Upland Chronicles: Evelyn Bishop dedicated her life to Pi Beta Phi school

Nov. 26, 2012 @ 04:48 PM

In 1918 Evelyn Bishop was teaching music at Murphy College in Sevierville, where her father, Dr. E.A. Bishop, was serving as president.

At the time, the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School committee was looking for a director. Because Miss Bishop, New York Pi Beta Phi alumnae, had long been interested in the school and possessed an understanding of mountain people and their ways, she was selected.

In January 1919, the influenza epidemic struck Gatlinburg causing the closing of schools for two weeks. With no doctors or nurses within seven miles, the school staff took it upon themselves to provide assistance to the victims.

Miss Bishop walked the trails to remote cabins, giving personal care and teaching concerned men and women how to properly care for the sick. Not a single person died of the flu. Her courageous and tireless response dissolved the last reservations the mountain people had about the school and sparked the entire community’s affection for Miss Evelyn, as she was fondly known.

Miss Evelyn became most proficient in singing the old mountain ballads and entertaining local audiences. Her musical talents were a distinct asset in her contacts with the students and their parents.

Soon after her arrival, Miss Evelyn began offering piano and voice to students who wished to expand their musical talents, and whose parents were willing to pay a nominal fee. This was the first chance the students of the isolated mountain town had ever had such an opportunity.

Under her direction the recreational program of the school was expanded to include inter-scholastic basketball games in the loft of the red barn and sending boys and girls teams to compete against neighboring schools in Sevierville, the Sugarlands, the Glades, Cartertown and others.

In February 1925, the Pi Beta Phi boys team created quite a stir at a game in the Sugarlands, simply by wearing official basketball uniforms. Unaccustomed to the sight of boys in tank tops and shorts, the overall-clad youngsters of the Sugarlands team were simultaneously “horrified by the sight of the basketball suits” and envious because they didn’t have anything better to play in.” according to Miss Evelyn.

In the end, Miss Evelyn suspected that the later emotion predominated among the Sugarlands students, for in the aftermath of the game; they adamantly refused to play a game hosted by Pi Beta Phi.

Organized sports and physical education represented only a small portion of the settlement school’s recreational offerings. The school also staged plays, choral shows and holiday celebrations; hosted an annual fair and maintained a lending library. Such activities were not available to the community prior to the establishment of the school.

Still, there were two events that eclipsed all others in popularity: Pi Beta Phi movie night and the Gatlinburg Old Timers Day celebration.

The first motion picture to be screened at Gatlinburg took place on March 31, 1923, in the loft of the red barn. Those lucky enough to attend gathered chairs, benches and hay bales around a small projector donated by Pi Beta Phi alumnae Club of Indiana and then stared in amazement as the movie flickered and danced across a nearby wall. Entire families walked from one to six miles the next night as word spread up and down the creeks and hollows.

Taking advice from school nurse Phyllis Higinbotham, Miss Evelyn introduced Old Timers Day to preserve the heritage of the mountain people. The event succeeded not only because it was fun, but because it provided isolated mountain families with an opportunity to gather in one place to renew old friendships.

More importantly, a series of contests such as rifle-shooting, quilt making and vegetable canning allowing residents to pit their skills against one another and therefore reinforcing traditional Appalachian customs.

The accomplishments achieved at the settlement school during Miss Evelyn’s tenure are numerous. Realizing the absence of adequate health care, she told of the need of a nurse in the mountains to a Pi Beta Phi alumnae association in New York City. Miss Phyllis Higinbotham answered the call and came to Gatlinburg as a nurse in the autumn of 1920.The following year Andrew Ogle’s 75-acre farm was purchased and his four-room home was made into a health care center.

Both girls and boys’ dormitories were added along with a water supply and sewerage disposal system. In 1921, a Delco Plant large enough for not only the school but also for lighting the home of Andy Huff, Squire Maples, the Mountain View Hotel and the community church.

In 1921-22 the first year of high school was added. As a result of her belief that restoration of native crafts was essential to give the people better incomes, the Arrowcraft Shop became a reality.

Resigning from the school in 1933, Miss Evelyn went to Norris, Tenn., to do personnel work in the early days of TVA. Later she returned to Gatlinburg and presided over her guest house for 10 years. Miss Evelyn maintained close contact with the school; was gratified to see the county taxpayers assume expenses of operating the school and warmly approved development of the Summer Craft Workshop.

As Pi Beta Phi School celebrates its centennial this year, several deserving individuals can be named who dedicated a portion of their lives to the storied institution. Evelyn Bishop is certainly among that group. Her accomplishments at the school during her 15 years of service played a large role in the development of the outstanding reputation of the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School.

— Carroll McMahan is the Special Projects Facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email to cmcmahan@scoc.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to ron@ronraderproperties.com.