Interviewee: Wil Lou Gray
Interviewer: Constance Ashton Myers
Date: June 14, 1974
Accession #: SUF 009
Length of Recording: 01:15:14
Dr. Wil Lou Gray (1883-1984), born in Laurens, South Carolina, was an educator who specialized in literacy programs for adults and education for underserved communities. She was a Columbia College alumna and pursued graduate studies at Vanderbilt University and Columbia University. Interview includes discussion of her educational experience at Winthrop College and Columbia College, her observations about the suffrage movement in the early twentieth century, her family history, how a summer course at Vanderbilt influenced her community activism, and the founding of the Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School in 1921. Gray was not directly involved in the women’s suffrage movement, but she reflected the reaction to suffrage activism and the divided opinions in her own family for and against women’s voting rights.
Columbia College | Laurens, S.C. | Literacy | Opportunity Schools | Suffrage League | Tenant Farming | Vanderbilt University | Winthrop College
Constance Ashton Myers: …interviewing Miss Wil Lou Gray in Columbia, South Carolina on June 14, 1974. We all know that you, like Miss Tolbert, have been very active in the field of education in our state. Can you tell us about your own education briefly?
Wil Lou Gray: Well, I graduated from the high school in 1899, the summer, the June 1899 and I entered Columbia College that fall.
CM: What high school did you?
WLG: Laurens. I was born in Laurens. And then I went to Columbia College in the fall of 1899 and I graduated, took a B.A., just regular B.A. course. I studied Latin. I wasn’t good in it. I studied French and a little bit of German. I wasn’t any good. I didn’t do a good job in them at all. I didn’t like the languages. I found myself not so much a student as a person liking to read and I like to do things more than I like to study out of books. And so I became president of the, I believe I was vice president of the YWCA in college and I was the business manager for The Criterion, which was our monthly magazine. And the senior class found that they didn’t have enough money to publish the June issue of The Criterion and I thought it was too bad that a senior class couldn’t have the privilege of having the magazine published the month they graduated. So I told them I would stand good for that, for that month’s issue, and I paid when I got back in September. So they accepted it and the company that had been so, had worried the girls so much about paying, I’m not going to give the name, I decided I believe I’d get me a new publisher so I did. And I had no more troubles after that time. The next year I was able to pay that bill and get the magazine out and left some money with them. I counted it one of my valuable experiences of college life because it gave me the opportunity to know how to meet people and to take some defeats and some successes too in the right way.
CM: And your subsequent education after you graduated from Columbia?
WLG: After I graduated, oh, I tried to participate in everything they had at college, even the choral club but I really couldn’t sing. If I stood by somebody who had a good voice, I could change mine from an alto to soprano pretty well. But I noticed that the second time we went for practice my friend by whom I wanted to stand moved and I moved with her. And so the next day, next time we had it, she moved again and I moved over where she was and she said Wil Lou, the reason I’m moving is to keep away from. Said “I can’t, you throw me off key.” and I said “Well, I can’t sing without your key.” So I dropped out of the music department at that time entirely and I’ve never gone back to it. I can remember I was so surprised why she was, don’t you know, jumping from one side to the other.
WLG: I enjoyed my college days very much, even though I was not too good a student. I passed all my examinations. I failed on one under Dr. Gee, Mrs. Gee’s husband. That was in botany. I couldn’t get the names of everything, every plant that grew.
CM: Now what did Dr. Gee teach?
WLG: He taught botany, science. All right, did you find it? (Break in tape for conversation with Evelyn at 5:44.)
CM: Now I have to resume after having shut it off while Evelyn was in here.
WLG: Let me see if I can give you something. Oh yes, I had another interesting experience in college. The president asked me if I would take care of the reading room. We just had a very small one with a few magazines and the daily paper. And I said “Well, I don’t object taking care of it but I think there’s some girl in school that needs it better more than I,” because my father sends me sufficient funds for me to live on here at college without doing anything. And he said “Well, I’ve asked everyone that I thought would do it and nobody wants to do it so I just came to you.” And I said “All right, I’ll be glad to get.” I think they gave me fifteen dollars for four months work. I think that was what I got. I earned my first year of my expenses. (Laughs)
CM: Was that your first earning in life?
WLG: That was my first earning in life, yes. And then after I came from Columbia I worked. I taught school two years. The first year was near Ware Shoals. My uncle developed that property, which was known as Ware Shoals Manufacturing Company and my father was one of the eight owners of the power, of the property, the original property. And the school that I taught in was called the Joneses’ School.
CM: Now where did that name come from?
WLG: The superintendent, the trustees, the chairman of the board of trustees was a Dr. Jones. The son, his father was a very wealthy planter and had a number of slaves before the war.
CM: In South Carolina?
WLG: Before the war and he was living on part of the land that his father had owned and had married the daughter of my college president, whose letter secured the position for me when I applied. I had told Dr. Jones, my college president was Dr. D. W. Daniel and he said “Well, I’ll write to my sister if you want to teach and I’ll tell them about you.” And so I secured the job. And I followed the daughter of my father’s partner in business in Laurens. She was a graduate of Converse College and had been very happy in her first year’s service in that little country, one-teacher country school. And when I arrived it was seventeen miles from my home to the location of the school.
