Every four years since 1924, Meredith College faculty and staff present a performance of Alice in Wonderland as a gift to students. To help mark its 100th anniversary, the College held a Woman of Achievement event on January 25 showcasing this beloved tradition’s history.
In her opening remarks, President Jo Allen, ’80, talked about her history with this special tradition, from seeing the show as a senior at Meredith to participating in the production during her 13-year tenure as president.
“Tonight we honor the spirit of Alice as a Woman of Achievement,” Allen said, before introducing Vice President for College Programs Jean Jackson, ’75, as the night’s featured speaker.
Jackson Receives Woman of Achievement Award
In a surprise, President Allen returned after the presentation to announce Jackson herself as a recipient of the Woman of Achievement Award, in honor of her service to the College. Jackson is the first current member of the faculty/staff to receive the award.
“Directing Alice is just a small part of all that Jean Jackson does for this College community,” Allen said.
A member of the English faculty since 1983, Jackson has served as a vice president since 1994. Her current responsibilities include oversight of Career Planning, Athletics, Campus Police, Chaplain, Dean of Students (including First Year Experience, Residence Life, Commuter Life, Counseling Center, Diversity Programs, and Disability Services), StrongPoints®, and Student Leadership and Service.
Mysterious Origins of a Century-Old Tradition
In a presentation titled “A Century of Wonder,” Jackson shared a behind-the-scenes look at the Alice in Wonderland tradition. She has served as the production’s director since 1992.
The cast of Alice in Wonderland, made up of faculty and staff from across campus, is a closely guarded secret. Jackson said the mystery of who plays all the whimsical roles is a part of the tradition’s charm. “Cast commitments last many years,” Jackson said, noting that the 2024 cast will include just the fifth different person playing the White Rabbit.
Jackson believes the well-told story that the first performance took place to entertain quarantined students during a flu epidemic is in fact an urban myth. She has researched the tradition’s origins extensively, going so far as to check State of North Carolina health records to determine that there was no flu epidemic in Raleigh in 1924.
The first Alice in Wonderland had been rehearsed in secret, and students were invited to a reception with faculty, with no indication of the performance they would experience.
“The costumes, rehearsals, announcing a reception as a misdirection, and the success of the well-prepared production all suggest that this surprise for students had long been in the making, not something done on the spot in response to a current flu epidemic,” Jackson said.
Why Alice Works and Why It Matters
No matter why that first performance came to be, the century-old tradition works “because of the goodwill of the faculty and staff,” Jackson said. “Alice works because we know and trust each other and because we like each other and are willing to share hidden talents … with each college generation.”
As Meredith College has grown, so has Alice. In 1924, there were 23 members of the cast, in 1972, there were 63, and this year, there will be almost 150 in the cast and crew.
Alice still matters because of the lessons audience members can take from it.
“Each audience member takes away different messages from Alice in Wonderland,” Jackson said. “Courage, resilience, and recognition of self-worth, and finally, one’s strengths. Those lessons are important ones for our students to have regardless of their majors or ages, and important for all of us to be reminded of at any stage of life.”
The 2024 Alice in Wonderland performances were held on Friday, February 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, February 10, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in Jones Auditorium. The dress rehearsal on Thursday, February 8, and the matinee were open to the Meredith community, while the Friday and Saturday evening performances were open only to students. Ticket portal information was shared with students on Friday, January 26.