Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Moving up through New South society

After the death of her grandmother, Durr's parents advanced in Birmingham society, joining the country club and other social organizations. Durr describes her mother's participation in the Cadmean Circle, an elite white women's literary club.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. 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

Then, my grandmother died, I think, shortly after that and Father inherited quite a lot of money. He inherited part of the plantation, which was about 35,000 or 40,000 acres and when it was divided up, he still had a big lot of land, 9,000 or 10,000 acres of land, or however much it was, it was a lot of land. And you see, the boll weevil hadn't come then and the tenants were still on the land and the bank still handled it, so we got an income from that I'm sure. Then, grandmother left some money. I know that we moved shortly after she died. We sold the house on Rose Avenue and built a big house on Niazuma, a big brick house and we bought a Packard automobile. So, I'm sure we . . . we also joined the country club, so I'm sure that some money came in at that time. My mother began to lead a much more fashionable life. She would go to tea parties and I can see her now all dressed up . . . . my grandmother had given her a set of furs and Mother would wear a great big hat with plumes on it and then she would wear her furs and pin violets to her furs and she would smell like violet cologne, Richard Hudnutt's Violet Toilet Water was what she always smelled like. I thought that she was the most beautiful creature in the world and smelled the best. She was a pretty woman. She never learned to play bridge, but she used to go to a lot of luncheons and teas and she had a friend named Mrs. Maben, who was a very fashionable woman, and a friend named Mrs. Catniss, who was very fashionable. She belonged to a literary club called the Cadmean Circle where all the leading ladies belonged. Well, the Cadmean Circle was a great institution in Birmingham and was supposed to be just the ultimate of all the proper ladies. But they had to have papers, so they had to have some sense, they couldn't be just fashionable, a group of frivolous ladies. It was both social and literary and Miss Willie Allen, who had a private school, wasthe leader. You know who Cadmeus is, he sowed teeth, didn't he, and that's where warriors sprang up. It's Greek mythology, as I recall, he was a Greek and sowed teeth and warriors sprang up. Well anyway, it met every Friday afternoon and everybody, at least my mother and I think that most other ladies did the same thing, before the Cadmean Circle met, every window was washed, every bit of woodwork was washed, upstairs and down. Every floor was polished and . . . . [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
the china was washed, the silver was polished, the sandwiches and oh, you know, the delicate little sandwiches and the mints and the nuts and the coffee and the tea and everything was perfect. And the flowers, because this was the day that you were judged, all your contemporaries came in and judged you. If there was dust underneath the rug or anything was dirty, then you were slipping and all the rugs were cleaned. Everything was cleaned. It was like the great spring cleaning all rolled into one and just everything was cleaned. I loved it, because they would always have salted almonds and mints and mother would bring them to me in the corner of her handkercheif. You could see that I was always looking out for something to eat. (laughter) That was one of my troubles. So, Mother used to come home from the Cadmean and tie them up in the corner of her handkercheifAnd the ladies in those days were dressy and everybody wore big hats and chiffons and pearls and white gloves and they would discuss literary subjects. Mother had to write papers and it was a terrible time, everybody had to stop everything an Mother would go to the library and do a tremendous research job and she did very good papers, I understand. The ultimate of Birmingham, or at least of the Birmingham that I grew up in was the Cadmean Circle. I even began to get . . . you see, we belonged to the country club and we lived in this neighborhood, it's no longer fashionable but it was then, on Niazuma Avenue, which is right at the edge of Red Mountain and we had a Packard automobile and we must have had more money than we had later. So, I went to public school but I was beginning to be conscious of social distinctions.