Well, one thing I might tell you before, I was intently interested in teaching and I realized that I did not know how to teach. I graduated from a college but it was a liberal arts college. And so I said to my father when I came home after I graduated, I want to go to Winthrop College this summer. He said “Why do you want to do that?” And I replied, he said “Don’t you think Columbia College is as good as Winthrop?” I said “Yes sir, but it was two purposes. Winthrop was slanted for teaching and for education and how to do it and Columbia College was slanted towards more of the cultural academic, emphasizing the academic in languages than the other and I don’t know how to teach.” And then I reminded my father that he had graduated at Wofford but after he graduated at Wofford he had to go somewhere to learn to practice law, which he did and he immediately saw why I wanted to go to Winthrop. I did go to Winthrop and I never had a more rewarding experience in my life than I did that first summer over there.
CM: But you went several successive summers didn’t you?
WLG: Then after that I went to Winthrop every summer school after I started the first year. I taught in that first school and I had some very interesting experiences if you want me to share those with you. It had been the custom we had pupils from the first grade through the high school. One boy wanted to be trained, wanted to be coached to go into college the next year. I think I enrolled during the entire year sixty pupils ranging all the way from the first grade to the tenth grade. So you can imagine what kind of teacher I made. When I first went there I went into the schoolhouse. The door was open. There was no furniture. The benches were homemade. The blackboards were homemade. There was a pot bellied stove in the middle of the room. The hogs in the community had used the, under the cellar of the school as a place to get cool in the summertime. So it was a pretty bleak experience my first few days.
CM: What year was this, Miss Gray?
WLG: What’s that?
CM: What year was this?
WLG: The fall of 1903. But luckily I’d had a course at summer school, one of my courses at Winthrop was a course in literature and tied up with that was some arts and, I suppose we’d call it arts and crafts or something. I don’t know how to identify it. In illustrating our poems we were taught to make pictures, to make some frames for pictures. And then we were also taught in tying up our literature, the geography of communities. That entailed where the author of the poem was written, where they lived, the continent on which they lived. So in some way we started to build a series of maps and we did it with paper and you’d be surprised what a good job the pupils did. I didn’t know much about it myself but I did what they told me to do and I followed the pattern, which I had taken with me from the school and we had Africa and made all the continents and then we colored them.
The young people, the children got interested in it. It was something everybody could do. The tiny little children we could put the paper in a bucket with a whole lot of water and they could pull it apart and make it into little strips for me so I could bend it. And that was something we could let all of them do about building, building the world. And we had a good time. Sometimes we stayed later than we were supposed to stay and so one afternoon Dr. Jones, chairman of the board of trustees who lived directly in front of the school, came to me after I’d finished and the children had gone on off, my pupils, to their homes and they were thirty or forty minutes late in leaving the school. And Dr. Jones said “Miss Wil Lou, I hate to tell you but you know they’ve been complaining, the parents have been complaining about you keeping them so long.” I said “Oh, Dr. Jones, I certainly am sorry. I had no idea that they had to get back just at the exact time.” Said “Yes, you see, they can’t do the necessary chores around the home.” So you see that shows that I wasn’t very familiar with necessary chores around the home because I lived in town and somebody else was employed to do them.
And I couldn’t understand why one of my brightest pupils was always so willing to work late. In fact, he said “Don’t you want me to stay and help you?” And I liked him because he was smart as he could be. He was the one that wanted to go to college. It was a custom in that community for the teacher to go around and spend the night with all the families. So I went to spend the night with this family. It was the, I’m going to forget my name, Coleman, and when I got there it was a lovely home. The atmosphere couldn’t have been nicer. And in some way the sister of Coleman, the boy whom I was getting ready to go to college, said something about milking the cow and I said “What are you milking the cow for? Why don’t you have Coleman to milk the cow?” She says “Oh, he comes home too late.” And I said then I understood why he was so willing to stay at school and work with me rather than come home and do the chores around the house. (Laughs)
I enjoyed that year very much. Picked up the paper one day and I noticed that they had, they were offering, had appropriated some money, the legislature had, for the libraries in the state. If the local community would give ten, the county would give ten dollars, and then the state would give ten dollars. So that would give us thirty dollars for a library. So, I wanted immediately a library because there wasn’t a book in the schoolhouse. So, to have the library we had to have some kind of an entertainment and make some money so we could get a secretary for the books. Now that’s not what I’d call it. What would you call that? It wasn’t a secretary. To have an adequate place, I don’t want to hesitate all this thing over there.
CM: Well, that’s all right. Someone to organize the books?
WLG: So we could have a bookcase built, have a bookcase built for the books.
CM: Oh, I see. I thought you meant an individual to assort the books in topics. A piece of furniture, I see.
WLG: So we had an old maids convention. I mean so we had a, yeah, an old maids convention and it was just wonderful. We tied into it. No, I’m going to change that. We had a community meeting and a candy pulling. That was what it was. I think it was. And we pulled the candy right there and I had no earthly idea what was going to happen and they were a little bit careless with the way they pulled it and they dropped it on the floor and so forth and so on. And the meeting was Saturday night and Sunday afternoon the preacher was coming. He preached always Sunday afternoon in the schoolhouse. I realized that I should go over early to see how it looked and when I got there I found that the candy was literally all over the floor in spots. Well, I thought I could botch that up and one of the little girls that lived near the school came and wanted to help me. So we got some water and we tried to clean it up. Then that distressed me because I realized it wouldn’t get dry before the preacher, time for the service that afternoon. So we took the stove down and put some wood in it and tried to put it over, move it over the spots to clean it, to dry it.
