Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Title: Oral History Interview with Willie Snow Ethridge, December 15, 1975. Interview G-0024. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Ethridge, Willie Snow, interviewee
Interview conducted by Kessler, Lee
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 184 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-03-14, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Willie Snow Ethridge, December 15, 1975. Interview G-0024. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series G. Southern Women. Southern Oral History Program Collection (G-0024)
Author: Lee Kessler
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Willie Snow Ethridge, December 15, 1975. Interview G-0024. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series G. Southern Women. Southern Oral History Program Collection (G-0024)
Author: Willie Snow Ethridge
Description: 174 Mb
Description: 47 p.
Note: Interview conducted on December 15, 1975, by Lee Kessler; recorded in Moncure, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Patricia Crowley.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series G. Southern Women, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Editorial practices
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as "
All em dashes are encoded as —

Interview with Willie Snow Ethridge, December 15, 1975.
Interview G-0024. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Ethridge, Willie Snow, interviewee


Interview Participants

    WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE, interviewee
    MARK ETHRIDGE, interviewee
    LEE KESSLER, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
LEE KESSLER:
I think from looking at your books that you really have been happy, not only as a writer but as a wife and mother.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, yes; it works out just fine. I didn't start writing, fortunately for my peace of mind, until the first set of children (the first three children) were born and were in school. I wrote columns for the paper, but that just didn't take very much time—I mean [laughter] , in the afternoons or mornings when they were in school. But then when I really settled down to writing they had all started to school, so I had plenty of time. And when they came home from school I always put away everything, because otherwise you get irritated if you're trying to write and they're around and under your feet and asking you questions. You find that either the writing suffers or the children suffer; you get abrupt and cross. So I've always put away—I mean, I've continued to do this always. The minute the children came home or the minute Mark came home I would really hide my writing. [laughter] I would try to put it under the mattress, because if anything went wrong with the house they always thought it was due to the fact that I was writing a book or working on something, and that was the reason I let the, you know, rice give out [laughter] , or there was no butter, no sugar. So I always hid it and tried to act like I hadn't been doing anything except, you know, housework all morning. And it worked out just fine for me. I mean, because that's one wonderful thing about being able to write, is that you can write and give it up, you know, when family obligations come on. You don't have any hours. And so many young people don't realize that you can write, say, two hours a day and get a great deal accomplished, or three hours a day. I would just start writing in the mornings the minute the children all got out of the house.

Page 2
LEE KESSLER:
You didn't do your housework first?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I didn't do my housework first. I could sit down in a bedroom with the beds unmade and the clothes all over the floor and write without any, you know, compunction or feeling the least bit guilty. Because in the afternoon the children usually came home about 2:30 or 3:00 from school; you have plenty of time to make up the beds then.
LEE KESSLER:
That was before Mark came home.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh he wouldn't come home until late. He's a newspaper man; he'd come home 6:00, 6:30, 7:00. And I'd have all afternoon. And you could do your grocery shopping with the children; they could be a part of the cleaning up of the house if they wanted to. Mine always didn't [laughter] ; they always stayed outside usually. But I never tried to write after school hours or after work hours, so I didn't have any of that conflict of so many women I hear now. They have guilty consciences about whether they should work, whether they should look after the children. No reason you can't do both if you have a little gift like writing.
LEE KESSLER:
Well now, I've read some things by other people who write, and frequently they say that, "I knew I wanted to write; and I always knew I wanted to write." But if you didn't start writing until after your children were at school, it's sort of like, you know, the legend of the birth of Venus—sort of springing full-blown.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, no, no. I starting writing, you see, when I was only fifteen years old. I met my husband, and he was a newspaper reporter—I think as I said in this last book, Side By Each. I started wanting to write. I never had thought about writing before that; I had very little leaning towards it. But he was so excited over being a reporter. And then

Page 3
the First World War came along and he went away. I was a senior in high school when I met him, and I fell desperately in love with him right away—and never changed, and never let go. And so when I went to college my freshman year, he was still around … he hadn't gone away to war at that time. My freshman year I decided to take journalism.
LEE KESSLER:
What college was this you're talking about?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Wesleyan, in Macon, Georgia. There's one in every state, you know [laughter] , practically, but this was in Macon. And it's the oldest women's college to give A.B. degrees in the world. I put that in for my college's sake—I started going, and I took journalism so I could be more knowledgable when he talked about his work and his writing.
LEE KESSLER:
So it was really on account of Mark?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Absolutely and completely. And then the war came along and he went away to the war that spring. And so I continued studying what little journalism they had; they only had one or two years at Wesleyan. And then I began working in the afternoons writing at the paper, because I had gotten very much involved in journalism. So I used to go down to the Macon Telegraph after college every afternoon and do, usually, one feature (which I think I have told about) that I had to think up myself, a human interest story——which was wonderful training.
LEE KESSLER:
How did you happen to get that job?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, because all the men had gone to war [laughter] . It was real war.
[Interruption]
LEE KESSLER:
Anyway, you say all the men had gone to war.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. Well, they went very shortly after that. But the main thing is that the Journalism Department at Wesleyan and the newspaper

Page 4
in Macon, Georgia (where Wesleyan is) were very closely allied. And the people at the paper used to come out to the Journalism Department and talk to us and give lectures. And then once a year the Journalism Department put out the paper. And so I had ins; they knew that I had a flair (perhaps a little flair) and interest, and so they gave me this job. So I did this during my sophomore, junior and senior years at college. I would do some little (sometimes just a teensy paragraph), some little human interest story, a tiny little feature.
LEE KESSLER:
Human interest stories are very interesting.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. So it came very natural to me. And then I worked one year as a reporter before I got married, a full-time reporter.
LEE KESSLER:
Is this on the Telegraph?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, I covered the Federal court beat.
No audio recorded on Tape 1, Side B.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
LEE KESSLER:
Let's see; you were telling me about when you were writing for the Telegram, your year as a reporter.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
It's the Telegraph [laughter] .
LEE KESSLER:
Telegraph; excuse me.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. And so then when I was married I gave up my regular job as a reporter on the paper, but I continued to, you know, submit feature stories and do free-lance work. I also did it for one of the papers in Atlanta.
LEE KESSLER:
Which was?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
The Georgian; The Atlanta Georgian, which was a Hearst paper. It's no longer in existence— [laughter] I must have run it into the ground. But anyway, Macon was a wonderful town for news; it just had more news

Page 5
breaking in it than any town in the world. So I made a very good living writing by the yard—I think they paid me ten cents a foot or inch [laughter] . But anyway, it mounted up when you pasted them all together.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, what kinds of stories were you interested in doing then?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I did anything for the Georgian; I did, you know, regular news stories that were breaking in Macon, and especially scandal and murders, and people running away with other women's husbands, and things like that—because the Hearst papers loved scandal.
LEE KESSLER:
Yellow journalism.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
It really was. It was marvelous; really wonderful. And then I continued to do Sunday features. I continued to do a column every Sunday on where I had been and whom I had seen-a very intimate, cozy kind of a column.
LEE KESSLER:
But you weren't doing any real political writing?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No. I did articles at that time for magazines on neighborhood problems in the South, and on lynching. But for The Georgian I didn't; I just did all kind of free-lance writing at this time. And that continued until I moved away from Macon. And it was not until I moved away from Macon that I realized life in Macon was quite unusual. [Interruption] When I moved away from Macon I suddenly realized that life in Macon was quite special. It had been most unusual living there with three children and a nice husband, and in a small middle-sized town in Georgia. So then I decided to write a book covering one year of my life; it was the first thing I'd tried in book form.
LEE KESSLER:
When you moved, where did you move to?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
We moved to Washington, D. C.

