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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 >>

Becoming aware of southern race issues and teaching at an African American school

Young describes how her sojourn in the North while attending graduate school at University of Wisconsin and Bryn Mawr College, as well as her brief job as the Dean of Women at Hamlin in St. Paul, Minnesota, piqued her interest in the issue of race in the South. While in St. Paul, her association with an African American woman from the South led her to the realization that she had been relatively unaware of race problems while growing up in Memphis. She explains how this realization became a catalyst for her decision to teach at an African American school in the South, rather than continuing her career in the North.

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

ROBERT HALL:
So what did you study. What did you have in mind to be?
LOUISE YOUNG:
I was gonna be a teacher because I so loved and admired the Episcopal nun that was the principal of our . . . of St. Mary's in Memphis. Sister Mary Moore. She later became the Reverend Mother. She was an Englishwoman. Just lovely. So I wanted to have a private school of my own, preparatory school for girls as much like St. Mary's as anything could be, because I liked it so well. And I had gone to college at 16. So it was agreed that, I mean I had finished college at 16, that I was due from the family another graduate year you see. So I went to the University of Wisconsin expecting to major in English. We hadn't really majored at Vanderbilt in those terms. All of us had to have Latin and Greek. But when I got there I hadn't had enough English to qualify for a Masters Degree in English but I had had enough philosophy. So I shifted to a major in Philosophy with a minor in English. Had a lovely time there and to my amazement that Spring my professor asked me to wait after class. And I was afraid he was going to tell me that I wasn't doing very well. And he asked me if I would be interested in a fellowship to Bryn Mawr? And I said, what is a fellowship? And when he told me I said, well could I write home about it? So actually this first fellowship, I had forgotten was a fellowship for Wisconsin for a second year there. So I wrote home explaining it and it was very generous cash as well as tuition. I knew it wasn't quite enough and I wrote my parents about it. And they wired back congratulations. And certainly, certainly, take it. And the next year this gentleman, Mr. McGilrey of the Philosophy Department asked me the same question about going to Bryn Mawr. So I went to Bryn Mawr the following year and was supposed to go on and get my doctor's degree in philosophy at Wisconsin. And I was learning "Th eories of Consciousness" and "Recent Realism" and I think of such things. But by now this was 1917 and my brothers were officer's training camp, all three of them, on their way to France. I was in Bryn Mawr when the war started, for '16 and '17. And that Summers I was at Wisconsin writing on my thesis. And three of the boys were in officer's training camp, the summer of '17 you see, ready to go to France that fall, and coming home for a little while. So I ditched what I was doing and came home to see my brother. And meanwhile was signed up to be a Dean of Women at Hamlin. University in St. Paul. So I went on as the Dean of Women . . .
ROBERT HALL:
Is that a girl's school?
LOUISE YOUNG:
That's a coed school.
ROBERT HALL:
In Minnesota?
LOUISE YOUNG:
In St. Paul, Minnesota. And I was, the girls told me, the youngest dean in captivity. I was one of the youngest deans in captivity. And my job was to keep them from just dying of homesickness and lonliness for their sweethearts who were in France. My brothers were in France. So we consoled each other. And I was dean there for two years. And . . . now you stop me when I'm talking too much. You know you can get anybody to talk about themselves, especially an older woman.
ROBERT HALL:
That's the idea.
LOUISE YOUNG:
That's very nice. A very nice idea. WEll, at that time there were almost no Negroes in St. Paul. This was 1917, 1919 that I was there and but one very light colored woman came and gave me a shampoo in my own quarters there. And she was from Mound Bayou, Mississippi and she was lonely for the South and she and I would discuss southern problems everytime she came to wash my hair. And I think she said there were only twenty Negro families in St. Paul at that time. I don't think she really knew but there were very few anyway. So she kept alive my interest in the South. And she and other people there would ask me things I couldn't answer. I was ashamed of myself and thought I should know. So I decided that the way to learn was to teach in a Negro school in Memphis. Was going back home and teach in a Negro school. And my mother assured me that the Negro teachers, I mean the Negro schools were all taught by Negro teachers. There were no white teachers for Negro schools in Memphis. But she said, we, the Southern Methodist Church it was at that time, did have a so-called college for Negroes in Augusta, Georgia. And my mother really said I might look into it. And I did. And applied for a place and they had never had an application from St. Paul let alone from a southern white woman who had graduated from Vanderbilt and so on and so forth to come down to teach. So I went down there and most of my friends and family just threw up their hands. This was in 1919, this was really a disgraceful thing to do. One young man told me he would rather see me in the penitentiary, he'd rather see me in prisoner's garb than to see me go down there. That's how deeply people felt about that.