I never was as embarrassed in my life as I was that afternoon when the time came for service and the people came in and saw all these little spots all over the floor. But those were things that people had to endure. And then another thing, I lived with the, I thought I was going to live in Dr. Jones’ home, board there, but they wanted me to board with his daughter who had just married. They had completed a small home, which the father gave to them right next to them. But they did not have, there wasn’t an outdoor toilet in the community. I stayed there one year. I don’t know whether you want to tell that or not.
CM: You say that there was not an outdoor toilet?
WLG: Not a one, not one in the whole community. Just think about it.
CM: And no indoor one either, of course?
WLG: No indoor one either.
CM: No outdoor one? You were teaching in very primitive conditions apparently. Miss Gray, after these early years teaching in the country, at what other institutions did you teach during your long career?
WLG: I was there only one year. Well, let me tell you the other thing right first about it. When I first went in my brother drove me from Laurens my young brother. It was seventeen miles and it took us from one o’clock til six or seven to get there over the roads like they were then. And when I stopped at Dr. Jones’ house and saw the two-story, nice two-story big house, I thought oh, that’s just lovely. That’s where I’m going to live. And then when they told me that I was to board with the daughter down in a little house right below them it was all right with me and so we went on down there. I was just as hungry as I could be by that time. They had one, there was a light in the building, in the room, and when we knocked on the door they were very surprised to see me. They thought I was coming in on Sunday.
Well, I’d been taught in Winthrop that you ought to go before the school was to open so you would know something, a little bit about the community in which you were in. So I had planned and had written them that I was coming on Saturday but mail was so slow at that time they just hadn’t gotten my letter. So the gentleman that opened the door was very much surprised to see me and my young brother there and they apologized deeply for not having lights all over the house and so forth. And they made me very welcome. I was horrified. I looked through the door, between their bedroom it was two big rooms on the front and a kitchen and dining room was together. It hadn’t been completed, wasn’t sealed and had not, the ceiling had not been put in yet for the dining room and kitchen. So there were really just three big rooms. And when I opened the door, I never will forget it, everything was just as clean as could be. A beautiful old hand woven coverlet was on the bed. I can still see the window, the lamps with the clear window, the clear chimneys that somebody had taken great pain to see it was there and a washstand in the corner with it’s shiny pitcher and.
WLG: Bowl, couldn’t think of bowl, bowl. I thought oh, this wasn’t the kind of place I was going to live in. And I knelt down and I said oh God, do help me. I hope I can stay and be happy. And I want to say that God did help me and I was happy every day I spent there, even though the community did not have, there wasn’t an outdoor toilet or indoor toilet in any house in the community. You just wonder about that. I made me a little, you need a biscuit..
WLG: Crate and I fixed it up and put it in the gully and that was my place to go down to every day. The next year I taught was in, near called Young’s and I lived, I went there especially to prepare two cousins for college, one for Clemson and one for Winthrop. And I never was happier. Again, I had a very wonderful experience of teaching. My school was over a mile away. We walked every day to school. It was in an old abandoned lodge and there the seats were made out of slabs. And there I had from first grade through college, getting ready to go to college. And I enjoyed my experience very much. I finally decided that I just couldn’t continue that job because I knew I wasn’t prepared to do that kind of teaching to meet the needs of those children.
CM: Preparatory children you mean?
WLG: All of them, yes. See I’d been teaching them to read and write and phonics and so forth and so on and then Latin and I had Latin and algebra. I just simply realized I just couldn’t do it. So I told, I said I went specifically to help, my uncle wanted me to come and all to help them and I felt that I was cheating the majority of the people. I couldn’t do the job to train these two or three pupils that were, there were about four in that school that I had in the upper grades, the four pupils that I had in the upper grades and do a good job for the young. Right then I learned that we did not in South Carolina, we were not giving all the children the proper opportunity. By Christmas I finally said to my uncle that I just could not come back after Christmas unless they’d get an assistant teacher and they got one.
CM: They did?
WLG: And I had taught these young people the new way, the modern way, I had taught them. And the trouble was that the little tiny first graders did not know their ABC’s. We were teaching them the word-phonic system and they got an old lady that came that could not understand the new system at all. And so I had a difficult time with trying to get people satisfied with the two programs, don’t you see? But I enjoyed that and my two pupils went to college and did a good job.
CM: After those early years did you teach at the college level?
WLG: No. While I was there that year when I had this teaching in this old lodge, we had, let’s see, what shall I call it. We invited people to come in over the weekend from Wofford College, from Furman University, from South Carolina University to come and then we’d invite the entire community to come to hear them. And what I was doing, I was trying to get the community ready to vote a tax to build a new schoolhouse. And so by the time we completed that year we were ready to vote on a bond issue, I mean ready to vote for tax and they voted it and passed it. And then I resigned and went to Vanderbilt to study.
CM: Did you go for the academic year or for the summer?
WLG: Academic year.
CM: Did you take a master’s?
WLG: I was working on a master’s degree but I went to Vanderbilt just one year and had a marvelous experience there. Dr. Kirkland, the chancellor of Vanderbilt, was a schoolmate of my father’s.
