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BCS Had State’s First Female Superintendent
BCS Had State’s First Female Superintendent
Posted on 03/08/2022
A portrait of Ethel Terrell and a background collage of newspaper clippings and other documentsBy Tim Reaves
BCS Communications Department

BCS has a long history of superior educators. During Women’s History Month, we’d like to recognize the first female superintendent in North Carolina and possibly the whole South – Ethel Terrell.

Ms. Terrell, born on March 13, 1886, became the superintendent of Buncombe County Schools in 1919, to the ringing praise of her peers.

"[She] is entitled to the enthusiastic support of every man and woman who wishes to see the cause of education prosper," read an announcement in the Asheville Citizen-Times (ACT). "… The foundations have been laid for splendid township schools which will be centers of light for the whole community."

The article praised her attention to detail in her role as rural supervisor and assistant county superintendent. She previously taught for 13 years – at Asheville City Schools, the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Engineering, and the Flora Macdonald College Summer School. She came from a family of educators, with two brothers who served as superintendents of nearby public school systems.

Her predecessor, W.H. Hipps, resigned before the end of his term in August 1919. The following month, the school board appointed Ms. Terrell to fill his unexpired term for a probationary period of four months, according to a history of Buncombe County Schools compiled in 1959 by former Superintendent A.C. Reynolds. After this four-month period, the board elected her to fill out the rest of Mr. Hipps' unexpired term. The board then elected her for a full two-year term.

"She led not only in promoting longer terms, providing permanent schoolhouses, larger consolidation and transportation of school children; but also in providing better schools for illiterate adults and for a much better supervision of the work of the teachers of the county," Mr. Reynolds wrote in his history.

In her first year, she held a series of conferences where teachers exchanged ideas and helped train newcomers. Today’s public-school teachers can see echoes of their collaborative grade-level teaching teams in those early meetings. She systematized office hours and contributed to the trend toward greater professionalism in the field. She pushed for higher salaries and programs that brought young teachers from around the county into the classrooms of their veteran peers.

"... they had an opportunity to observe the classroom work of some of the best teachers in the very grades in which they were teaching," read Mr. Reynolds' history. "This observation of good teaching ... was of inestimable value in building up a strong and efficient body of teachers. Many who would have plodded aimlessly along and who would have become discourage and quite teaching were developed into strong teachers. In this way they were caused to love their work and the children received much better instruction."

Ms. Terrell was active in civic society as well. One ACT news brief from 1919, mentions her involvement in the Thrift Movement of the ‘20s that encouraged people to save money, budget, and live within their means.

Ms. Terrell turned down an offer for a second term in July 1921. An ACT article noted that state officials who had watched her work pronounced her methods as “par excellent.” After the board named her successor, she left the school system to marry prominent Asheville attorney Guy Weaver. They tied the knot on Sept. 7, 1921, and had two daughters together during their 47-year marriage.

Ethel Terrell Weaver died on April 3, 1969, and is buried in the Weaverville Cemetery. Guy Weaver eventually became a judge and presided over his court until retiring in 1972 at the age of 90.


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Special thanks to the Old Buncombe Genealogical Society for gathering much of the primary source material for this article when it was originally published in 2019.

Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin, shanon.martin@bcsemail.org, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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