Political Spheres of Influence Throughout the State
Women Enter the Political Arena
While events on the literary plane were attracting attention, in
other spheres activity continued apace. Politicians never ceased forming
strategies to interest the electorate nor overlooked a subject with
popular appeal. Since ballot boxes were brought out every two years,
there was never time to rest on one's laurels. Women were now making their
presence known in the public service arena, and by 1921 one of them, Harriet
Morehead Berry of
Hillsborough, was regarded as "the best woman politician in the state." An
1897 graduate of the State Normal and Industrial School (now the
University of North Carolina at Greensboro), she became secretary of the
North Carolina Geological and Economic Survey, headed by Joseph Hyde
Pratt with offices in Chapel Hill. This agency, which was concerned with
the conservation of natural resources and the construction of better
roads, provided valuable assistance to the North Carolina Good Roads
When Pratt left for military service in 1917, Harriet
Berry became acting head of the survey. In this capacity she played an
effective role in planning and securing legislation for a road building
program. News releases, letters, petitions, circulars, and
a great variety of publications blanketed the state, publicizing the plan
and laying the groundwork for legislative support. The idea was to have an
extensive network of all-weather roads connecting every county seat town
with its neighboring county seats; all state institutions not in a county
seat would also be included in this great spiderweb-like design.
For more information about Heriot Clarkson and Harriet Morehead Berry,
follow this link.
A "mere woman" alone, of course, could not attain such an ambitious goal
without the assistance of professional politicians who were anxious to
attract persona, attention and to make a name for themselves. As had
happened so many times in the past and as would often be the case again,
North Carolina was fortunate to have the right people in positions of
authority at the critical time. One such person was Cameron
Morrison, a native of Richmond County and governor from 1921 to 1925.
As a very young man he had followed his father's lead into the Republican
party, but soon changed his registration to Democrat and a few years later
participated in the Red Shirt movement. He became mayor of Rockingham and
at the turn of the century was a member of the state senate. Remaining
active in state politics, in 1920 he became his party's candidate for
governor, having defeated the incumbent lieutenant governor, O. Max
Gardner, for that honor. Although Morrison was a colorful public figure,
described as "bluff and hearty in his bearing and manner," no one expected
more than "unimaginative, routine leadership from him." Much to the
surprise of his friends, his administration was one of the most progressive
the state had known.
A Change in Leadership for the Old North State
Morrison took his first forward step a few months after he was
inaugurated. Between the election and that date he had been busy lining
up support for the program of good roads that would make
him long remembered. He became the first of several to claim to
be the "Good Roads Governor." With the help of his longtime friends in
the General Assembly, committee chairmen were carefully selected. Those
who might have opposed his program were placated and their vanity
carefully stroked. Men of influence and ability were placed in positions
where these qualities would be useful. As a result, the legislature in
1921 created a powerful state highway commission and committed North
Carolina to the construction of a thoroughly modern system of highways
5,500 miles in extent. To accomplish this a $50 million bond issue was
authorized and two years later an additional $15 million was approved.
Beginning of a Movement
Harriet Berry was not forgotten in the political maneuvering that made
this possible. She came to be recognized as the "Mother of Good Roads in
North Carolina," and was often commended for her foresight and ability.
Having achieved this victory, she joined the staff of the Greensboro
Daily News as editor of the Department of Industries and Resources to
campaign for better schools and to publicize North Carolina's attractions
for industry, tourists, and new residents, all of which would contribute
to the orderly development of the state's resources.
Governor Morrison enjoyed equal success with other programs. Under his
leadership the legislature funded a six year, $20 million program to
expand the overcrowded state institutions of higher education and to
improve the state insane asylums, reformatories, sanatoriums, and
schools for the deaf, dumb, and blind.
Routine operating funds for the State Board of Health were also
increased, and greater appropriations were made for the public schools. A
loan fund for the construction of new school buildings was increased from
$I million to $10 million, and the laws regulating county support for
schools were altered to compel more generous appropriations.
In general Morrison's views of relations between the races were no
different than those of the vast majority of his constituents.
Nevertheless, in 1921 he called a meeting of prominent black and white
citizens to discuss ways to improve race relations. Out of this came the
North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation. He also was an
ardent opponent of lynching, and, because of his policy of calling out
state troops at the slightest hint of impending violence, there were no
lynchings in the state during the last three and a half years of his
These four men occupied the governor's office from 1921-1941 with the
exception of one term. [Left to right: J.C.B. Ehringhaus, O.
Max Gardner, Clyde R. Hoey and Cameron Morrison.] Follow this link for
Morrison's successes far outranked his failures; even his programs that
were rejected suggest that he was a man of vision. In 1923, for example,
he proposed that a State Department of Commerce and Industry be created
and that a bond issue of $8.5 million be approved for the construction of
state owned port terminal facilities. Both plans were turned down.
The policies inaugurated up to 1925 were continued until the end of the
decade. In the public school system many new buildings were erected;
libraries, laboratories, and cafeterias were added; and the term of
instruction was extended to at least six months but even longer in most
city systems. A particularly significant accomplishment in 1925, early in
the administration of Governor Angus W.
Morrison's successor, was the creation of the State Budget Bureau with
the governor as ex officio head. It then became the duty of the
to prepare a balanced budget for submission to the General Assembly. At
the same time an Advisory Budget Commission was established to consist of
the chairmen of the appropriations and finance committees of the house
and the senate as well as two other persons to be named by the
Almost as if in anticipation of the hard times that lay ahead, some state
government agencies were consolidated. The number of state employees was
reduced and a commission created to establish salaries and wages. As
Governor Morrison had proposed, a Department of Conservation and
Development was created. Two years later the General Assembly made
provisions for the establishment of a tax commission to gather and
classify data on taxation; an advisory commission to improve and simplify
many operations of county government; and a State Board of Equalization
in connection with the taxation of property to support county schools.
A little more than a quarter of a century after the "Dawn of a New Day"
the state showed many signs of progress. Except in the area of race
relations, North Carolina and most of the other southern states were not
very different from most states in other parts of the country. The losses
suffered by many families during the Civil War and the heavy hand of
Reconstruction were seldom mentioned. Few had any recollection of those
years, and most people looked optimistically to the future.