CM: At Wofford?
WLG: At Wofford, yes, and my father wrote to him that I was coming and asked him to get a place for me to board because they did not have a dormitory for girls. He wrote that Dr. Vaughan was a person, one of the outstanding professor there, his home was used in-lieu of a dormitory for girls.
CM: What street was that on in Nashville?
WLG: Right in the middle of the campus. I don’t remember even the street. And they had three other girls there. We just had the loveliest time imaginable. I was the only girl in two of my classes. And living in Dr. Vaughan’s home was one of the greatest experiences I ever had. He was a perfectly marvelous person. He was born in the mountains of Tennessee I believe and he had about six years of schooling before he went to college and he was head of the mathematics department at Vanderbilt University so you can imagine what kind of person he was. So then when I went back that year, while I was at Vanderbilt they built the new schoolhouse at Youngs and it was two nice, great big rooms and I was just thrilled about it. (Break in recording at 32:31) The State paper came in while I was there and my cousins, both of them college graduates, read it before I saw it and they said “Oh, Wil Lou, here’s a chance. Want you to come back out here.” They appropriated a thousand dollars to give to the ten schools in South Carolina that made the greatest progress, rural schools that made the greatest progress in last year’s session and we know if you’d come back here and teach we can get that. We know there’s no school in South Carolina that’s any worse than yours was. And I had already written a letter to a college in Louisiana and I’ve forgotten where it was.
CM: To teach there or to enter school?
WLG: To teach there, to teach history and English. So when I went home I withdrew my, luckily the letter hadn’t gone off I went to the post office and got it. And so I accepted the job out there and I went back and taught one more year out there.
CM: Did they win a prize?
WLG: We won the prize. We got the first prize.
CM: Oh, now that was quite an achievement.
WLG: And the thing I said now, we’ve got this nice building now we’ve got to have a picture of it to get the prize, you know, we wrote it up. And my uncle who was, one of them was a trustee. There were two. I lived with one of them. The other one was right across the way a little bit out.
CM: What was his name?
WLG: One was, my uncle that I lived with is W.P. Harris. His wife was my father’s sister. And then my Uncle Johnny was a darling person. Lived on the other side. Uncle Will was a scientific farmer, had nine children. And the most interesting member of his family was a slave. When the slaves were freed they went to Tennessee and Arkansas and she had this, was his slave, this woman and her husband wanted to go and she didn’t want to go. She was going to stay with her young master and stay she did. He went on to Arkansas.
CM: What was her name?
WLG: Janie was her name. We called her Black Mammy. And so old Black was just perfectly wonderful. Uncle Will had built a house in Grecore for his children that were just coming up in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth grades to go to because they just realized they did not have a good school out there in the country with one teacher. But his son that was going to college came to me. He stayed out there and came back. No, the second time I had only the little girl, Janie, who was in the first grade. And the children when they came at first they nearly chewed up their little books. They were digesting in it by chewing them up. You know how a child will put paper in his mouth, you know, and she couldn’t do it. She’d been to school a year and couldn’t do a thing. But when I taught her, when I started working with her she immediately did well and she went to Columbia College later, graduated and went to Columbia College.
CM: I’d like for you to reminisce just a little bit about something at Columbia College. Do you remember while you were a student at Columbia if the question of women’s rights or woman’s suffrage was ever raised?
WLG: Yes, it was.
CM: Can you tell a little bit? Tell about this in as much detail as you can from your recollections at Columbia College. I’d like to know under what circumstances the question was raised, by whom and what was done about it.
WLG: Well, if I not mistaken the first time I knew anything about it was it seems to me that Mrs. Young, and I can’t remember her very distinctly at all, came. Who was the other woman that worked so with her at first? They came to the legislature and tried to, have you got any record of that? They came and I thought it was awful for women to vote, I mean right at first. You know, I was just a young girl.
CM: Now while you were a student this was 1899 or 1900 to about 1903.
WLG: It was 1899 to 1903 and that’s when it was. Now the first thing that I remember was that this lady came here and appeared before the legislature and I thought it was terrible. How in the world that woman could come and do a thing like that.
CM: Did you ever see Miss Young?
WLG: No, I don’t know, I don’t ever remember ever doing it. And then another thing about it, so we had a debate and I took the negative side of it.
CM: Were you a freshman?
WLG: I reckon I must have been a freshman.
CM: You were up on the stage before the student body?
WLG: No, it was for our library, the Whiteman Library, the Whiteman Society.
CM: You took the negative view?
WLG: Negative view and I got converted. I could take either side of them very well, either one. I just remember that I was fighting against it then I came to the larger feeling that it wasn’t right. They we ought to have the privilege.
CM: Who took the positive position?
WLG: I don’t remember.
CM: The affirmative?
WLG: It could have been, I’d like for you to read it. I brought it over here, for Margarete to see, the son and he might remember something. No, no I don’t think he would. Elise Tibber was her name, she married, oh, Max. Now what’s Max’s last name? I’ll try and get it. I’m just awful about names.
CM: Well, it’s not the names that I’m concerned about. I’d like to know what kinds of happenings too place…
WLG: Well, I remember that debate, don’t remember much about it except that I got interested in it and I wasn’t on the affirmative side. I was on the negative side.
CM: Now that you became interested in this debate through women’s suffrage, what did you do next? Did you do anything to promote it?
