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Sue Spayth Riley

Date of birth:

Early Childhood Educator

1937-38 spring semester
1940-41 fall semester


See also Jeremiah Wolpert





 Having attended a progressive elementary school in New Jersey, Sue Spayth Riley was eager to find a college with a similar philosophy. After reading Louis Adamics article "Education on a Mountain" in the April 1936 issue of Harpers, she applied to Black Mountain College. She enrolled in January of 1938 and attended through the 1940 fall session. At Black Mountain she took a general curriculum although her primary interest was in theater. She performed in Ibsens John Gabriel Borkmann and was Lady Macbeth in the Shakespeare production. She also organized a dance group. In her last semester at the college Riley helped with the construction of the Studies Building, her specialty being cement mixing. Sues father, a cartoonist and newspaperman, had lost his job in the Depression, and it was only with the help of a scholarship that she was able to attend Black Mountain. Concerned about the financial situation at the college, she moved to New York at the end of the 1940 fall session. 

In New York Sue at first pursued her interest in dance and theater while supporting herself with odd jobs such as typing. In June 1942 she married Jeremiah Frederic "Jerry" Wolpert, also a Black Mountain student. He was drafted the following September, and during the war Sue joined her husband in Hays, Kansas, where he was stationed. She worked as a reporter for the Hays Daily News. After the war the Wolperts lived in New York while Jerry Wolpert attended Columbia University on the G.I. Bill. They then moved to Buffalo where he taught at the University of Buffalo until his sudden death of bulbar polio in 1949. Pregnant with their second son, Sue moved back to Dunellen, New Jersey where her parents lived. There she wrote for her fathers weeklies, The Weekly Call, The Piscataway Chronicle, and The Middlesex Mirror until she remarried and moved to North Carolina. There her husband, Jesse Riley, worked for the Celanese Corporation. They raised her two sons by Wolpert and their son.

In North Carolina she enrolled at Goddard College, receiving here B.A. in 1970, in Early Childhood Education. She completed her M.A. degree in Early Childhood Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 1975.

In 1965 Sue Riley founded a preschool/ kindergarten at the Unitarian Church of Charlotte, the Open Door School, which continues in operation. Riley recalled that at the time in North Carolina there was no public kindergarten and that the few kindergartens available were run by churches which were both segregated and oriented toward a particular religious belief. Black children had little access to kindergarten or preschool education. The Open Door School was nonsectarian and openly-integrated. Furthermore, the curriculum encouraged children to think independently, to be creative and to solve problems. Learning was not by rote but through discovery and experience. Riley served as director and teacher and continues as educational consultant to the school. She also taught early childhood education

at the Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte

Sue Riley has taught and written in the field of early childhood education and is author of the book How to Generate Values in Young Children: Integrity, Honesty, Individuality, Self-Confidence and Wisdom (1979). 

Sue Riley now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina

Sue Spayth Riley Preparing for role as Lady Macbeth. Courtesy North Carolina State Archives, 
Black Mountain College Papers, 201.5


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