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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Emily S. MacLachlan, July 16, 1974. Interview G-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Starting a career following husband's unexpected death

MacLachlan discusses the difficulties she faced when she was faced with the necessity of going to work following her husband's death in 1959. Shortly before her husband passed, MacLachlan had begun to consider options of work and continued education; however, his sudden passing made the decisions she faced all the more difficult and imperative. Her comments are revealing of challenges women of that era faced with issues of work and family.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Emily S. MacLachlan, July 16, 1974. Interview G-0038. 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

But your mother never thought of having a career and didn't really encourage you to?
Oh, no. In those days, if you had … she never encouraged me, but I think that she would have been very, very happy to see me have one. So, I never had a career until my husband died. I had never earned my own living. And suddenly, I was called on to educate the two younger sons. Only the eldest had been educated. I was fifty-one when my husband died. I had never made a paycheck. And my income was drastically cut. I had just recently taken a job at a little country school as a librarian, I had gone back to the university's college of education to get a teaching certificate, because no matter how many degrees you had, you couldn't teach in a county school unless you had your teaching certificate and I had been qualified to teachiin English, social sciences and library, to run a school library. So, I was sent out into the county just two weeks before my husband died. And he said, "Well, you can try it out there and see how you like it." And I wanted the money to put my middle son through a private college. The other one had gone to the University and the second son wanted to go to Millsap College, our old school back in Mississippi. So, I was out there when he died and fortunately did have a job, but it only paid $3200 and he had been … his salary had gotten up to about $11,000, I guess, which was high for 1959. It would be low for today. And my salary today is about what his was when he died.
You went back to school and got your PhD.?
Well, I taught at the country school for a year, had charge of the library and taught the senior social science students, there were only twenty of them, commuted back and forth to this little town with a group of girls. Then, I had to make a decision as to whether I should teach in a country school for the rest of my life and maybe eventually hope to get into the city schools, or whether I would try for college teaching. I had had a little taste of college teaching, I ought to take this back, I did get a paycheck while he was still living. Because one of his former graduate students who headed the department of sociology at Mississippi Southern, now part of the university system, called me in desperation and said that he had lost one of his sociology professors and needed somebody to be sent to fill the spring quarter. So, I said, flipantly, "Well, if you can't find anybody, I'll come." And he took me up on it and my husband urged me to go. So, I came up to Mississippi Southern and taught that spring quarter. And that was the first paycheck that I had made. That was the spring before he died, '59, in September of '59. But I had never expected to continue, it was just kind of a lark, you know. But all the time I was teaching at the county schools out in the country, I realized that I had done it at Mississippi Southern and I could do it again. I remember that I used to sit up almost all the night at Mississippi Southern in Hattiesburg working at the lecture for the next day, because I had never done it before. And I think that my mother's example of being a very independent woman gave me the courage to do that. My husband would write to me and every letter, he would say, "Dear Professor," you know, he was very proud of that. So, he encouraged me and I shouldn't have done it, because he was not well. I didn't know that his health had deteriorated that much. But he had emphysema from tobacco smoking and an advanced case of it and it finally got him. But my three sons have always been women's rights people, they read The Feminine Mystique when it first came out, the two older ones, the youngest was only eleven when his father died, and I still have him as a graduate student at our university.
So, did you finish your degree or did you start teaching?
I went back to college education and headed for an Ed. D. After I had taught at the country school. And then, in the summer of '61, the Sociology department was just falling apart. Not only had my husband died, and another professor in the department had died, two or three had left, and so Dr. Shaw Grigsby, the man that took it over temporarily asked me to come and teach that summer. And he said, "I hate to offer you the job, almost, because I know if I do, you probably won't finish your doctorate in education." I did the course work in '60 -'61 term … see, I taught at the country school during the '59-'60 term, and then in the '60-'61 nine month term, I went back to graduate school. In the summer of '61, my husband's mother, who lived with us was dying of lung cancer and I was nursing her, but Dr. Grigsby wanted me to teach at the university. It was a very hard decision to make. I needed the money and I wanted to get my foot in the door. So, I did. I taught the course in marriage and family and I taught the course in rural sociology. I had taught marriage and the family at Mississippi Southern, I had never taught rural sociology before. So, by hook or by crook, somehow, I got through that summer. And then, I decided that to finish the dissertation and to get the Ed. D. didn't mean that much; what I really needed was income and to get on with my university teaching and I still had a lot of family responsibilities. I had a big house to care of. So, twice, I didn't go all the way for the PhD., you see. But it didn't seem to matter, because they finally did give me tenure and I never could rise above assistant professor, but it didn't make that much difference. I enjoyed my teaching, did what I needed for the family budget and my colleagues … I was the first woman to teach in the social sciences department of the university college, for a long time, for about six years, I was the only woman.