WLG: No, no. I really did not.
CM: Was there an organization on the campus at all?
WLG: No, no.
CM: There wasn’t? There was later though. There was an attempt to form one after 1914.
WLG: After 19…, well, see that was a good many years after I was there. No, I made no effort to do it.
CM: Did you hear any more about woman’s suffrage while you were in college?
WLG: Except occasionally I’d notice these women were trying to do something down at the legislature. Have you tried to check any of that?
CM: Yes, I have material to look into.
WLG: You can get the first one.
CM: I can find the women that were involved at that time.
WLG: We did, we saw it. We just didn’t, I don’t remember a thing but that meeting at the Whiteman, a literary society. But I remember that, I had a good time. I thought it was just a funny thing to do. I enjoyed doing it.
CM: Is this what first called your attention to the problem at all?
WLG: Absolutely. Yeah, I was 16.
CM: In your later career years, were you aware of any suffrage activities in the state? Were they brought to your attention?
WLG: No, we didn’t have in large…I don’t believe we ever had a League of Women Voters.
CM: This came into being after suffrage was ratified anyway. I mean before the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in Congress and ratified at last by Tennessee. That occurred in 1920 and the League of Women Voters came after that. The South Carolina Equal Suffrage League was transformed into the League of Women Voters.
WLG: I want you to read, and I can get that date for you, but you can get that without any trouble.
WLG: My father was in the House in about 1922. And I had a cousin in the House when the vote came up, I remember that night very distinctly.
CM: Can you describe it?
WLG: You ought to read the speeches that they made against us.
WLG: Mr., oh, the young man, he actually became United State Senate, he was appointed, now, I forget his name but anybody can get it to you. Brilliant young lawyer here. And honestly, the way they talked about us, about women, was just terrible. You thought we didn’t have any sense.
CM: I think the senator was put in there to replace Pollock, was he?
CM: Pollock was pro-suffrage.
WLG: Well this man was against it and I’m sure I’m right about this. And I thought the next day, I’m working here at that time. How’d I happen to be working here? Oh, I came in 1918 sure enough.
CM: To Columbia to work?
WLG: Yeah, I came in 1918. And I remember I said, “Well come on girls, I think I’m going to yell at the crowd and go up to the State Hospital to Dr.…” oh none of these names are coming to me right now. Dr. Williams. He was head of the State Hospital and say, “Here we are. According to the men in the legislature last night, we’ve come to have our correct station in life.” I remember saying that. I want you to find that and read what they said because I’ve read when they voted, it wasn’t that, it was 1921?
CM: Well, South Carolina never approved.
WLG: We never have approved it.
CM: We finally did very recently.
WLG: I told them a long time, “Let’s go on and do it. It should be done.”
CM: In that debate at Columbia College, can you remember the points that you made in opposition to suffrage? Why did you say women’s suffrage should not come about? I realize that you were convinced that women’s suffrage should come about in the process of preparing your negative position, but what were the negative points that you made?
WLG: Well, I declare to be frank I just don’t know.
CM: Do you remember the points made by the affirmative?
WLG: No. I don’t remember the details of it, really I don’t. It’s just kind of passed out of my mind.
CM: You must have been in Columbia when Bertha Munsell was heading the recruitment…
WLG: Yes, yes I was.
CM: Did you ever hear her speak?
WLG: I don’t know that I ever heard her speak. But I was here with them, I knew them.
CM: And Lottie Hammond?
WLG: Well, very well. I didn’t do a thing about the working actively with the group.
CM: There were conventions here. There were loads of them.
CM: I’m not certain…well certainly, Miss Catt came to Columbia. Carrie Chapman Catt.
WLG: Well, I don’t know.
CM: Dr. Shaw came to Columbia.
WLG: Did they come?
CM: Yes, they did.
WLG: Well, I don’t know how I missed that.
CM: But you met Eulalie Salley. Under what circumstances did you meet her?
WLG: I went down there to ask her to help get me some pupils and start night school.
CM: Meeting her had nothing to do with suffrage then?
WLG: Nothing to do with suffrage.
CM: What is after ratification?
CM: Was it after 1920 that you met her?
WLG: Yes. It was after that. She was just, I knew she was a leader. I was picking out leaders all over South Carolina. One thing was, I worked so hard. I worked like a dog.
CM: That you didn’t have time to think about politics? Everyone to his own little concern and Miss Salley did make suffrage a major concern. She tells me that she used her real estate business to fund her suffrage charities.
WLG: I wouldn’t be surprised.
CM: How interested were you in politics generally in that period?
WLG: Well, I’ve always been interested in politics. Even as a little child my father used to take me with him to political meetings. I remember, you know the Tillmans were running this state back then, my father was against Tillman.
CM: Who was he for?
WLG: Oh, Wade Hampton.
CM: The Bourbons?
WLG: The Bourbons. And ‘cause I’d been for the others if I’d known enough at the time. (Laughs)
CM: Strong points on both sides, Miss Gray.
WLG: These uncles that I talk about, they were for Tillman. Mother would say, “No when they come…” My family is a very close knit family, my mother would say, “Now Mr. Gray,” she’d call Papa Mr. Gray, my stepmother, “Mr. Gray now I don’t want anything said about politics at dinner today.” I remember Tillman came to Laurens and told my mother about it and Papa was one of these kinds of people, he was a lawyer but withdrew from law and went into business and if anybody was in the store when he was getting ready for lunch, he’d ask them to dinner regardless who they were. So we never knew when we set the table and, in fact, the table always had separate extra seat and plate out.