Page 6
LEE KESSLER:
And this was in what year?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
We moved in 1934. So I decided to put—it really was a compilation, in a way, of the columns. They were rewritten; but it was a year of my life, and the columns were a great help to me—what I had been doing in that year, what I had been thinking, and whom I had been meeting, all those personal things about what goes on in a small town. That was the first thing I did, was a book that was called As I Live And Breathe. And that was really rather successful. I wrote a novel next.
LEE KESSLER:
I was going to ask you if you had written any fiction.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. I wrote a novel which was also laid in middle Georgia, though I didn't call it Macon. It was laid in Macon, but I gave it a fictitious name. And it was a labor-capital novel; the heroine belonged to the capitalist class, and the hero belonged to the laboring class, and very muchly concerned with the cotton mills, the textile situation—which I knew exceedingly well, because I used to cover the mills when I was a reporter on the paper. And so all that was grist for [laughter] the book.
LEE KESSLER:
Was this novel ever published?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh yes; I never wrote anything that wasn't published [laughter] .
LEE KESSLER:
Oh [laughter] . I'll bet there are a lot of writers who wish they could say the same.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh, really, it's a very happy situation to be in.
LEE KESSLER:
What was the name of it?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
It was called Mingled Yarn. And, as I said, it was all about the textile mills in middle Georgia. And it happened to come out the same week as Gone With The Wind, by the same publishing house (Macmillan), so it was kind of lost. Macmillan couldn't have cared less about it; they were so

Page 7
enthralled with Gone With The Wind (and so was everybody else) that few people ever heard about it. But I reread it every now and then, and I get the feeling I couldn't do it as well now as I did then.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, you know, there are many of your books in the Chapel Hill libraries, but that's not one of them.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, this really is a very adequate picture of struggles in the South of the textile workers, when they were living in those villages, you know, and being paid by script and trading in, you know, the company store—all that business is in there.
LEE KESSLER:
What does the heroine end up doing?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh, you see, she married the hero—a poorly paid newspaper reporter and they had an awful struggle. But she became more and more liberated, more and more enlightened, because the man was so very, very smart and so sincere and earnest in it.
LEE KESSLER:
Did she join in herself?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No. A lot of people think that it was an autobiographical novel, which is so often what writers do first. There was a lot of personal experience in it in the love story, but I never did happen to be the daughter of a cotton mill owner [laughter] —unfortunately. I was poor as practically any laborer in the mills [laughter] , so it wasn't that. And the heroine of the book, of course, was the daughter of the president of a big chain of cotton mills. So it was not autobiographical, but there was a lot that I had learned from personal experience about the cotton mills and what goes on in them, and what people do, how they live. And so that was very helpful; the first person I sent it to was Macmillan Publishing House, which accepted it.
Then I moved from Macon, Georgia—well, we'd already moved when I was writing that book. We were living in Washington, or maybe

Page 8
Richmond, Virginia. Yes, I was living in Richmond. To go back, I started writing this novel because when I took the first book, As I Live and Breathe, to an agent she said nobody would be interested in a year of my living in Macon, Georgia, when nobody'd ever heard of me and nobody'd ever heard of my husband. You have to be somebody of importance, she said, the wife of the president of the United States, or a movie actress or a great stage star or a novelist of some note to get that kind of book published. However, when I got up to leave, determined to go home and write a novel, she said I could leave my manuscript with her and she'd glance over it when she had the time.
LEE KESSLER:
You were going to write a novel?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, a novel. And I had got just about two or three chapters done when I got a letter from her saying she had sold the book. Of course, that was perfectly fine; but since I had started the novel I went on with it until I finished it. Then many years later I did a historical novel on the founding of Georgia; but I must say writing novels is not my forte. I have very little imagination.
LEE KESSLER:
Do you enjoy writing novels?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, not as much as I do writing the informal essay type book. So, as soon as I finished Mingled Yarn I went back to writing the informal essay. You see, by the time it was published, we were living in Kentucky and I realized that life in Kentucky is as different from life in Macon, Georgia, [laughter] as if it were a foreign land [laughter] —it really is. And, too, our economic circumstances had changed tremendously; from the wife of a struggling reporter I was now the wife of the publisher of the Louisville Courier Journal and the Louisville Times. We had much more money.

Page 9
LEE KESSLER:
Well, about how old were you; or about what year was this?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I was in my thirties when we moved. Well, my middle thirties, because then I had another child. I'd just had the baby when I wrote the second book of that kind, called I'll Sing One Song.
LEE KESSLER:
That one I've read. This was when you were in Louisville, though, [unclear].
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
That's about the baby; yes, yes. And also about the whole of life in Kentucky, which really is so romantic; I mean, I still feel that way about it. It's so beautiful, and people live so well [laughter]
LEE KESSLER:
Well, in your book everyone sounds so gracious; it's so kind of nineteenth century and chivalrous.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, yes. And they all have, you know, servants; and they all have seated dinners [laughter] , courses [laughter] —all of those things [laughter] that I certainly wasn't accustomed to, and I haven't been accustomed to them since.
LEE KESSLER:
Have you been beagling in a long time?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No [laughter] , no. All this, you see … I never had heard of beagling, as you could tell from the book. This was the second book I had written based on that same idea of a year of living, you see.
LEE KESSLER:
Your personal recollections?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Personal things. Then the third one I did was still of that kind, and this was called This Little Pig Stayed Home, which was about what went on in Louisville, Kentucky, during the Second World War. And I suppose that's my favorite book.
LEE KESSLER:
Is it?

9A page
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. And it's in the same style as As I Live and Breathe and I'll Sing One Song. I took a year of living during the war. So many people have forgotten what went on in that

Page 10
year of living; well, I mean like sugar and meat, you know, you had to buy with coupons and all that, and riding buses and rolling Red Cross bandages. There's just all personal living in what I wrote.
LEE KESSLER:
So you would write every day and then…
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. Well, I would not always write every day, but I would, you know, make notes or keep it in mind. Because sometimes you'd have to have enough collections to make even one chapter. I mean, for instance, you couldn't have a chapter on just struggling to make desserts; that wouldn't make but about two or three paragraphs. You'd have to have enough experiences for a whole chapter on the problems of getting enough food on the table, you know, at that time; and then a whole chapter on heating, the problems of heating, you know, and the gas shortage. I didn't write every day, but I kept full… I didn't make notes either, but I just kept remembering what I would write some day. Then after the war, I began traveling a good bit. And so when I would travel I would still try to write, you know, what happened to me in my travels. When I write a travel book I don't write about the country; I write about me in that country. [Interruption]
LEE KESSLER:
You were saying that when you go to a foreign country you write about your experiences.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
It's all personal; it's the people whom I meet, and the things that happen to me on the streets, and the sights I see and all those things. I keep it just as personal as I can be. There's just the change of locale [laughter] ; I'm still writing about my own personal experiences, so it comes quite easy. So I've done a lot of those, as you know. I did one on Greece, It's Greek to Me, and the next one was on Israel and the Arab world—which is more serious than any of them, because it's such a serious situation. But it's

Page 11
absolutely right now. You can read it and you know exactly what's going on in Israel and the Arab world today; I'm very proud [laughter] of that fact. Right then I knew it was a very, very serious problem, and that it would take years to get it straightened out. The book itself fell between—what do you say when something falls between two— [laughter] —yes, two stools … because the Arabs thought I was much too pro-Israel, and the Israelis thought I was much too pro-Arab, which makes me feel that it was as fair as you could be. And the president of the American College in Beirut, Dr. Stephen B. Penrose, who had been there for many, many years, says it's the fairest exposition of the Arab-Israel question that he ever read, which is a great compliment to me. And the only time I ever [laughter] say anything kind about my books is when I tell about this one, because when people read it I so want them to know it really is a fair book; it's really honest, just as honest as I could be about the situation. And it still holds up today; I wouldn't change a line in it if I had to rewrite it. I can't say that about everything [laughter] ; I'd like to change a lot in some books. [laughter]
Then I did one, you know, on Russia. Then I did another one on the whole East world: the Arab world, Iran Turkey and and Egypt—it covers much more ground than the Arab-Israel one.
LEE KESSLER:
Well now, there are two books on the Middle East: Going to Jerusalem, and there's Yeast in the Middle East.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, and Going to Jerusalem is the one on the Arab-Israel problem itself; very little about other countries in it, though a good bit of the Arab world is in it (but not in great detail).
LEE KESSLER:
But that is not an autobiographical…
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, it's about what happened to me in Israel and what I

