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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thelma Stevens, February 13, 1972. Interview G-0058. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Opportunities for education

Stevens discusses the education she received while living with her older sister in Slate Springs, Mississippi. Following her graduation from high school, Stevens went to work as a high school teacher in order to save money. She briefly describes her three years of teaching before explaining how she received an opportunity to attend college with a scholarship from the Field Cooperative Association, which worked to ensure that young women had opportunities in education.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Thelma Stevens, February 13, 1972. Interview G-0058. 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

Well, my mother had died when I was about six. And when I was ten, I went to live with my oldest sister. Because my father had married again, and various circumstances seemed to make it necessary for me to go and live with my sister, where I had a greater opportunity to do the things that any child needed to do. And so . . . My father died very shortly after that. So I went to live with my sister, and her husband was a Methodist minister. And he lived in Slate Springs, Mississippi, I remember very well. And I went to school, the first day in the fall, after I'd come to live with her in July. And I didn't know what grade to go in. So finally my sister said, "Well, you've been doing a lot of study at home, as well this irregular going to school and everything just sort of topsy-turvy. Why don't you try the sixth grade?" I was eleven. I mean, when school opened I was eleven. So I went into the sixth grade and, sure enough, I was able to do the work. And I worked awful hard, because I didn't have much to build on, in terms of real academic background. But, anyway, I worked at it and got along fine. And went on to finish high school. And after I finished high school, I couldn't go to college, because I had to work and make some money. So I taught school three years after I finished high school. I finished high school, I'd just turned seventeen. Turned seventeen in May and I finished high school first of June. And I taught that fall. Took what in those days was called a county examination, you know. And I really passed it then with flying colors. I made ninety-five or something like that. But now I'd flunk every bit of it. But, anyway, I taught school in a little consolidated school down in Kemper County, Mississippi. And we had to go by bus to school. You know, all this complaint about the busing business gives me a pain in the neck. Well, anyway, the bus we had to ride in was drawn by horses, or mules, I don't remember which. And the first day of school, I fainted in the school house. Scared to an inch of my life. Kid seventeen with all that bunch of kids there I had to teach. But fortunately, the chairman of the board of trustees of the school was a doctor, and he was there that day. And so Dr. Gulley came, and . . .
Revived you.
. . . brought me to, and told me to rest a little bit. And so I did, and went on about my business. And had a wonderful year, enjoyed it very much. And so I taught for three years, and in the spring of the third year I had a letter one day from a man by the name of Mr. Paul Murphy, of Lexington, Mississippi. Never will forget it as long as I live. And he said, "Dear Thelma . . . " He'd never heard of me in his life. He said, "You have been recommended to the Field Cooperative Association as one of the young women in Mississippi who needs to go to college. And we have a scholarship waiting for you for your full four years in college, if you want it." I don't know who recommended me, I don't know anything about it.
And where did this come from?
The Field Cooperative Association was an association inaugurated, or initiated, by the Jones brothers. Mr. Bernard Jones and his brothers, who were from Mississippi. He'd struck oil in Oklahoma and had made millions of dollars. And he said that he wanted to establish this fund in memory of his mother, who had never had any opportunities in life. She'd been brought up in poverty. And he wanted to establish this fund so that young women in Mississippi would never have to face what his mother had to face. And so he started the fund. Every year during my years in college, he had about eighty young women in various colleges in Mississippi. There were about . . . seems to me he had about thirty-five at our college. I was at Hattiesburg, at what was then State Teacher's College. It later became the University of Southern Mississippi. Well, anyway, it bowled me over. So I followed through, and went to college that fall.