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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 17, 1979. Interview C-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Living in the Clerk's Home for Single Women

Turner discusses her brief stay at the Clerk's Home, a house supervised by C. C. "Poppa" Spaulding for single women employees of North Carolina Mutual, during the late 1920s. Turner briefly explains the purpose of the Clerk's Home—namely that it was intended to provide housing and supervision for single women—and notes that there were similar homes for single women teachers in Durham. Her comments are indicative of the ways in which expectations of women's behavior affected lifestyle.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 17, 1979. Interview C-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WALTER WEARE:
One other question that women might be interested in, and that is this Clerk's Home. Tell me about your coming to Durham and living in the Clerk's Home and your first impressions of this whole set.
VIOLA TURNER:
Well, I didn't live in the Clerk's Home at first. I lived with the Coxes. I came straight here and lived at the Coxes. But at that time, the Coxes were living right across the street from the Clerk's Home. The Clerk's Home was a two-story house, in the back of a little—the best way I could describe it, I think, what they call a little gunshot house, you know, one long thing. And it was a dining room for the Clerk's Home. The only impression that I can think of that I had of the Clerk's Home is the fact that there was a building full of young women. And, of course, they were being well taken care of because Poppa's house was right next door. And nothing went on over at the Clerk's Home that he didn't know about. Because he was the type.
WALTER WEARE:
Did he begin the Clerk's Home? Do you know the origins of it?
VIOLA TURNER:
I can't imagine that anybody else did. You see, almost from the beginning there was C.C. Spaulding. Let's see when did John Merritt die?
WALTER WEARE:
He died in 1919.
VIOLA TURNER:
They may have had the Clerk's Home then. So maybe the three of them. If so, it was a joint thing.
WALTER WEARE:
For women only, right?
VIOLA TURNER:
Oh, yes. Only the girls who worked at the Mutual. And down the street and up the street, there were houses like that for teachers who came here to teach, that Professor Pearson had. So, you see, it was a general idea, probably, that the young women who came into Durham had to be properly housed. So, I'm sure they were in perfect harmony with that was the way it was done. Because there was one down below the Mutual's Clerk's Home and up the street there was one. And they were for the teachers who came to Durham to teach. I don't recall that they had eating facilities in those teachers' homes, and maybe they ate in the schools, I don't know. But they had this little place out there, a kitchen and dining room, for the Clerk's Home.
WALTER WEARE:
This was to protect young single women?
VIOLA TURNER:
I have an idea that was it; knowing the men of that day, I feel quite sure that that was the idea. Plus the fact that there was no other facility for them. Where else were they going to live. If they were from out of town. And, you see, most of the people who came in to Durham were from out of town. In the Clerk's Home, when I first came there, there were some Virginians, and Betty's from Baltimore. And if I had gone over there, I would have been from Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas [laughter] . Two or three girls from South Carolina, a couple of girls from Georgia. And the same thing was true in the teachers' homes—because if you were Durhamites, you were living at home. So, all of these people were from out of Durham, and most of them from out to State. And I guess that's the only way they could've taken care of them. You probably heard this, too. There was a standing joke that Professor Pearson went over here to Wilbur Force every year and picked out all the prettiest girls and brought them to Durham for teachers [laughter] . And, of course, some very pretty ones did come, so maybe he did. But at any rate, that would have been the only way they would have had a place to stay.
WALTER WEARE:
You moved in there? You moved from the Coxes into the Clerk's Home?
VIOLA TURNER:
Oh, no. I lived in the Clerk's Home after I had had an unhappy marriage with Lawyer Thompson. I had been living with the Coxes—I'll have to get these things straight when I go back like that. Yes. When I left Lawyer Thompson, I went on vacation. I had told the people at the Mutual that when I got on vacation and came back here, I was not going to my former residence. And I would like to know if it was going to make any difference with North Carolina Mutual. If so, I was going to stay where I was. So Mr. and Mr. Spaulding assured me that it would make no difference to them. That I was a person employed by the Mutual and if I wasn't going back to Price Street, that was quite all right with them. If my mind was made up. And I told them it was very definitely made up. Then, I came back and went to the Coxes, because I told them also. They were really all the family, virtually, that I had. But I also told Nora, that's Mrs. Cox, that Betty and I planned, or hoped, that we could have the little—you see the Clerk's Home had. . .now let's see, how can I put that? No. I said Betty and I hoped we could get together, and that they were going to do something with the dining room. Because they were no longer using the dining room. It was just sitting. But if I came back off vacation, I would come to her house, and then possibly I would move later. But that was in the iffy stage. Because I might not even come back to Durham. So, that's the way I went to the Clerk's Home. When I went to the Clerk's Home, I went up there with Betty, who was still living in the Clerk's Home. But I had just left Mr. Lawyer Thompson, and I went up there. And then, instead of having my bedroom and her bedroom, we took one bedroom for the two of us, and made the other one like a little sitting room, So we thought we had a little apartment in there. And in a little while, not too long after that, the company did convert that dining room into a little apartment for us. And we moved out into the little apartment. That's when I lived at the Clerk's Home, in that very short period.