Page 12
learned in Israel, and about my travels. I write about, you know, traveling all over Israel with General Moshe Dyan for instance, in a Jeep. It's personal as it can be, but it's not as light; I try to usually be as amusing as possible and as light as possible.
LEE KESSLER:
You usually succeed very well in the two of them.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, thank you very much; that's terribly kind. But it didn't work in Going to Jerusalem. I mean, there just was so much seriousness in the Israel-Arab world. To be light about a situation you have to know it anyway; I mean, you have to go into the background. When I was in Greece I knew a lot about Greece and the takeover of the country by the Communists, which they were trying to do. But I didn't go into it in detail; it just seemed to me out of place in the type of book I was writing. But I had to know it [laughter]; I had to find out everything.
LEE KESSLER:
Before you went to a different country did you study about it?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No. I don't study about it beforehand; I find that it comes so much more brilliantly to me (I mean brightly, clearly) if I don't know about it.
LEE KESSLER:
From experience.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
It comes as such a, you know, surprise; it's not old hat. I'm afraid if I read too much about it, I'd already know what to expect. I go as ignorant as ignorant [laughter] (which isn't hard for me) [laughter]. I was completely ignorant about Greece when I went there, and I was certainly ignorant about Russia (though I had done a biography of a Russian woman before I went).
LEE KESSLER:
That was Nila wasn't it?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. And so Russia didn't seem as strange to me as it

Page 13
would have if I hadn't done the biography of her first.
LEE KESSLER:
How long were you in Russia?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
We were given permission to stay only about four weeks, which had me terribly worried before we went for I was afraid not enough would happen to me in that brief time to provide material for a book. Writing my type book is not like writing the history of the country, which I could read up on, or writing about the leaders—Khrushchev was the head man then—or about the working of the Communist Party. The kind of book I was going to write was what happened to me and Nila on the trip. So to be sure of having enough material, Nila and I took a Polish ship out of Montreal. And sure enough, we had a lot of interesting experiences on ship board which were connected with Russia because on board were many Poles who had fled from Poland when Russia invaded their country and after all these years in the United States and Canada were going back, having been promised amnesty by the Communist Party.
LEE KESSLER:
Now this was what year, that you went to Russia?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh, my dear child … [laughter]
LEE KESSLER:
Approximately [laughter] Was it in the fifties?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. It was in the fifties—the late fifties. I remember when the book came out it was 1959, at the very time that Khrushchev was in the United States, banging his shoe on the table at the United Nations—you know, damning everybody and everything American. He behaved so terribly and made everybody so mad that in spite of Simon and Schuster having sent me to do the book and paid all of my and Nila's expenses and the reviews being marvelous—the editor of the Christian Science Monitor wrote a rave review; he said it was the only fun book he had ever read about Russia—the publishers just quietly let it drop. They didn't give it one line of advertising or do anything else to promote it. They said they didn't

Page 14
think the American public was ready for a happy book about Russia.
LEE KESSLER:
But you had been commissioned to write it?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes.
LEE KESSLER:
I had the impression that it was only when Mark had assignments out of the country that you went.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
That was true, except for this one time. This time I left him home. But the final result was disappointing. I felt terribly unhappy about the poor sale of the book. But, anyway, I do enjoy writing that type book. I think, I've done … how many? I've done two on the Arab-Israeli world—one's called There's Yeast in the Middle East, as you said—then I did one on Turkey, Let's Talk Turkey; one on Greece and the one on Russia, Russian Duet. I believe that's all …
LEE KESSLER:
And since then you've done some more memoirs?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, I did one about the grandchildren and foolish grandparents, which was called I Just Happen to Have Some Pictures—the editor of Vanguard asked me to write that one. Then the last book was what you might call "memoirs"—Side by Each. But before I did that I did a biography of John Wesley during his months in Savannah.
LEE KESSLER:
Yes, this is Strange Fires.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, Strange Fires.
LEE KESSLER:
How did you become interested in John Wesley?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, I first became interested in him when I was doing research for the novel I planned to write on the founding of Georgia with General Oglethorpe as the leading character (at the time he wasn't a general, of course, but Mr. Oglethorpe.) And I kept running across

14A page
John Wesley in my research; very mysterious references to an allconsuming love affair he had during those twenty-one months he had spent in Georgia. Naturally, this piqued my curiosity and I began reading all that I could find out about him. In the first draft of the Oglethorpe book, I had a great deal in it about him—much, much too much.

Page 15
book originally.
LEE KESSLER:
Which book was the Oglethorpe book?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
It was called Summer Thunder; it's a novel, a historical novel. When I finished the first draft, I realized that I'd lost the theme of Mr. Oglethorpe founding and saving Georgia (which was a very noble idea that he had, about founding Georgia) because John Wesley was so much more interesting a character than Oglethorpe. And I also realized that to explain really what happened to Wesley while he was in Georgia would take a book by itself. So then I took him out of the Oglethorpe book, except where he had impinged on events during the time of the Oglethorpe regime and had affected the founding of the colony.
So then I had all this tremendous amount of material on Wesley left, you see, and I went on and did more research trying to understand that man, who was the most complicated man. And then I did the book on him, the biography—which is straight biography. I mean, every word of it's true, though a lot of people can't believe it.
LEE KESSLER:
Yes, on Wesley.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I first did it as a historical novel. And then the publisher said, "If it's true, as you say, why don't you write it as straight biography instead of trying to do it as a historical novel, because nobody's going to believe it unless you [laughter] do it as a straight biography—it's so perfectly amazing what happened to him." So then I had to do that book completely over, and take out all the little imaginings I had done in it and all the imaginary conversations. There's not a word of conversation in that book that's not directly out of John Wesley's mouth. A lot of people when they do biographies make up conversations but I just didn't feel that was right.

Page 16
LEE KESSLER:
Was it very demanding?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, it was a very difficult book to do. It took me, I would say, three or four years to write Strange Fires. But that's how I happened to write it. And I'm not a Methodist, but I had Methodist forebears and I went to Wesleyan. But it really came about because of my interest in Georgia and the founding of Georgia, which I thought was a very good story.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, during your writing career, has your husband been very supportive of what you tried to do?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, he doesn't interfere with it in any way [laughter] . He never helps me in any way.
LEE KESSLER:
Does he read what you write?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
After I've finished. And this is a true story. I'm always embarrassed for him to see what I've written, and so often I don't even show it to him at all. But after I'd written the novel on James Oglethorpe I was very nervous about it, because it's not, as I said, it's not really what I enjoy doing most is writing novels. And I do have a limited imagination; this I recognize. But anyway I gave it to him to read one Sunday morning; it was ready to go off to the publisher. And he sat downstairs and read it in the library, and I locked myself upstairs in the bedroom. I was completely unnerved and didn't come out all day long. And finally I heard him about nine or ten o'clock that night coming upstairs, and I just shook with apprehension over what he was going to say. And he walked in and he said, "There's a page missing." And that's all he ever did say! So you can see what he thought of it, I'm afraid. [Interruption]
LEE KESSLER:
You were telling me about Mark's approval or non-approval of your writing.

Page 17
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh, well that's the only thing I ever knew. He never reads anything I write until after I've finished it. I don't want him to, because if he disliked it it might stop me from going on; it would be really a block.
LEE KESSLER:
You figure by the time you've finished it it's too late [laughter].
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
It's too late; it's too late. And he usually just says, you know, "It's all right." And sometimes he'll say it's good [laughter]. But he doesn't suggest anything, unfortunately; I wish he would, because he's so good.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, if you don't write for a while does he ever say, "Willie, why don't you write something?"
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, no, no, no. He's perfectly happy if I don't write. [laughter]. Men like to be first always, you know, and like to just be
LEE KESSLER:
Did you have to be, do you have to be very supportive of what he does?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh, I always tried to be very supportive of what he did, and very enthusiastic about what he did, yes. And he never seemed to mind my writing except if things went wrong. Like one time he said to me when the house got to getting darker and darker, he said, "Now if I were you tomorrow," he said, "I would not write on my book. I would have ‘change light bulbs day’." [laughter] It's because I just… If things go wrong in the house he, you know, always would blame it on the fact that I was involved in a book. But he's really quite lenient about my shortcomings as a housekeeper and a cook, and puts up with all that. And I'm sure he feels all right about my writing; he never has disheartened me [laughter] in any way.
LEE KESSLER:
He hasn't taken a special pride in it? It's just something you do?

