of scarlet women. On the contrary, it has every appearance of a well-run boarding school. The average age of the inmates, the majority of whom are well-mannered, nice-looking little girls, is between 14 and 15 years. In fact, the manners of these girls would well bear comparisons with those exhibited in any boarding school in North Carolina....

The 200 girls are kept busy. They do all the work about the institution, cook, run the laundry, milk the cows, feed the pigs and work the garden, beside their daily schooling, which consists of regular grammar-grade work with two years of high school, and vocational training such as dressmaking, millinery, basketry, weaving, art needle-work and domestic science. They have regular physical training under competent instructors, daily drills, basket-ball, volley-ball, baseball, swimming and hiking. They also have music and general chorus work each day, two glee clubs and special lessons for those whose talent makes it advisable. The N&O Nov. 20, 1926

In 1958, N&O reporter Jane Hall profiled Samarcand. In the nostalgic style of the day, the article fails to mention controversy, such as a 1931 arson case, and focuses instead on the school’s rehabilitation efforts.

It’s a long road from Tamerlane’s Samarcand in fabled Cathay to Samarcand Manor in North Carolina’s Sandhills.

And the road is nearly as long from vanished Marienfeld, an exclusive school for boys, to the correctional training school for girls which the state now operates on the same site.…

Marienfeld, the exclusive school for boys which once occupied the site, is now an echo out of the past. Perhaps on moonlit nights a careful listener may hear the shouts of the boys of long ago and the sound of horses’ hooves. For Marienfeld, modeled after European schools for boys, was an educational institution for the sons of wealthy Northern parents who wintered in nearby Pinehurst.

Marienfeld was a casualty of World War I. It closed its doors when its faculty was drafted into the khaki ranks of the AEF, and its wooden buildings have long since vanished.…

Crossing the campus, in the school rooms, at the cannery, playing volley ball are Tar Heel girls ranging from 10 to 16 years old. In their loafers, bobby sox and brightly colored skirts, blouses and sweaters they look like teenagers everywhere and anywhere.

The chief difference is this – the girls who go to Samarcand are committed by the juvenile courts of the State.

“By far the greater number are committed for truancy from home and school,” Supt. Reva Mitchell emphasized.…

“Most of our girls,” she explained, “come from broken homes. Others come from indifferent homes, and a few have no home.”

Samarcand’s aim, according to Miss Mitchell, is “to rehabilitate the girls so that they may go back to their communities and to society as worthwhile citizens.”

This is done through character training, education and training in homemaking for, as Miss Mitchell said, most of the girls who go to Samarcand will marry.…

A Samarcand girl is kept busy from the moment she arrives. Under the direction of Miss Mitchell, a staff of 42 sees that her days are filled with a planned program of school, recreational activities, Sunday services in the chapel, arts and crafts, and vocational training in such things as sewing, cooking, weaving, crocheting, gardening and canning.

Samarcand comprises 450 acres, approximately 200 of which are farmed under the supervision of John C. Steward, farm manager. The remainder is in pasture, woodland and campus. Except for staples, very little food is bought, as Samarcand grows or raises most of its food. The girls pasteurize and bottle the milk, take care of pigs and chickens, help with the garden and in harvesting. The heavy field work is left to men.

Weaving classes, supervised by Mrs. Della Morgan, supply all the drapery, bedspreads, rugs and the like for the cottages. Sewing groups directed by Mrs. Philip Boyd, head of the vocational department, hem the sheets and pillow cases used in the cottages, make aprons and coveralls for girls working in the kitchens and also make the blouses and skirts worn by most of the girls at Samarcand. The N&O May 11, 1958

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Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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