Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Edith Mitchell Dabbs, October 4, 1975. Interview G-0022. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Class tension within two marriages

Dabbs briefly describes the contrasting backgrounds of her parents and the tensions that caused in their marriage. Dabbs's mother was from a well-to-do Charleston family, whereas her father was of more humble origins. Dabbs recalls that her father was displeased when her mother spoke about her family connections and then explains that her husband's parents experienced a similar division. Her comments offer insight into the complexities of class identity and tensions between social classes in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Edith Mitchell Dabbs, October 4, 1975. Interview G-0022. 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

EDITH MITCHELL DABBS:
My mother was a Wells from this county and her mother …
ELIZABETH JACOWAY BURNS:
She was from Sumter County?
EDITH MITCHELL DABBS:
Yes. Her mother was a Charleston family and my father's parents were upcountry Piedmont people who were of a very different background, in his opinion, a lazy southern, shiftless and maybe snobbish lowcountry people. He always had a fairly strong prejudice against the coastal … anything that smacked of an aristocratic background and yet his sisters, I remember, were great DAR people and UDC people. I don't know whether they disgusted him with their prizing so much their background, or whether he just didn't believe it was so, or what. He used to make great fun of that and he never let Mama talk much about her family. He was saracastic about it. I didn't learn a lot of things I wish I knew about Mama's family. Grandma Wells had been a Mellichamp and her family was intermingled with the most prominent Charleston names there were in the city. If you wanted to be snobbish, you couldn't get past that. Papa had very little use for that, he didn't like her to talk about it. I started off as a child thinking, "Well, you must not have anything to brag about or you would let Mama tell about her folks." Mama was a very humble sort of person, of course, I think that she overdid it for her own good, but she had great genuine affection for members of her family and since the Civil War, they had all had such a hard time economically, so that she liked to prize what they did have, self-respect, integrity, and an ability to come up again no matter what happened to them and that sort of thing. Papa was very suspicious of anything on that subject our family discussed. He said that people should be more concerned with where they were going and less concerned with where they came from. He dismissed it that way.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY BURNS:
Well, that sounds like you had impeccable southern credentials.
EDITH MITCHELL DABBS:
That's a little bit like James' family. His father was, as he said, from the yeoman level of society, from the yeoman farmer background and his mother had a plantation background. His father's practical, hard-headed business sense made him skeptical of his mother's easy-going, aristocratic, be-nice-and-maybe-lose-your-shirt-doing-it kinspeople.