Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Marguerite Tolbert, June 14, 1974. Interview G-0062. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Secretly working for a tuition scholarship to go to college

When Tolbert's father decided he could not afford to send her to college right after high school, she secretly studied for an exam to win a tuition scholarship. Her aunt, Mary Waller, supported her through this process.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Marguerite Tolbert, June 14, 1974. Interview G-0062. 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

How I got my scholarship to Winthrop is the most exciting event in my life, and that is recorded in my brief biography.
But can you tell it in just a few words?
Yes, I can. My two sisters were being graduated from Winthrop. My mother was ill at Johns Hopkins that year. Father was hard-pressed for funds. I believe it was the time of four-cent cotton. Our economy was nothing to brag on. But I was looking forward with the keenest anticipation to attending Winthrop. Winthrop was definitely in the future for me as my two sisters and many friends had gone to Winthrop. My mother, as I said, was at Johns Hopkins. She wrote, I want Marguerite to attend Winthrop commencement and be oriented, so she can feel at home next September when she enters college. And I did. But, when my father brought me the letter he said, Margie -- he called me Margie -- do you think you could wait a year to go to Winthrop. With the two girls in college this year and your mother ill it's going to be difficult for me to swing it financially. The world tumbled in on me. I didn't let him know it, but I was completely nonplussed and amazed. He said, You wait just a year, and I'll be ready to take care of it. I said, "Fine, we'll wait a year," but I cried myself to sleep that night. Heartbreaking experience. But I had heard, through my relatives and friends, that you could stand an examination and get a scholarship to Winthrop, if you couldn't pay the tuition at the time. The scholarship would pay all expenses. Without asking anybody I went to the courthouse to the county superintendent of education; I think his name was Mr. Pitts. He told me all about it. He gave me some sample exam questions from the previous examinations, and I set up for myself a rigid program of study. I would slip away from the family, I remember so vividly, and go next door to Mrs. Guy Garrett's second floor. Here I set up a little study and I studied rigidly 'til July the fifth, the day of the examination. I had an enticing invitation to go on the fourth on a big hayride party with my friends. But I stayed at home and studied and crammed. On the day of the examination I was ready to go. We assembled at the courthouse. My Aunt Mary Waller and my Uncle Clarence Gray ran the hotel on the Laurens square. She always took an interest in me. She phoned, "Marguerite, you are to come by the hotel first and then you will have lunch with me on the day of the exam." So, with all the information I could cram into this vacuum of mine I went to the Court House to stand the examination. There were about forty in the room; a lot of buzzing and talking. I looked over and saw red-headed Kate Wofford and red-headed somebody else and I said, Oh, I wonder if I'll ever be able to compete with them. But anyhow, on a hot July the fifth, I stood the exam and went to my Aunt Mary's for lunch. She served cold milk and a cool salad;nothing heavy. And after lunch she sent the butler over with a tall pitcher of lemonade. And I attribute my success to that pitcher of ice cold lemonade (laughing) which I shared at the table with my friends. Then that night I was invited to a delectable steak dinner; the climax of the day!