Page 18
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, it's just something I do, yes [laughter] . As far as I know he has never taken any pride in it [laughter] ; it's not noticeable [laughter] .
LEE KESSLER:
Now have you ever had any problems getting something published?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, the first book, you know, I wrote, I thought I'd go from place to place selling it. And I took it to New York in my arms in a box (I was going to New York anyway), and was going to go from publisher to publisher with it when I met a friend of Mark's on the street who asked me what I was doing. And I told him. He said I shouldn't do that; the best thing to do was to get an agent. They would know what kind of material the publishers liked. And so he gave me the name of an agent, and that was a great help. I went directly to an agent; and I've always worked through an agent ever since.
LEE KESSLER:
So you haven't gotten your manuscripts back?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
And I think that's very discouraging to writers. I never even want to hear from my manuscripts when they've gone off. I've done very little short stuff in my time—you know, articles—since I started writing books. In fact, I don't believe I've ever written an article or a short story. So I only have to be accepted as a book manuscript, and I've only done that, you see, fifteen times [laughter] . So it's not like I was trying to sell magazine stuff. And I wish now I had tried to sell some of my informal essay stuff as articles. But I was always so intent on finishing a book or making it into a book that I never did take the time to send it off, you know, in pieces.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, did you decide to write books after you had the children, or was it in the back of your mind for a long time?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, I never thought about writing a book until after I'd had

Page 19
the first three children. And, as I said, I never thought about it until I moved away from Macon. And I suppose it was part of homesickness; I was living in Washington, D.C.
Oh, I did do some magazine writing, for Good Housekeeping; I forgot about that. I did articles. Once we lived in New York for about a year, when Mark was getting experience as a reporter.
LEE KESSLER:
Was this when he was on the Sun, the New York Sun?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes … and quite young. I just had one child. And I wrote about an article every month for Good Housekeeping magazine.
LEE KESSLER:
Were they all domestic?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No. The first one I did I was still living in Macon, Georgia. And the governor of Georgia appointed a woman as a senator, a Mrs. Felton. She was the first woman senator. And so I went up to Cartersville, Georgia where she lived and did a magazine sketch of her, a full-length sketch of her life. I never had sent anything off before. I like to tell this story, because so many people think you have to have a drag or you have to know somebody, or somebody has to know you. And I sent it off to Good Housekeeping magazine. They'd never heard of me; I'd never submitted anything before. And within a week I had a telegram saying, "Please get photographs and pictures"—which I hadn't taken or anything—"to go with the article." So if it's something a magazine wants it doesn't make any difference if they ever heard of you or not. And right shortly after that we moved to New York; this was early in our lives.
LEE KESSLER:
It must have been around, what, 1925?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
It was 1921 … no 1922. So when we moved to New York I went to see the editor of the Good Housekeeping magazine. He was upset as he

Page 20
could be when I informed him I had moved to New York; said he had plenty of writers in New York, but no writers in Georgia. [laughter]. But nevertheless he told me to go ahead and try my hand at anything I'd like to do.
LEE KESSLER:
How long did you talk with Mrs. Felton? Was it just a brief kind of interview?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, I was there…
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
LEE KESSLER:
Was it a short or a long interview?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, it was all day. I spent all day, and had lunch and all afternoon after that.
LEE KESSLER:
Did she talk to you much about her views on the Negroes?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
It's been so long ago, I cannot possibly remember, and I don't have a copy of it either. I'm not the kind that keeps anything; isn't that awful? I don't have the copy of any of my articles or any of my magazine stories, newspaper columns or anything, and letters. [laughter] I feel perfectly awful that I haven't kept some letters.
LEE KESSLER:
Nobody's ever going to be able to do your biography [unclear].
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Isn't it amazing that people save letters? I'm so amazed when I read Ann Morrow's last two books; you know, just all letters, letters, letters. Her letters to her mother, her mother kept; her mother's letters to her, she kept; her sisters, friends… I never have kept a letter. [laughter] No, I just never have thought they'd be important or interesting to anybody else.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, when Miss Hall asked me to come up here and talk with you, one of the things she wanted me to ask you about was some of your magazine

Page 21
articles, and specifically one that you wrote for The Nation. You probably might have a hard time…
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I used to do articles for The Nation and for a magazine called The Outlook, and they were all to do with lynching or Negro problems.
LEE KESSLER:
Now I know that you were part of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes.
LEE KESSLER:
How did you get involved in that? Where did you hear about it?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, I don't know how I got involved in it, except I was doing articles all the time about it. The problems of the poor whites and the Negroes, you know, striving for rungs on the same ladder, that's what caused all that bitter feeling. I mean, you never found well-to-do people out lynching. It was always people who were bitterly jealous of the Negro. And I remember doing one on that subject in The Outlook or The Nation. And you know, I was awarded a whole year's fellowship in Germany for my interest in the minority problem. They wanted me to study for a year just before Hitler went into power, the minorities in Germany, because of my interest in the Negro problem in the South. But I don't remember, there used to be a magazine called Review of Reviews, I believe. This is so long ago, my dear, and so much has happened to me since [laughter] I can't possibly… But I know they were all on the problem of the blacks in the South … and the poor whites! I wrote about the poor whites as much as I did about the blacks, because they were so involved together, really.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, were you heavily active in the Association?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I used to go to the meetings, and I used to make speeches whenever I had a chance or audience to make a speech on this subject.

Page 22
LEE KESSLER:
Did you know Jessie Daniel Ames?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh yes, of course, she was the president. Yes. I don't remember very much about her, though. The meetings were always, it seems to me, in Atlanta, and I used to have to go to Atlanta. And not so long ago a woman sent me an article that I had written in the Macon Telegraph about going to a meeting in Atlanta, to the Anti-Lynching meeting. It was in my regular column that I used to write every Sunday. And I was so surprised; I didn't remember having ever done that [laughter]. She found it in Chapel Hill. This woman wrote me from California, and she'd been here researching. She was doing a book, she said, on the women's struggle against lynching in the South, and she had found this article in the library in Chapel Hill. And I thought, "Isn't that something, to go all the way around [laughter] from California to Chapel Hill, and then go back to California and write me, and want me to send pictures of myself at that period, and pictures of my husband and also pictures of the house I lived in." And I had to write her. I said, "I don't have a picture of myself at that period or of my husband, and the house has been torn down." [laughter] So I haven't heard from her since [laughter].
LEE KESSLER:
I remember from one of your books your saying that you didn't have a camera; in fact, you didn't want to have a camera.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, no.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, what was Jessie Daniel Ames like as a leader? Was she very autocratic?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
As I said, it's such old, old history … this was in the twenties, you know; that's fifty years ago. I can't remember what happened fifty days ago, much less fifty years ago. No, I'd make a terrible witness.

Page 23
I'm sure she was fine [laughter] ; I never have heard anything against her that I would really remember. I just remember going to the meetings and being very excited about it, and trying really to do something about lynching—which was a horrible scar and scourage. We had had a lynching near Macon which was just awful. And then I was living in Georgia, you see, during the Frank trial and all that business. I felt very strongly about it, but I don't remember about Miss Ames very much.
LEE KESSLER:
Well I know this is probably a hard question to answer, because it's sometimes hard to remember what you felt so long ago, but what were your reasons to be against lynching? Was it because it was in violation of law and order?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes.
LEE KESSLER:
Or because it was an example of racism?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, I felt about it on both scores very, very strongly. Of course it's against all law and order. But also, the people who were being lynched weren't given a fair trial. And I never heard of a white person being lynched in our part of the world; it was always a black. And it always had something to do with … well, with just ill feeling, just jealousy or meanness of whites.
Yet in those days, you know, way back there, I'm shocked at myself when I read As I Live And Breathe, how unconscious I was about the injustice to the blacks. I wrote a lot about the blacks in As I Live And Breathe, but always just as if they were, you know, neighbors and friends. I never thought about how sad and tragic their lives were. I was completely unconscious socially [laughter] , if you know what I mean. I grew up, you know, in that environment.

