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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Family's social mobility and goal to educate daughters

Young briefly explains how the Reconstruction era affected her father's work as a farmer and how he was able to rise above hard times to prosper later on. Emphasizing his confidence and perseverance, she explains how by the turn of the twentieth century, his business acumen had allowed him to attain the kind of social mobility that he sought for his children. As earlier in the interview, she again emphasizes that her parents worked hard to send their children to college; however, here she recalls that her father believed it was more important for his daughters to attend college than it was for his sons. She connects his attitude and his encouragement to her success at Vanderbilt in assuming leadership roles, specifically in helping to establish the first sorority on campus.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. 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 I was going to tell you about my father. Then his father died and he had to look after, as a young teenager, a late teenager, he was to look after his mother and his young brother and young sister with nothing to go on. Everything had disappeared one way and another. And so an old friend lent him enough money to rent a farm on the edge of Memphis. And father and an old Negro man who helped with it and so forth, but father would take things to the market, to the wholesale market in Memphis. And he, at one time, cut timber. There was a lot of wood fire burning done you see. And in the long days he was able to take two loads of wood to Memphis in one day. And the short days he couldn't do that, but he could take the first load and come back and load the second load and get it part of the way in and then make three loads in two days. And that was the difference, my father used to tell us, between getting ahead and not getting ahead. He was a very good story teller. But he would tell about going to market and how there were a great many Italian farm market people there. He would tell us about them. And how some of the people at the market, after market time, at six or seven o'clock and they hadn't had any breakfast, they would spend 50¢ for their breakfast. And father would get 5¢, some big thing, I don't remember what he called it, and it seemed so sad to me that I began to weep. Poor father so hungry and just couldn't have anything but this 5¢ thing you know. And he at once realized he'd made it too vivid. So he said, "why child that was nothing to that. I knew it wouldn't last." And you see that really is the key to a man with security in his background and in his constitution. And a man with that security he never doubted that he would make it. That's really human nature.
ROBERT HALL:
So by the time you were growing up . . .
LOUISE YOUNG:
Well, we all of us got to college, several of us to graduate school, and two brothers went to Yale for law and so forth. And my father bought more land you see. And farmed it. Father used his head, so he kept records as few farmers did on each of his plots of land. How much fertilizer was put in it. And when he planted it, what the return was. So the next year he would check on that you see. He and my uncle, his younger brother farmed together. And uncle Will operated the farm and my father did the business end of selling and so forth, and then my father was the county tax assessor for Shelby County, the county in which Memphis is, for two terms I believe. And the extra money was important to get us ready for college and through college. And then for a time he was chairman of the . . . county chairman for the Democratic Party, so he had great interest in politics and religion and the church and so did my mother but their chief interest as I was thinking it through today really, was their big enterprise of keeping heads above water for a family with eight children. And getting us all educated. My father said that if he had to choose between sending his sons to college and his daughters to college he would send his daughters.
ROBERT HALL:
Why?
LOUISE YOUNG:
Because his sons would have contacts that would give them a broad view of life without college, but his daughters would have a very narrow life if they didn't have a good education. Which I think was . . .
ROBERT HALL:
That was good. That's really something.
LOUISE YOUNG:
That's really something. He really believed that. If he had to choose between sending his daughters to college and his sons to college he would send his daughters, I heard him say.
ROBERT HALL:
So you went to Vanderbilt?
LOUISE YOUNG:
So I went to Vanderbilt and maybe the most interesting thing I did, I belonged to Kappa Alpha Beta, and we were the oldest national fraternity. And you see there were just two, Tri Delta and Kappa Alpha Beta. And we had our chapter house which was half of a servant's house for one of the professors on the campus. And we became very ambitious and decided that we should have our own chapter houses as the men had for their fraternities, though it was to be just a lodge, not a place to live. So a friend of mine wrote up the letters for the alumni to send us five dollars or ten dollars or some such monies. We bought the lot and back where the Vanderbilt Theatre is now, and then were told that if we owned our lot, by this time I was president of the chapter, we could get it built for us with a mortgage on the land. So I went back to Memphis with everything all in mind for summer before I was a senior. And lo here came a letter from the contractor folks that, though that was usually done that the record of the Vanderbilt men was so poor, the Vanderbilt fraternities, in paying all these mortgages that they wouldn't risk a fraternity with that sort of proposition. And we'd have to put up some cash. So I was distressed and I just asked my father if he wouldn't lend us the money. And mother didn't think that was very good. Your father likes to have his own investments under his own eyes to lend money for something in Nashville. But father thought it was a very good idea, so he did lend us the money. And we built the house and had it all ready for the Fall. And we proudly said that we paid our father back exactly on time, I think a little ahead of time. You see it's just the things one remembers are the success stories.