And just who is Walter Hines Page?
He was an American editor, journalist, and diplomat, and a direct descendent of Robert Page, who came to the US from England in the 17th century. He was born in Cary, became a partner in Doubleday, Page and Company, and founded the magazine The World’s Work.
He was appointed by Woodrow Wilson to serve as US ambassador to Great Britain before and during World War I. Page believed that a free and open education was fundamental to democracy, and that nothing – class, economic means, race, religion – should be a barrier to education. Page High School is proud to have lived up to this belief in its first 50 years!
Walter Hines Page and his 1909 call for Southern reform
By Scott Romine
Sunday, Jun. 22, 2008 3:00 am
Apart from lending his name to a local high school, Walter Hines Page had only limited contact with the city of Greensboro. But in his only novel, "The Southerner" (1909), Page drew deeply on what the historian William Chafe called Greensboro's "progressive mystique" in shaping his own tale of Southern progress.
Born in 1855 in what is now Cary, Page attended Trinity College (later Duke University) before undertaking graduate study at Johns Hopkins, where a progressive, scientific intellectual milieu caused him to re-evaluate the orthodox Christianity of his childhood.
Page spent the majority of his career in journalism and publishing, eventually becoming the editor of the Atlantic Monthly. In 1899, he co-founded the publishing house of Doubleday, Page, and Co., which quickly expanded its author list to include Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane, Helen Keller and Booker T. Washington. Washington's "Up from Slavery" was written at Page's suggestion -- not surprisingly, given the two men's shared emphasis on practical education.
Despite a long career in American letters and a compelling record of journalism on the "Southern problem," Page had never written a novel until 1906, when he serially published "The Autobiography of a Southerner" in the Atlantic. Three years later, a heavily revised version of the novel appeared in book form as "The Southerner."
Recently republished in the University of South Carolina Press' Southern Classics series, "The Southerner" is the story of Nicholas Worth, a Harvard-educated North Carolinian who confronts at every turn the inertial forces and institutions impeding the South's entrance into modernity.
Sharply critical of elitist, rhetoric-based educational training that favored "rotund, even grandiose phrases" over precise observation, Page organizes "The Southerner" around Worth's efforts to modernize the South through its schools.
Worth has an advocate in his endeavor in Professor Billy McBain, an educational reformer, who is based on Charles Duncan McIver, the first chancellor of the State Normal College for Women (now UNCG).
In 1897, McIver had invited Page, long an ally in the work of Southern educational reform, to give the commencement address at State Normal. Following McIver's untimely death in 1906, Page sought to memorialize through the character of Professor Billy the man he called "the most untiring & patriotic & public spirited citizen of any state." When revising the novel, Page expanded the role of Professor Billy by emphasizing his role as reformer.
Contemporary readers in Greensboro may be surprised that the city appears in Page's novel as Energetic Edinboro, a restless town of movers and shakers. (In 1924, journalist Gerald Johnson wrote that Greensboro's "muezzins summon us to prayer with the sacred formula, 'There is no God but Advertising, and Atlanta is his prophet.' ") Less surprising is that Worth stirs controversy as Edinboro's school superintendent: History does have a way of repeating itself.
In 1896, Page wrote that "the intellectual life of the [Southern] people has been hindered unspeakably by the narrowness of religious opinion," and he used "The Southerner" to illustrate the point.
After publishing a historical pamphlet critical of Civil War mythologies, Worth runs afoul of traditionalists who run him out of town "in the Name of Our Holy Religion. ... in the Name of our History and our Honoured Dead. . . [and] in the Name of our Anglo-Saxon Civilerzation." [sic] Although Worth loses the battle, the war for progress eventually gains traction, a movement signaled by Professor Billy's founding of a "school for girls."