Mary T. Martin Sloop was born on March 9, 1873 in Davidson to William Joseph Martin and Letitia Coddington. Her father taught chemistry and geology at Davidson College. Missionaries inspired her as a five year old to become a medical missionary in Siam. As she grew older, Mary learned that Southern Presbyterians were not commissioning missionaries to Siam, so she planned to minister in Africa. In 1891 Sloop graduated from Statesville Female College for Women but family duties forced her to care for an ill mother.
After her mother’s death, Mary could fulfill her ministerial goals, but the Presbyterian Missionary Board her a commission because she lacked foreign language skills. Sloop then attended the Woman’s Medical College in Pennsylvania and earned a degree in 1906. She later fulfilled an internship at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston.
In 1907, Sloop became a resident physician at Agnes State College in Georgia. On July 2, 1908, Sloop married surgeon Eustace Sloop whom she met in Davidson in 1893. They both shared a passion for missionary work. After Eustace received his medical degree, the two established a practice in Plumtree and three years later in Crossnore. While working in western North Carolina Sloop partnered with her husband in his medical practice. Meanwhile Sloop maintained her burden to provide an education to many of her young patients, many of whom were young girls marrying and havingchildren at an early age. Infant mortality rates were high, and many young girls died during childbirth.
Sloop was instrumental in organizing the sale of used clothing to build the Crossnore School. Initially, the school was the town church and was used for four months out of the year. Many students chose not to attend school and the teachers had little education themselves. Sloop was instrumental in getting a law passed that increased the school attendance age to sixteen. Sloop led a campaign to increase enrollment and attract teachers who were certified by the State Board of Education. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the school grew an additional twenty buildings and 250 acres. A high school was built with dormitories for students who couldn’t travel long distances. The school provided a nine- month education with an emphasis on home economics, vocational training and Bible Study. The Crossnore School became a prominent boarding school that was supported by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1924. Four years later a hospital was added to the school, and by 1939 the school was open to orphan and abandoned children.
Sloop also lobbied the General Assembly for penalties against the sale of moonshine. Many people in the mountains had little income and relied on moonshine to support themselves. Sloop felt that there was an alternative to the sale of moonshine and encouraged many locals to sell their crops including potatoes, cabbages, and beans. Because the roads were in poor condition for wagon trips, Sloop began attending conferences advocating road construction in Avery County. Shortly after a new road was built which allowed the free flow of commerce in the hills of the Blue Ridge.
At age seventy-eight Sloop was nicknamed “Grand Lady of the Blue Ridge,” and was nationally recognized for her work with mountain children. In 1951, Sloop won the America’s Mother of the Year Award and two years later published her autobiography, Miracle in the Hills. Sloop died in February of 1961. Today the Crossnore School continues to provide a K-12 residential education for children from mountain and piedmont regions of the state.
"Mary T. Martin Sloop." NCPedia.org. N.p., n.d. Web. http://ncpedia.org/biography/sloop-mary. (Assessed on July 12, 2012 and Cohn, Scotti. Remarkable North Carolina Women. Guilford: Morris Book Publishing, 2012. 116-127. Print.
By Shane Williams, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Education, Women