Grand Lady of the Blue Ridge
Mary Martin Sloop, the daughter of Davidson chemistry professor William Joseph Martin and his wife Letitia, was a pioneer in the field of medicine, and went on to work as an educator and reformer in the North Carolina mountains.
Mary was born in Davidson on March 9, 1873, and in 1891 she graduated from the Statesville Female College. She then spent a year at Davidson, where she was the only female student. Hoping to become a medical missionary in Africa, she applied to the North Carolina Medical College, and was the first woman to be admitted. Disappointed that the Medical College would not allow her to study anatomy, she transferred to the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia. She graduated in 1906, and served a one-year internship in Boston. Due to her age, and changes in the rules at the Presbyterian Mission Board, her dream of becoming a foreign missionary was no longer possible.
In 1907, Mary was hired as the college physician at Agnes Scott College in Decatur. A year later, she married surgeon Eustace H. Sloop, whom she had met while he was studying at Davidson. He shared her interest in mission work, and they opened a practice at Plumtree in present-day Avery County. They remained in Plumtree for three years, and then moved to Crossnore, where they remained for the rest of their lives. After working briefly as a doctor, Mary turned her attention to providing an adequate education for mountain children. In 1913, she established the Crossnore School, a combination day and boarding school, which began as a one-room school and eventually provided an eleventh-grade education.
In addition to the basic academic classes, Crossnore featured home economics, vocational education, and Bible study. The campus included a working farm and a weaving program, which made it largely self-supporting. The weaving program, which was established in 1920, was instrumental in reviving traditional mountain weaving. In 1928, Mary Sloop helped to found the Southern Highlands Handicrafts Guild, and in 1935, Crossnore added a weaving room for both students and local women. Mary Sloop was also an activist, and made frequent visits to Raleigh to lobby for improvements in education, teacher certification, and roads. She was a staunch opponent of the widespread production and sale of moonshine.
Mary and Eustace Sloop had two children. Physician Emma Sloop Fink and dentist William L. Sloop both came back to help their father at the Crossnore Hospital, which he had founded. In 1951, Mary Martin Sloop was named America’s Mother of the Year by the American Mothers Committee of the Golden Rule Foundation. In 1953, her biography Miracle in the Hills, written in collaboration with Legette Blythe, was published. She died on October 13, 1962, but her work lives on. The weaving room survives as a working studio and museum called Crossnore Weavers and Gallery. The Crossnore School and Children’s home now has campuses in Crossnore and Winston-Salem.
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.