CM: So you were able to meet political figures from separate…
WLG: All around. And so but this is too soon for me to remember, but I heard my aunts tell it. Papa comes walking home and mother had two little babies, she always had a cook, and when she had company, she didn’t have a fresh linen tablecloth that she was so terribly embarrassed that she cried. I remember my aunts told about that. And Tillman was not Papa’s friend at all and Papa said, well, he just couldn’t have somebody come to his town and didn’t ask him. So he just invited him.
CM: But you heard this? You don’t remember being at the table with Ben Tillman?
WLG: I reckon I was at the table but I don’t remember that.
CM: Were you interested in social questions?
WLG: Oh yes.
CM: You know, questions like race problems? Problems with working conditions in the mill, these kind of things?
WLG: Well, I really wasn’t very alive to that until I went to Vanderbilt and I had this course in…
CM: “The fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.” You told this. But I’d still like to know who taught this course.
WLG: Well, I was in the class. Dr. Jones who had come down South from Grinnell, Iowa. And taught at Vanderbilt. I was very fond of Dr. Jones.
CM: He must have been a Quaker?
WLG: I don’t know about that. I didn’t have much to do with Quakers then. You know, when you grow up, even though my father was a college man and my mother was a college woman, little towns are very, very narrow. You don’t know so much unless you have a good teacher that goes really, really out. We just talked what we knew right around. But Dr. Jones…
CM: But this course at Vanderbilt introduced you to an awareness.
WLG: An aware. When Dr. Jones asked what I was going to do for the community when I left Vanderbilt…A rich man’s money made it possible for me to come here for $500, it costs a $1000. What are you going to do? And I said, we didn’t have any poor in Laurens. And right then children were working in mills at $12, 55 hours/week for $12.
CM: Did you come right home from Vanderbilt and were made aware of these kind of things?
WLG: Kind of immediately. My father was a member, he was on the board, to help get the mill in Laurens started at Ware Shoals.
CM: Did you become active in promoting the cause of social justice or were you just a quiet promoter?
WLG: Well, I just was a quiet promoter. Feeling always, even as a child, the difference between when I had and what the tenets had.
CM: And what did you…
WLG: That was early in my life and I got that from my father because he was a real Democrat. He believed in change…
CM: Yeah. And what about the black population of Laurens?
WLG: Well, I was like everybody else. I didn’t consider the cook that lived in our yard, whose the house was about 50 feet from the room I slept in every night. She had everything we had. When she was sick, why the doctor she had was the same doctor we had. I just never looked upon that as poor.
CM: And this was Janie?
WLG: I’m talking about ours. Janie was Uncle William’s.
CM: Ware Shoals?
WLG: Not, not Ware Shoals. That was at Young’s.
CM: I’m getting the geography confused.
WLG: Ware Shoals was first. Then Young’s was next.
CM: And then in Laurens…
WLG: Laurens was my home. Yes. And then I could hear the whistle from the old whistle every morning but it didn’t concern me.
CM: Until that year at Vanderbilt?
WLG: Until after Vanderbilt. After Vanderbilt. When I took that course, people became people for me.
CM: Was it that one course or was it other experience too at Vanderbilt?
WLG: Well the whole thing. I had a social sciences course at the time. What was my other man at Vanderbilt, my teacher? I don’t see what I can’t think of his name. I had three teachers there and Dr. Jones was the one that really did the job with me. And Gus…Guy was his name. He was in economics.
WLG: I had economics, you see. I was the only girl in the class.
CM: I see. At Columbia College, you had a classical education, not a social education.
WLG: Not all together.
CM: Classics and mathematics.
WLG: Well, I had economics at Columbia College.
CM: You did?
WLG: I can remember the night we sat the examination and a chapter on raising the standard of living. It was, after I was studying with a friend and we got to talking about the kind of people we’d marry and that kind of thing. And at the end of it, it summed up that each generation’s standard of living should be higher than the one before. That we should have that philosophy in our lives and I can remember Mary saying that she was in love with a boy, that none of us liked. We didn’t think he was much (unintelligible at 55:01). And I can remember Mary saying, “Well, I’m not going to marry Walter.” At the end of that night as we closed. She to go to her room and I to go to mine and she did not marry Walter.
CM: She did not.
WLG: I’ve often wondered what became of Walter. Somebody down there near Orangeburg.
CM: Let’s see. Do you remember the community sentiment about woman’s suffrage? Now let’s take Columbia, not Laurens because I imagine you did not hear much about woman’s suffrage when you went home. But in Columbia, certainly between 1918 and 1920, you heard about it. It was debated constantly in meetings and rallies and conventions here. Possibly parades. What was the community response?
WLG: Well, I really don’t remember any of that. I really don’t. I was working so hard during that time, I went out of Columbia weekends. The church is working, I’m trying to fight illiteracy, you see? Of course I was fighting everything…
CM: But you hadn’t started the Opportunity School yet, had you?
WLG: Well hold on, no. No, the Opportunity School didn’t start until ’21. I mean, it was a night school first.
