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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Bonnie E. Cone, January 7, 1986. Interview C-0048. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A southern woman's education from elementary school to college

Cone describes her experiences in her local schools, her preparation for college, and what it was like to attend Coker College in the 1920s. She notes that she and her sister had a different trajectory in school than did her brothers (who went to Carlyle Military School), but emphasizes that their education was rigorous. She describes how her high school math teacher, Ed Rentz, peaked her interest in math. During her years at Coker College, a small women's college, Cone began to teach math. She attributes this opportunity to her decision to attend Coker College because she was "too timid" for the larger women's school, Winthrop College.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Bonnie E. Cone, January 7, 1986. Interview C-0048. 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

LYNN HAESSLY:
Tell me about your elementary school education.
BONNIE E. CONE:
Well, all of my elementary and high school education occurred right there in the little town of Lodge. It was a community of less than two hundred people, and it's no larger than that today. My brothers both were sent to-after their ten grades at Lodge-were sent to a bidding school, Carlyle Military School at Bamberg, South Carolina, which was about 17 miles away. My father had gone there when he was a young man in his early years. But my sister and I, when we came along, we were sent straight from Lodge to college. I had to take eight examinations to enter college.
LYNN HAESSLY:
What kind of examinations?
BONNIE E. CONE:
Oh, they ranged from Latin to English to History, you know. I don't remember the exact areas, but I know that there were eight tests that I had to take. I always say I think I was the last one admitted to Coker College by way of examination. I must haveor something. But anyway, they admitted me.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Let me ask you a little more about your elementary education. How many children were in the school? Was it a one-room school?
BONNIE E. CONE:
No, it was not a one-room school but I can still see the school building. I know there was a wooden building which we went to first. I remember very little about that except there was a string there, and we used to like to jump across the string-silly little things like that you remember. But the school building that I remember was a brick building, a two-story building, and we had an upstairs to that building, and there was an auditorium. And I did learn to play and I remember having to go up the stairs and play the march. The children came upstairs for the assemblies when we had assembly. I remember the names of three of my teachers that I've had. One person I would say was the best. I had no better teacher anywhere than that one teacher. He was the man who came as superintendent of the schools, Mr. Ed Rentz. He was great in mathematics. I had finished the tenth grade, which was the top grade we had, and Mr. Rentz came that summer as head of the school system. My older brothers and my sister were in college. It was not easy to keep three in college. So my mother and father agreed that I would stay one extra year in school. I had made my good grades. It was a matter of financial situation. So I will always be thankful that I stayed that year because I had Mr. Rentz as a teacher. Now, he knew that a lot of those young boys and girls were not ready for the tenth grade. He sent one of my best friends back to the seventh grade. She was so scared she dropped out of school and got married. But I had a great time with him because he taught me-well he taught plane geometry-but he taught algebra and other things as well. I felt that I was very fortunate to have a man who gave me a better understanding and appreciation for mathematics. That was the area in which I really majored in college, and I taught math.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Yes. I was going to ask you why, if he was the reason that you chose to go into math. . . .
BONNIE E. CONE:
I didn't know I was going to do it when I left high school, of course, but as I got into college I found that things mathematical, well. . . . In my freshman year they must have recognized I did alright because I was given a scholarship to grade papers for the two professors of mathematics. If either one was absent, I had to teach their class. And so, you know, I graded those papers my whole four years in college. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't had Mr. Rentz. I might not have had a feeling I could grade papers there. When I was a senior in college, there was the Dean of Women who had never gotten a college degree, and it was all because she hadn't been able to pass plane geometry. So she asked me if I would teach her plane geometry. I had to get permission, of course, from Miss Reeves, the chairman of the department, and then they found there was another person who needed plane geometry in order to get a college degree, and that was a junior, Virginia Benton. So, all year long I taught Miss Taylor and Virginia Benton plane geometry, and at the end of the year I gave them their examination. I had reviewed it with Miss Reeves before I did, and they passed it. Miss Taylor graduated with my class in 1928 at Coker College. She gave me for all my teaching-she was an artist-she gave me a painting about just like that, you know, a small painting, and it was unframed. And, after long years of teaching and work I did have my little painting framed, and I'm very proud of it. Virginia Benton, I think, paid me thirty-five dollars, or whatever the price of a college class ring was, that's how much money she paid me for my year's teaching. So I started teaching while I was still a student at Coker.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Had you thought about being a teacher before you went to college?
BONNIE E. CONE:
Yes, all my early years I just knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I knew I wanted to go to Winthrop College because I had learned that that was the school where they were educating people who were going into the field of teaching. We had a Baptist minister and his wife. They lived diagonally across the street. The parsonage, as it was called, was diagonally across the street. And Mr. and Mrs. Rogers persuaded my parents that-you know, I was a young, timid girl-that I should go to Coker College, a small liberal arts college, and not to the large. I think the student body at Winthrop was probably 1500 at that time. Coker had less than 400, and they thought I should go to Coker. I thought, well, I'll have to do my best to make a teacher, to get prepared to do teaching. So, I went to Coker and I have never regretted going to the smaller school. I'm sure it gave me an opportunity to develop leadership skills and that type of feeling that maybe I wouldn't have had at Winthrop.