Page 24
LEE KESSLER:
When did you become aware that things weren't all that fine and dandy?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well I must have when I began working for Anti-Lynching. But I wasn't as conscious as I could have been about the poverty of those people, and the fact that the schools… [Interruption] I don't know, it just dawned on me during the years, because I certainly didn't grow up with it. Never troubled about it terrifically until the movement started against lynching. So I can't say how it developed.
LEE KESSLER:
You don't remember any one incident sort of…
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Setting me off?
LEE KESSLER:
Yes.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, I remember one terrible lynching that was near Macon which so horrified me, but whether that set me off or I had already been set off, I really don't know. It's awful to be so stupid. Things happen so gradually, I think, to you; you change in life, don't you think, usually?
LEE KESSLER:
You don't remember where you were emotionally before.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
It certainly all had to happen in Georgia, because I never saw any of those problems in Kentucky. But in Georgia I lived so close; the blacks lived all up and down the alleys, you know, behind the houses. I don't know whether you know how it is or not, but all the alleys behind the houses are full of blacks, in the finest neighborhoods. So you just see them all the time, and you think that's where they belong, you know. You never think, "Well, why should they live there and I live on the front." [laughter]
LEE KESSLER:
I remember when I read As I Live And Breathe kind of wondering about that, because that seemed to be your attitude then.

Page 25
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. I was perfectly unconscious of the unfairness of this. Isn't that something? I wasn't ever mean to any of them; they were just copy, really. Isn't that terrible? I feel awful about it [laughter] . And I have such social conscious children; I don't know how they got so. I've got one daughter who's just absolutely rabid on the problem of…
LEE KESSLER:
Is this your older daughter?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, my third child, Georgia. And I've got such liberal sons, you know, and all that. I think they must get it from their father.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, were you ever a member of any other anti-lynching groups?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, that's the only one I ever… I always belonged to the Urban League; I was head of the Urban League, I mean belonged to the Urban League, in Kentucky. And that was trying to make life more comfortable for Negroes, and all that. But I don't believe I've ever belonged to any other organizations. [Interruption]
LEE KESSLER:
You were telling me about when you were in the Urban League, that you were the head of the Urban League.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, I wasn't the head of it. I said I was, but then I remembered I just belonged to the Urban League many years in Kentucky. I don't remember ever doing anything else. I always belonged to the League of Women Voters all my life. I've done very little, really; I've been very selfish. Writing makes you selfish, you know. You have to write, and writing takes so much time, as you must know. And it's a lonely thing to do; you do it by yourself. And when you're writing you pay no attention to anybody else or anything else. It's really a very selfish kind of a business, I think.
LEE KESSLER:
It's all you do.

Page 26
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, it's all you do, you see. And until lately, until after Mark had his stroke, I wrote all the time. I mean, I wrote every day, usually, unless I was traveling or building a house. But if there wasn't something really vitally important going on in my life, such as traveling or giving birth [laughter] to a baby or having a wedding in the family, I was writing. Only during the war did I really plunge into selling war bonds, you know, and rolling bandages and making speeches and all that kind of thing. Oh, and war relief; I headed up Russian war relief for five years in Kentucky. Sent carloads and carloads of food—one time sixteen freight car loads. And if you've never loaded a freight car, you've got something to do! It is unbelievably huge, a freight car! But anyway, during the war that was different; I mean, you plunged in. I forgot about writing, except getting those ideas for This Little Pig Stayed Home. And I didn't do that until practically the war was over. So I've done very little, really; I'm always embarrassed when I look at my biography in Who's Who. There's no great cause.
LEE KESSLER:
Stay at home?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes.
LEE KESSLER:
Now I also was told that you belonged to the YWCA for many years.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I don't think so; I don't remember ever belonging to the YWCA. I suppose I did at one time in Macon, Georgia; I belonged to everything in Macon, Georgia, when I first married. But I don't remember. That's before I was writing a book [laughter] ; if I did, it was before I was involved in writing.
LEE KESSLER:
After you starting writing you sort of…
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I don't remember doing anything really for the YWCA. It's

Page 27
a good cause [laughter] , but I just don't remember doing…
LEE KESSLER:
As I was listening to a tape that Charles did with your husband, your husband mentioned that he worked on the Columbus Inquirer-Sun for a year. Did he or both of you happen to know Julian and Julia Harris?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I knew them both. But, you see, that was before I was married that he worked on the Columbus papers. I just knew them at Georgia conventions, newspaper conventions, not a bit well.
LEE KESSLER:
You didn't know her well?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No.
LEE KESSLER:
Do you have any impressions?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, not at all. I remember her very, very vaguely.
LEE KESSLER:
I wanted to ask you some questions about your own background. That's something you don't talk about much in your books, is your parents and your siblings, and what kind of a family you came from.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
My mother was one of twelve children.
LEE KESSLER:
And your mother's name?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Was Georgia Cubbedge, C-u-b-b-e-d-g-e, Cubbedge; it's a very difficult name. And I knew her for a long, long time; she lived to be a hundred and three months old.
LEE KESSLER:
Oh, for heaven's sakes.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. So I knew her quite, quite well, and was devoted to her. And she was a very, very strong character; and she came from south

Page 28
Georgia. But my father died when I was quite young. Well, I was fifteen years old. But somehow I never had been very close to him. He traveled a good bit; he did all kinds of things. He was always very ambitious, and kept leaving jobs to get better jobs.
LEE KESSLER:
What kind of jobs was he involved in?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, at one time he owned a drugstore; and then somebody stole him blind, somebody working in the store, I think. And then he was a country editor in a little town near Savannah, Georgia. And then for some years he was a salesman—a traveling salesman. But anyway, I somehow wasn't … I suppose he was so busy making a living that I wasn't very close to him. After he died … he left enough for us all to be educated and to be clothed [laughter] and fed, until we could make a living for ourselves. So he had done fairly well, as far as that was concerned. And my mother never held a job of any kind. But she had her hands full rearing … there were four of us, that she never talked very much about his family. And it's unbelievable to most people, and I really think this is so shocking of me, that a year ago, a year and a half ago, I got a letter from a woman in South Carolina, president I believe of the Daughters of the Revolution or, maybe, of the Colonial Dames asking me to write a biography of a man named Jeremiah Snow. And I wrote back a rather snippy letter saying that, you know, I didn't write as a … Writing was a profession with me; it was not—what's the opposite of a profession, when you do something?
LEE KESSLER:
A hobby.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
A hobby; no, there was another word I used.
LEE KESSLER:
Avocation?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Avocation, and that I'd never heard of this gentleman, and I

Page 29
just couldn't take the time to do this biography. Turned out to be my grandfather! Now, if you can imagine… But I've always been completely disinterested in my background, because it seemed to me, you know, you're here to do what you can yourself and to make the best of your own life and the life of the people whom you touch and with whom you associate and can influence. And that's gone, whom you were. And I have been asked to join the Colonial Dames once, and I thought, to take all that time to look up all those old people who were dead! No, it's something that's completely left out of me, my background. I suppose I'm confident of the fact that I came from good people; maybe I would worry if I wasn't. But it does humiliate me, the fact that I didn't know my grandfather on my father's side, because my mother just never talked about him, and they all lived in South Carolina and we lived in Georgia. And she was busy bringing us up and making ends meet and making our clothes, and she never took us to see father's relatives in South Carolina. And if Father ever talked about his father to me, I just was too young to be interested and paid no attention. Now some people, you know, are just crazy about background. And when I used to do research, which I've done months at a time researching on Oglethorpe and on John Wesley, I've seen all these women in those libraries looking up their families. And I thought, "How dull, and how conceited they must be, to care all that about their forbears. That's the reason I've never written about mine. [laughter] , I've never been the least bit interested. Isn't that awful?
LEE KESSLER:
Well, I don't think that's…
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
How I happened to find out that I had done this awful thing, a first cousin called me

