Lees–McRae College was founded in Banner Elk as an all-female high school in 1899 by the Reverend Edgar Tufts, a Presbyterian minister. He named the school The Elizabeth McRae Institute after a well-respected educator in 1900. The name of the school benefactor Suzanna Lees was added in 1903, and the school became The Lees–McRae Institute when it was chartered by the state in 1907.
An all-male branch was founded in 1907 in nearby Plumtree, North Carolina. The Plumtree facility was destroyed in a 1927 fire, leading the two campuses to merge at the Banner Elk site. After the merger, the high school program was phased out, and in 1931 the institute was renamed Lees–McRae College as an accredited, coeducational junior college.
Lees–McRae began moving toward offering a four-year program in the late 1980s, and the school’s president made the recommendation to the board of trustees in 1987. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools granted Lees–McRae status as a four-year college in 1990. In 2005, Lees–McRae became the first expansion site for New Opportunity School for Women, a program that helps educate and employ women in Appalachia.
N44 – Crossnore School
Founded by Mary Martin Sloop, physician, 1913, to serve region’s youth. Weaving Room, est. 1920, boosted revival of handicrafts. Campus 1/2 mi. W.
In 1952 journalist LeGette Blythe met Dr. Mary Martin Sloop, then almost eighty years old, and they collaborated on Miracle in the Hills, her life story. The book, the winner of the Mayflower Cup, was in large part the story of Crossnore School, which remains as her legacy on seventy-two acres in Avery County.
The daughter of a mathematics professor at the University of North Carolina and at Davidson College, Sloop was educated at Statesville Female (later Mitchell) College and the North Carolina Medical College. Being the sole female in her class and not permitted to work with cadavers, she could not finish her training in this state and transferred to the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia. She did meet her husband Eustace Sloop while in school in Charlotte and they wed in 1908. “Both tough as pine knots,” they moved to Plumtree and in 1911 to the mountain village of Crossnore.
Dr. Mary Martin Sloop founded Crossnore because of the deficiencies of the public school system. As local schools improved, Crossnore’s mission altered to serve orphans and children from broken homes (in excess of 3,000 children over time). Today it is licensed to serve sixty-eight boys and girls, most of school age from the mountains and foothills. Dr. Eustace Sloop founded the local hospital and power company. His wife worked to reduce through education the problems of child brides and illegal liquor. She worked on behalf of the Good Roads Movement. In 1951 she was named American Mother of the Year. In 1928, with Frances Goodrich, Olive Dame Campbell, and Lucy Morgan, she organized the Southern Highlands Handicrafts Guild.
The Weaving Room at Crossnore, begun in 1920, played an important role in the revival of Appalachian handicrafts. The crafts program is similar to that offered at Penland School. Of students’ craft work, Dr. Sloop said, “It is their character building qualities which concern us most at the school.” The products have also strengthened the finances of Crossnore School.
- Mary T. Martin Sloop (with LeGette Blythe), Miracle in the Hills (1953)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 364 — sketch by John C. Inscoe
- Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
- Allen H. Eaton, Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands (1937)
- Philis Alvic, “The Weaving Room at Crossnore,” Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot (Fall 1996)
- The State (March 1996)
- Our State (October 1996)
- Crossnore School pamphlets
- Dr. Mary Martin Sloop (coming soon)