CM: I want to talk to you about that but I think I’ll reserve that for our next interview because I can devote quite a bit of time to you giving me the history of the Opportunity School. How aware were you of the South Carolina Equal Suffrage League? Of it’s existence? You were aware of it’s existence, were you not?
WLG: Yes, I was aware the existence. But frankly, I came here in 1918. Had a little friend, and someone should’ve said something to you about her, and she was just a rabid suffragist.
CM: Who was she?
WLG: Oh, she was a child, who was a sister of one of my best friends I ever had that lived with me for years. Our fathers were college mates at Wofford. Kate Broadneck, she was Kate Montgomery Broadneck.
CM: Oh, yes. Ms. Frank Broadneck.
WLG: Ms. Frank Broadneck.
CM: Oh yes, her name appears many times.
WLG: It should be. It should appear. But now Kate was doing that, and I was fighting the fight against people who couldn’t read and write, don’t you see? I couldn’t do anymore than one and I was so poorly paid, the money that I got was $144 a month. Traveling all over. They did give me a travel, I had some travel. I had no time for anything else at that time.
CM: But you were aware of it.
WLG: I was aware of it.
CM: Was there a parade in Columbia, a suffrage parade?
WLG: I don’t remember that. But I…
CM: You didn’t go to meetings though.
WLG: I didn’t ever go to meetings.
CM: Were you aware of the Women’s Party in Charleston?
WLG: I remember, I remember Miss Montgomery getting so provoked with Kate, that was the mother of Kate, getting so provoked with her because she was spending so much time with that organization. Whatever she was doing with it. I know she was working with it.
CM: Yes, yes. She held office.
WLG: She was working with the legislature, that sort of thing. Kate was very bright. She afterwards lost her mind and was in the state hospital for several years. Her sister lived with me and was one of the best friends I ever had. But she was certainly all of them. And I think we’ve had an excellent…I never joined the Suffrage League here but it’s just one reason, I just felt like they had a capable group. They’ve always had a capable group and they didn’t need me and in this other field, I was needed. I had all I could do so I didn’t spread…
CM: Do you think that course at Vanderbilt, that training you had under Dr. Jones at Vanderbilt, helped inspire…
WLG: I know it did.
CM: …your work to eradicate illiteracy?
WLG: Yeah, I know it did. I know it did.
CM: It was a fruitful year, you said.
WLG: I was sensitive to that kind of thing always. I say, I was sensitive to it as a child when I used to drive along with my father and I’d see these children, the mothers would take these little children and put them on pallets and work in the field. Then at dinner time, they’d take them back in and get their lunch and then take them back, that’s they only way they could do, the mothers had to work.
CM: Were these black women?
WLG: White women and black women. Just as many while people on my father’s farms as there were blacks.
CM: Your direct experience was with women in agriculture rather than with women in the mill.
WLG: Yes, at first. But the thing about it, then sad thing with me about women in agriculture was that at the end of the year, they’d come out and didn’t make anything after all the work they’d done. Well the trouble was that they weren’t scientific farmers. My father wasn’t a scientific farmer, he didn’t make any money on the farm, he’d take everything he’d made in the hardware store to keep the farm going. Finally, eventually really, everything we lost, we’d lost everything if my brother and I got out in another field because the hardware store just wouldn’t support it. So we didn’t get anything and they didn’t get anything. They borrowed the money, you see, from the North. It was a town lottery, that’s all. And the South’s always had…and they’d have to lend it out to people on the hopes they were going to have a good crop and then they wouldn’t have a good crop and they’d pay 10-11-12% interest. How in the world could they every get ahead? I don’t how we ever come out as well as we have. I tell you, I certainly don’t. It was a tenant farmer. For a long time, it really does.
CM: You were raised in the Methodist Church, you say.
CM: The Methodist Church as considerable social awareness and concern.
CM: You were also taking to me a little about your philosophy in connection to your Methodist membership.
WLG: Yes, I’m in the right thing because we were all… you can’t come back. You’re not eternally doomed…
CM: The Methodist Church has always fostered ecumenism, too.
CM: You were expressing that sort of feeling, I think, earlier.
WLG: My father was a very generous person. My mother used to say, “You give everything, you don’t leave anything for us to give.” But the point of it was that in a business, there’s no reason in the world to (unintelligible at 1:03:18) as a farmer. Then you know it all back. One night, I remember my brother had a big peach orchard and he thought he was going to make $50,000 a year and he didn’t and the next morning he woke up and he didn’t make a dollar. When you have that kind of experience over and over again, it’s a hard experience.
CM: I heard that. Since you weren’t actually involved in the suffrage league, personally, I wonder if you remember what interest groups in South Carolina funded the opposition campaign? Or if you ever hear who, precisely, was behind the staunch opposition? Did votes for women, according to your awareness, threaten any economic interests in the state? That is, did those economic interested believe that women voting would threaten their profit-making ability?
WLG: Trying to see if I do remember any…
CM: Any of the banks, for instance? (Break in recording at 1:04:30) …thought that the men simply dreaded the competition of women.
WLG: The competition, I really do. I remember this discussion with my uncle who was a very bright Savannah man.
CM: What was his name?