Page 30
from South Carolina. I have innumerable cousins in South Carolina from the Snow family, because my father was one of … well, [laughter] I'm not sure.
LEE KESSLER:
You must be …
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, I'm sure. He had two brothers and three sisters. But anyway, the cousin called up and said she could never look anybody in the face again. She couldn't go out her front door, she was so humiliated at my ignorance. They were unveiling a monument or a tablet to my grandfather; he was a great Methodist preacher, evidently, and they were unveiling this historic marker. That's why they wanted me to write the biography—to read at the unveiling. And so she said she couldn't go out again. They invited me to come to the unveiling, but I wouldn't go; [laughter] I just was too embarrassed to go there. But as soon as this was over I immediately forgot that grandfather again, because that is past, you know. And there's so much, it seems to me, to interest you now and to be concerned about now and worry about—with all those fourteen grandchildren I have, and four children. I just think ancestors are something that you can't do anything about anymore. They're past.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, not to go quite so far in the immediate past, then: what kind of a person was your mother, and what hopes did she have for you? You were her only daughter, right?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, I was the only daughter. She was a very strong, very strong character, and a very strict person. I don't believe she was particularly ambitious for me to ever become anybody special like a writer or evangelist or great singer or anything. She just hoped I would be, you know, a good Baptist girl [laughter] . I had to go to church four and five times every Sunday. I went to Sunday school, and then church, every morning. And I

Page 31
went in the afternoons; from the time I was fifteen or sixteen I used to go out to the Masonic Home and teach little children Sunday school. And then I went to the Baptist young people's meeting at six or six thirty. And then I went to church at night. I went five times every Sunday to church.
LEE KESSLER:
And did your mother go too?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh, my mother, of course she went all the time. She was a great, great Baptist, pillar of the church. But she never was able to whip me into it. I finally joined the church, 'cause I had a beautiful black beaver hat—it really was beaver, and had white plumes on it. And I thought I'd never look better than I did that Sunday [laughter] , so I joined the church. But I never had any great conviction; that's sad, you know. I'd love to believe like she believed. It must be a terrific comfort, to think that somebody's guiding you and telling you what to do and how to do it. I just miss it dreadfully, but I just never have been able to convince myself of it.
LEE KESSLER:
I think some people just don't.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No. She was determined that all of us would go to college.
LEE KESSLER:
You included?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh yes. She never had any idea of my not going to college. None of us went away to college, because my brothers went to Mercer University (in Macon) and I went right across the street. We lived facing the Wesleyan campus, so I didn't get very far. [Laughter] And she would sit up for me at night when I started dating; she never let me have a date until near the end of my senior year in in high school until I met Mark, just as I was finishing my junior year—I mean my senior year in high school.
And I was never allowed to spend the night out with anybody in my life when I was young

Page 32
because I had to be under that house roof every night; she had to know where I was. And then when I did start dating, she always sat right inside the front door until I got home at night.
LEE KESSLER:
Was she as cautious with your brothers?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, not that I know of; I don't remember her being cautious with them. I had my hands full [laughter] with her being cautious with me. The minute I hit the bottom step of the porch (we had five or six steps up to the porch) that door was opened. I never was able to tell a man or boy goodnight alone; she was right there, waiting for me.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, did you ever date anyone other than Mark?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh yes, I dated a lot of people, because Mark went away to the war. He was gone almost three years—no, he was gone two full years. We weren't engaged officially; I was just sixteen when he went away to the war, so it was just…
LEE KESSLER:
Did you already have your heart set?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh yes, I was very much in love with him, and we pretty well had an understanding about it. But, you know, anything can happen at that age, and especially if he's gone to war—and to France, of all places [laughter].
LEE KESSLER:
You weren't too wild about that?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No. But he was gone until I was ending up my junior year in college, so I dated a lot of people in that time.
LEE KESSLER:
And no one ever gave him any competition really?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, I liked some people very well, but not seriously. No, no; he was it, he really was. And we've been married now fifty-four years.
LEE KESSLER:
You know, you've only been married four years longer than my parents.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Really? It's a long time, you know. But you see now, I knew

Page 33
Mark five full years before we were married, so in fifty-nine years I have been really almost practically devoted to him. Isn't that something?
LEE KESSLER:
What was it that attracted you to him?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, he was terribly attractive-looking. You wouldn't know it now, because, you know, when you get to be in your seventies, late seventies, you don't have that… He had the brightest and liveliest blue eyes I ever saw and, you know, the most intellectual face, and clean and upright. And, you know, I don't think the young understand it now, but when we were growing up I never had any problem about a date drinking in my life; we never thought about anybody taking a drink. Isn't it amazing, that now everybody I know drinks the minute they're able to hold a glass [laughter] , practically. But no, he didn't drink, and he was clever and smart (you could tell that), interesting always to talk to. So it was very easy; he was completely superior to anybody else I knew.
LEE KESSLER:
Except he wouldn't dance.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh. [laughter]. But I didn't either, you know; I never was allowed to dance, you know, when I grew up.
LEE KESSLER:
As a Baptist?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
As the daughter of my Momma; I don't know whether it was because she was a Baptist or not. But anyway, she made me promise when I was quite young (I must have been eight or nine or ten old years)… All my friends were going to dancing class and learning to, you know, bow and skip and things, and I was crazy to go to dancing class. And she said I could go if I promised I'd never dance with a boy. And so I promised, like a jackass, and I lived up to it until after I had three children. And all my friends were dancing, of course; all of them were allowed to go—

Page 34
well, in that time they were all married and dancing. But all of my life I was never allowed to go to a university weekend at Georgia or Tech or anywhere, because the dancing there. And then I couldn't go away from home anyway. So I grew up in the strictest sense. But after three children I went to see my mother and asked her would she mind if I danced——is this in the book Side By Each?—and she said it wasn't up to her then; it was up to my husband. And so I asked Mark if he minded if I danced with a man, and he said (like a damn fool) he didn't mind [laughter] —which he has regretted ever since, you know.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, I remember in the book it says that you don't sing in his choruses and he doesn't dance in stag lines.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
[laughter] No, he certainly does not. I don't remember saying this at all, but that's true, He loves to sing, and he has messed up many a dancing party by getting everybody around the piano to sing when I wanted to dance. But there was no stopping him; I think there are more people who really would rather sing than dance. I think it's so; he always has a singing session if we have a party.
LEE KESSLER:
Well now, when you were going to Wesleyan what were your brothers doing? They're all younger than you?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. Well, one brother is just thirteen months younger, and he was in Mercer. And I suppose my other brothers were still in high school or going to Mercer too. Then my brother was graduated quite young from Mercer because he studied very hard, and he wanted to be a lawyer before he was eligible to be a lawyer, before he was twenty-one. And he wanted me to move up my age so he could be twenty-one; and I said, "No, I will drop down and let you go ahead of me [laughter] ; you be twenty-one and I'll drop down."