WLG: N.B. Dye and so he said, I said “Well, you’re against suffrage, Uncle Nat?” He said “Yes, but I think it ought to be a South Carolina thing. I’m willing for it if the South Carolina women want it.” I said “Well, come down here and make that statement all over the county, all over the state. In your speeches you say that.” But he didn’t do it don’t you see. He would have voted for it probably but he wasn’t going to fight for it. Now personally my father I remember went out to Kentucky and Tennessee one day and when it came back he was very much surprised that out there he found girls in men’s offices as secretaries and he said and when one of them went out he said I asked them how they did. Said they did just good as men. Papa was always, he would have voted for suffrage. My own father would.
CM: Would he? When did he die?
WLG: In ’31. But as a whole, I think it was a question of competition in this state. But they just didn’t want it. They thought they’d do it.
CM: Competition for jobs?
WLG: Jobs, yes, that type of thing.
CM: And in the professions and perhaps for political offices too.
WLG: Sure. We’ve had very few to be and right now we have very few people that are on boards and that type of thing.
CM: This is true all over the United States.
WLG: It should be. I know I’m on the board that I’ve been on for a long time.
CM: Which board is that?
WLG: Oh, I’m on about five all together.
CM: What are they?
WLG: The handicapped, the one up here, a workshop and then there’s an old one up on the hill right here. They call it the facility, handicapped, people that can’t make a living on the outside. I’m on that board and I’m on the board, rehabilitation, South Carolina Rehabilitation Board. And I’m very much interested in that. I think they’re doing a marvelous job. And then I’m on a church board, like stewards are what we call ourselves now. They changed the name a little bit since we had the united. I’m on that board and I’m on some other state board. I don’t know why it won’t come to me right this minute. But I’ve been interested in this whole program but I never have actually gone out. I never have worked with it at all just because I’ve had so many other things to do and I feel like I’ve been working for the underdog a little bit more than the others have been.
CM: You have been indeed. What was the response of church groups generally to woman’s suffrage?
WLG: Well, the men, I don’t think the men liked it too well but the women, we had powerful women who worked on it, with it I’m sure.
CM: And the DAR position?
CM: Were they opposed, do you recall?
WLG: I don’t remember working with them. I was on that board of (unintelligible at 1:08:54). That’s their school in this state. I was on that board for a while. I don’t remember that they did anything.
CM: Do you remember any groups that actively supported woman’s suffrage in Columbia?
WLG: No, I just don’t remember the Columbia ones. I just don’t.
CM: Do you remember if there was a celebration of any sort in Columbia when ratification occurred?
CM: Did you not join the League of Women Voters after you obtained the vote?
WLG: No, I didn’t.
CM: Do you remember how active a chapter there was in Columbia in the ‘20’s, the early ‘20’s?
WLG: No, I didn’t.
CM: I wonder if the league managed to get up, the Equal Suffrage League managed to get an active and eager constituency into the new League of Women Voters. And you don’t remember?
WLG: I don’t remember. At that time I was so absolutely involved in the thing I was paid to do that I just didn’t have another bit of time to give to something outside. But I believed in all of it.
CM: Were you aware of the national split in the woman’s suffrage movement, the split between those who fostered working on a state basis to obtain changes in state constitutions and those who believed in pressuring the president and Congress for a federal amendment to the U.S. constitution? Do you remember this split?
WLG: No, I don’t remember that.
CM: It took place, as you know, such a split occurred in Charleston too.
WLG: No, I don’t remember it.
CM: In the suffrage movement. I’d like for you to tell me a little bit about what your conception is of the role of women in South Carolina history, the importance of women’s contributions to South Carolina progress.
WLG: Now personally I feel that if it hadn’t been for the women we would have been unfortunately in many factors, which make for good citizenship. South Carolina ranks low. If it hadn’t been for the women in this state they would rank much lower because first it was the women in this state that fought for school attendance, that fought for the elimination of illiteracy in 1918 and earlier, that fought for libraries over the state. We had few libraries, Greenville and Spartanburg and Charleston and Columbia and that does nearly covers them. And now we’ve got a perfectly marvelous library state program.
CM: Are you on the library board?
WLG: No, no. My mother helped get it started in Laurens. She did volunteer work. The state federation supported that. I can remember when the books came to our home in boxes, long boxes about ten inches by four inches by thirty-six inches fitting books that’s just the size of a book and we’d get two or three about every two months and then we’d send it on. People would read the books and then they’d be sent on to the next place. That was the first library in Laurens and from that an established one and my grandfather’s bank finally gave them a place for nothing.
CM: Which grandfather was that?
WLG: Dial, Grandfather Dial, Albert Dial. And so I feel that it’s the women that have been interested in the development of the people of the state, which after all is really the most valuable asset we have. But the men have been more interested in roads and that type of thing.
CM: And for good reason, this is how you get products marketed and the men have been interested in marketing, commercial concerns. I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about the opportunity school in Columbia, it’s origin and early years and it’s development and it’s status today.
WLG: The opportunity school really came out of the night schools in South Carolina. And the general night school movement was in the state as early as 1870. I’m wrong about that, 1917.
WLG: Un-huh. I wish I could get, if you’ve got time I can read to you one of the first night schools in South Carolina. Have you got time for me to get it and read it?
CM: The first night schools…
WLG: Were taught in the mill communities by volunteer teachers.
CM: And what kind of subjects were they taught?
WLG: They were basic. I just tell you, I’m just so tired. I don’t believe I can do it. I’m too tired to do it.
End of Interview