Page 35
But he became a lawyer as soon as he was twenty-one years old. And my middle brother bought a small laundry, a small pants-pressing. Mark calls him my pants-pressing brother because he's very successful; he owned laundries all over the state of Georgia and some in Florida. He became a business man. And my younger brother didn't finish Mercer, for some reason; not because Mother wasn't trying to make him go, but he just wasn't interested in studying particularly. And he also went into the business with my brother, the laundry business, in Augusta, Georgia. So they've always… He hated it, he said, he despised it; but anyway he did it. But that's all.
LEE KESSLER:
How do they think about you?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh, they're very alive. My brother's very happy and very successful, the one who's a lawyer in Macon, Georgia. And his son last year was president of the Georgia Bar Association, which they were thrilled about. And they do a great deal of traveling and all that. But they just accept me just like I am and…
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[TAPE 3, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
LEE KESSLER:
When you were growing up, how did you think of yourself as a female creature, rather than…?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I didn't think about myself. I was a very (well, I don't mean this to be bragging), I was always a very outgoing, you know, person, crazy about playing. In fact, my nickname when I was a child was "Let's play." When I lived in Georgia, the minute I would arrive at my friends' houses, I would say "Let's play," and they would say, "Here comes ‘Let's play.’ " [laughter] I always played; I mean, I was always active. That's one reason I don't write better now: I never have been able to sit down and, you know, muse and

Page 36
contemplate and be an introvert, thinking about myself or what I feel. I didn't think about whether I was a gal or a boy; I mean…
LEE KESSLER:
Did you feel any limitations because you were a girl?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No; it never crossed my mind one way or the other. I really have done very little thinking [laughter] . If I wake up in the night—you know, a lot of people think in the night—well, if I wake up I begin thinking of all the things I should have done and didn't do, and all the mistakes I've made and the opportunities I've missed. And I get terribly blue. So immediately when I wake up—in fact, I make myself wake up sometimes, I mean when I'm thinking kind of halfway asleep—and start reading. I turn on a light and begin to read, because I get depressed when I think about, you know, all I've left undone…
LEE KESSLER:
Missed opportunities.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
… and all the missed opportunities I've had, and the wrong things I've said. I'm a great one for saying the wrong things. Oh, I do. When I mean to be pleasant I say some things that are not pleasant. I think things are amusing sometimes, and I tell people about themselves or something that they've said that I've thought was amusing, and could see, you know, it wasn't amusing to them at all.
LEE KESSLER:
Wrong thing to say!
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Man, they're horrified that I remembered it or it had caught my attention. So, no, I'm not introspective, I never gave a thought about myself when I was growing up.
LEE KESSLER:
In view of the year that you were born, did you vote in the first election?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, I voted. I wrote an article, you see, when I was twenty-one;

Page 37
I was twenty-one with the year (I was twenty-one at '21). Well, no, I was twenty-one, I was ready to vote whenever the election came in. When did it come in? Well, whenever it did I did an article, I remember that, for the Macon Telegraph about it, about my experience in voting, you know—what it felt like.
LEE KESSLER:
Did you work for suffrage at all?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, I couldn't have; I didn't work with suffrage. I was rather young; it came in a long time ago. I was old enough to vote, I mean, but I hadn't cared about it one way or the other. And my mother certainly didn't care about it one way or the other.
LEE KESSLER:
Did she ever vote?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, oh she voted; that was part of her Christian duty She was a great Christian, I'm telling you; she just was good as she could be. Yes, she voted. And we always were liberals; we always were Democrats. In fact, I never knew a Republican socially [laughter] until I left Georgia.
LEE KESSLER:
Did you ever have servants in your home when you were growing up?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes. Well, not after my father died; I don't remember ever having… My mother did all the housework. We had a nice home, but I don't remember ever having any help except, you know, to do the washing—which we just took out in the alley to somebody in the alley who did the washing. No, we didn't have servants. But I very fortunately, from the time I was married and had babies and I was writing and doing columns and things, I had always had somebody—as you know from As I Live And Breathe. And I've always had help, practically, except just now and then for a week or two—one horrible week [laughter] . I've been very blessed about that.
LEE KESSLER:
Well now, I know you say you're not introspective, but what was

Page 38
your attitude towards blacks when you were a teenager? How did you perceive them? As basically the same as yourself but with different skin, or sort of different?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, I never thought about them at all; as I said, I was just perfectly unconscious of the fact that… I suppose I felt like my mother did and Mark's mother, both of them, felt. They felt they were made black by God, you know, as a punishment long ago, and they were supposed to be hewers of wood and drawers of water, you know, like they say in the Bible, and that they were supposed to be, you know…
LEE KESSLER:
And you didn't find any difficulty with these ideas?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Not when I was young. I never thought about it one way or the other.
LEE KESSLER:
What did you think about educational opportunities for blacks?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
As I tell you, you're trying to give me credit for things I never thought about [laughter] . I never thought about those things. I was very, you know, just busy with my involvement. I've always been very, very social; I've always been crazy about people, and going and doing. And I did very little thinking, I'm ashamed to say; I really did. It's been lately, I mean in the last, you know… The high point of my thinking was joining that Anti-Lynching League [laughter] . I'm delighted with that, that I did that [laughter] .
LEE KESSLER:
Was your mother an easy person to talk with?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh yes, she was very … you mean, for me to talk with? No, as far as talking to me about … anything to do with sex, that was never breathed in our life; never knew the word, I never heard the word. I

Page 39
knew no meanings about… People think I'm kidding when I say I never knew the word "intercourse" until just a few years ago. It's the gospel truth; I always just thought it chatting [laughter] . When I tell people this they look at me absolutely aghast and think I'm making it up. And I wish to God I was, but I never… No, and I know nothing about such things; it's just unbelievable.
LEE KESSLER:
Now what did your mother tell you before you got married?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
She didn't tell me anything. She said when I got married I must be very careful every morning, and get up and dress and be as neat about the house as if I was going to work at the Macon Telegraph. [laughter] That was about it.
LEE KESSLER:
That was it?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
As far as I remember, that was it. No, and she certainly never took me aside and discussed anything about sex. When I was growing up she always, of course, told me I must, you know, not let a man touch me in any way or hold my hand or kiss me, or anything like that; I thought that was the height of indecency. And that was as far as she got.
LEE KESSLER:
When you started to mature physically and hit puberty, was it a shock?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, it came as a great shock to me. And I remember (my ignorance was so apalling), I was in the sixth grade of grammar school when they were discussing (we must have been studying some kind of biology of some sort—in the sixth grade it must have been very light biology), and people were getting up telling about people with handicaps or something, or deformed. And I got up and told about seeing this woman with her stomach poking out. And everybody in the sixth grade just laughed and laughed, and

Page 40
I didn't know what … I had no idea what I had done. The sixth grade! Think how old I was, twelve at least. I had no idea babies came from inside people, twelve years old. And on the way home from school one of my friends told me what I had done, that babies were born inside of you. And you can see how ignorant I was.
LEE KESSLER:
You didn't grow up on a farm, then, at all?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, no, I grew up in Macon, Georgia. I was born in Savannah, as you know, but then I moved to Macon when I was about seven or eight years old. My mother never discussed anything, and I never knew it. I can't imagine how stupid I could be.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, I've heard stories from my own mother. [laughter]
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, isn't it amazing? I didn't know anything. And I'm so shocked, of course, at the morals today that I just can't understand it, I really can't. The young, the fact that they're living together, you know, not only having that word intercourse (which is so new to me [laughter] ) with people they're not married to: this did not go on when we were young. I know your mother's told you this. I mean, and everybody was a virgin. I remember when two girls in Macon, Georgia "went wrong", as we said. It just caused a sensation; people just talked about it and talked about it, and the girls were absolutely cast into outer darkness.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, do you mean that they just weren't virgins, or that they were pregnant.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, they were pregnant. Nobody would have known otherwise; that was something you would have hidden so carefully.
LEE KESSLER:
What happened to the girls afterwards?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
One of them's still living in Macon, Georgia, but her father

Page 41
got the man to marry her. And the other one, I don't know what happened to her; she just was too far out in limbo [laughter] for anybody to be interested. That was just unbelievable. No, I've only known two girls in my life that I knew about that "went wrong," as we said. Isn't that something? It's a big span; I've lived a long, long time.
LEE KESSLER:
Attitudes have really changed.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
And men, I don't think, tried to take advantage of women like they do now. I mean, I never had a beau who tried to take advantage of me in any way. I think maybe they were more … conscious of their obligation to be gentlemen.
LEE KESSLER:
That could be. After you got married, did you ever want to have an outside career of your own, before you really started writing? Did you ever want to go out and do what Mark was doing?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, no. You see, I still wrote all the time, even right after I was married. We were married in October, and he gave me a typewriter for Christmas. [laughter] So I always was banging on the typewriter, I mean even from the first day. And then we had a baby; I was married in October and we had the baby the following November. Who's Who has always had the baby born that very November we were married. But you can't get anything corrected in Who's Who; that's something impossible, so I never bothered about it. [laughter]. I knew everybody who knew me knew we didn't. But I had a baby, and then I always was working, you know, with writing; because when she was just a baby I wrote for Good Housekeeping, an article called "Pride Cometh After A Baby," when she was just born—which is the first chapter in As I Live and Breathe; but it came out in Good Housekeeping first.
LEE KESSLER:
This is Shug?

Page 42
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, Shug. And she now lives in Sanford. So I never had a chance to think about doing anything else. I never did want to do anything else, either.
LEE KESSLER:
How big a shock was it, to be a parent?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I was crazy about it; I just enjoyed it. I never had anything of… It just felt part of life [laughter] ; this is what you did. [To MARK ETHRIDGE:] Mark, this is Miss Kessler.
MARK ETHRIDGE:
How do you do?
LEE KESSLER:
Hello, Mr. Ethridge, how are you?
MARK ETHRIDGE:
Fine, [unclear], and how are you?
LEE KESSLER:
Fine. Glad to meet you.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Darling, you had a good nap, didn't you?
MARK ETHRIDGE:
Yes, fine.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Mark sleeps every day from 2:30 'til about 4:30, and then he wakes up and goes straight to the kitchen and gets ice cream [laughter] .
LEE KESSLER:
That's not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
MARK ETHRIDGE:
I'm going right now. Would you have some?
LEE KESSLER:
I think I would love some.
MARK ETHRIDGE:
Good!
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Good. She's had a terrible tickling in her throat; it might help her throat.
LEE KESSLER:
I love ice cream; it's my favorite.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh good! Mark's too; he just adores ice cream.
LEE KESSLER:
So it wasn't then … changing diapers and getting up in the middle of the night wasn't a burden?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, no, no. I did all that, of course, but it didn't worry me.

Page 43
I mean, I just accepted it as a routine, really, that this is what happened when you got married.
And I never heard, of course, of taking any care about having a baby. I mean, I didn't know anything about that. No, I knew nothing about those things, so [unknown] then, of course, I had the first three babies very quickly; they're just about fifteen or sixteen months apart. So I had my hands full when they were small.
LEE KESSLER:
And how did you happen to come to a stop after three?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
I don't know; it was just complete luck [laughter] more than anything I did or Mark did, because we didn't know anything about that. No, he said he'd let me get my calcium up [laughter] . And I certainly got it up—David is the biggest, most huge member of the family.
LEE KESSLER:
This is your youngest?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes.
LEE KESSLER:
What does he do?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, he's done lots of things. You know, he at one time ran for the board of alderman in Chapel Hill. He was mayor pro tem, and made really a great record. The paper in Chapel Hill wrote an editorial that said Chapel Hill would never be the same when he went away. He did a lot of reforms; he was full of reforms. Recently, for the last few years, he's had a public relations job—not public relations, consulting. He set up a firm, a consulting firm in Denver, Colorado; he's been doing that for two or three years. But right at this moment he's come back to work in Terry Sanford's campaign, right at this moment. He's crazy about politics, but he doesn't have the money to be in politics. You just have to have some money to run

Page 44
for any big office, you know, so I don't know what he'll do. But Terry called him up, called him up twice, and that was it: he closed up his business and came. [laughter] And he's now in New Hampshire working.
LEE KESSLER:
So he's working for Terry Sanford rather than for Jimmy Carter?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, for Terry Sanford. He has done a lot of work for Terry Sanford before, when he lived in Chapel Hill. And he did a great deal of the research, for the book on education that Terry Sanford got out. So he's very much interested in all kinds of reform in education. And, as I said, he's very social-minded. For some time now he has wanted to move back to North Carolina. But he wants a job that means something. He was offered a big public relations job with a huge company, and lots of money, but he said it didn't have any meaning for him. He really wants to do something to change the world around. As I said, I have two children who are very socially bent, just determined to make the world better. [laughter].
LEE KESSLER:
Are these your two sons?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
No, there's one son and my daughter, Georgia, who teaches sociology in the University of Pittsburgh and writes textbooks.
LEE KESSLER:
So how many of your children are writers?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Mark, Jr., of course, is in the newspaper business. And Georgia writes, as I said, textbooks and teaches sociology, and also goes out into the hospitals and welfare institutions around Pittsburgh for the state university and gives lectures on how to get along with your patients and so forth and so on. But my oldest daughter doesn't write—though she was associate editor of Harper's Bazaar when she was young, but she quit and

Page 45
got married. She's not very well she lives in Sanford quietly.
LEE KESSLER:
So they live close by?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes.
LEE KESSLER:
I wanted to ask your opinion about some things, in view of the fact that you've been such a successful wife and mother, and there are a lot of changes among young women now. What do you think of the current rebellion among young women against marriage?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Oh, I think it's the most foolish thing, because I don't see why women want to be liberated. The nicest thing that can ever happen to you is to have a man kind of looking out for you, or caring about what happens to you, and being deferential. It's the best thing we have going for us [laughter]. Oh, it's unbelievable to me that a woman wants to give up that. I don't know how men ever got hoaxed into being so [laughter] , you know, chivalrous. And why women want to abandon that I don't see.
LEE KESSLER:
You really see marriage as an institution that works for women?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Yes, I certainly do; don't you?
LEE KESSLER:
Well, I do, in a lot of ways.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, I don't see how women can gain anything by trial marriage, for instance. I just think this is unbelievable.
LEE KESSLER:
Don't you think that sexual relations between caring but unmarried young people can be of value?
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Well, I think the woman has everything to lose, and I don't see how she can have anything to gain, myself. I think that trial marriage or sexual relations before marriage, the man, I'm sure, takes it rather casually (or he might at the time be completely devoted to the idea and sin-

Page 46
cere). But if the least little quarrel or disagreement or hard times comes up there's nothing to hold him. And I think if you're married and have to go through a divorce to leave one another and that stigma (which I think still holds, to some degree), I think that makes people try much harder to make the relationship work. If you don't have anything holding you or binding you, I don't care whether you marry in church or marry before a judge, I just think the fact that you are married and it's legal makes you really both try harder to keep things going. I think it could be very easy, when you're young and so much happens to upset you and irritate you, for one or the other to walk out if there are no strings attached. But I think you think a good long time about it if you're married. And the girl is the one who's always left, a single woman—and especially if there's a child. And all these devices which I don't understand yet [laughter] —they came along too late for me—don't always work, and if you have a child and then are left, think of having to start all over, making life anew and making a living for yourself. I think it's all just so sad and tragic. I think women ought to think a long time before they agree to live with men before marriage.
[to Mark Ethridge] Darling, I can see the best linen and the best china [laughter]. You've got the kitchen china and kitchen napkins. Well, this is more than he usually does for himself, so [laughter]. … [To L. K.:] And that little bit of a spoon you've got there, will it choke you?
LEE KESSLER:
No, that's really fine.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
You gave her the biggest spoon there is.
LEE KESSLER:
If it were anything other than ice cream it would be too big; for ice cream it's just right. [Interruption]
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
Now Mark's much more conscious of those problems.

Page 47
MARK ETHRIDGE:
You with the journalism department from school?
LEE KESSLER:
No, I'm working with the Southern Oral History Project.
MARK ETHRIDGE:
Oh.
LEE KESSLER:
A friend of ours came out and interviewed you last May, Charles Eagles.
MARK ETHRIDGE:
Yes.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, as your wife was telling you, I was asking her questions about her awareness of social problems among the Negroes. When did you first become aware that everything wasn't as it should be?
MARK ETHRIDGE:
I suppose when I was seven or eight years old.
LEE KESSLER:
What happened that made you aware?
MARK ETHRIDGE:
My father was aware. He ran across a good deal in defending them.
LEE KESSLER:
He defended them?
MARK ETHRIDGE:
Yes. He was a lawyer.
WILLIE SNOW ETHRIDGE:
There you all are, just eating away on your ice cream. You don't have to worry about your figures either. I get fat every time I eat a saucer of ice cream. I get fat anyway, but I get fatter, is the point.
END OF INTERVIEW