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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Turner Lane, September 9 and 16, 1986; May 21, 1987; October 1 and 28, 1987. Interview L-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Challenges faced as a single mother in graduate school

Lane eventually entered the Ph.D. program where she discovered that as a widow and a single mother, she had several disadvantages compared to her male comrades who had wives who worked and cared for the children and the house. She describes here how she overcame those obstacles.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Turner Lane, September 9 and 16, 1986; May 21, 1987; October 1 and 28, 1987. Interview L-0039. 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

MARY TURNER LANE:
Well, it was moving into a new role. A role that I had never been conditioned for. That moved it, I suppose, into a kind of career without really putting a label on it. But it was a shifting of roles, or a shifting of career vision perhaps, that I really found very frightening.
PAMELA DEAN:
Perhaps it was in part an admission that perhaps you were not going to marry, that you were going to have a career, that your life was not going to go along those traditional lines.
MARY TURNER LANE:
That could very well be it.
PAMELA DEAN:
A closing of doors as well as an opening.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Yes, that's true. I certainly saw it as an opening with an access to the university in a variety of ways. So there's a basic social interaction quality in me that sort of has always pushed me out toward people. So that to be able to be in a different social setting was all right. I didn't mind the apprehension connected with that. That was all right. I was accustomed to meeting different people, but it was the work part of it that I found difficult. But after four years, the dean that had asked me to take the job, asked me what I intended to do with my life. Now this was a man who was truly very helpful. This was the Dean of the School of Education, Dean Arnold Perry. He was the one who had hired me, who had said, "you have qualities found in your liberal arts education at Salem that are appropriate for teacher education." He was the one that had read my Master's comprehensive, so he knew what I had done academically. I had taken a course with him, and the school of education was so small that it was easy to know the people and for them to know you. So his comment really was an interesting one, that with your liberal arts background from Salem plus your Master's in education from here, you have a strong background to offer a broader perspective to teachers.
PAMELA DEAN:
Let me ask you, for your Master's, did you have to do some sort of thesis?
MARY TURNER LANE:
No, we didn't do a thesis. We wrote a comprehensive exam, which was a sort of six-hour exam. We had term papers in every course, and he would have read those, the ones that I had done for him.
PAMELA DEAN:
I just wondered if there was some reason in your project that you had focused on.
MARY TURNER LANE:
No. So he was the one who said if you really want to stay in a university setting you really have to have a doctorate, and then went to say that there were scholarships available. He told me about the Danforth Foundation fellowship. If you were at a certain point in a doctoral program, that was open to you. I applied. He wrote a recommending letter. To my great surprise I got it. I read the letter which came to my home, folded the letter up, put it in the envelope, and put it in the drawer because I wasn't sure it was real. Two days later I took it out, and it still said the same thing. It was a very good scholarship. It was for twelve months tuition at your academic institution—wherever you were going to get the doctorate—and then a stipend for twelve months. I had been accepted at Duke University so I could continue living—I was not enough of a risk-taker to move to New York and go to Columbia or to go to some other place. But I could go to Duke. So I had twelve months work there. Then two years back here working. I had twelve months of academic study there. Two years back in Chapel Hill with my regular job at Carolina, taking courses at night and in the summer at Duke. Finally, I realized as I was leaving a class with four or five of the men graduate students at Duke, who were taking the courses with me, that every one of them was going to begin work on his dissertation that summer and not work the following year, because everyone had a wife who was working. And here I was with no wife, working, with no time to do a dissertation.
PAMELA DEAN:
Supporting a child.
MARY TURNER LANE:
No time to do a dissertation. I was a single parent and single wage-earner, and how in the world I could ever do a dissertation, I don't know.
PAMELA DEAN:
Please, tell me how you did it.
MARY TURNER LANE:
My mother-in-law looked at me one day and said to me, "There's something wrong, Mary. Your face smiles, but your eyes don't." I thought that was very observant and very perceptive. I went back to the dean and he told me about another scholarship, the Southern Funds Dissertation Fellowship. If you had your topic, it had been accepted, the first chapter written, then you would be subject to that. So I got that and had another year off. Of course, each of these years with stipends—when I say a stipend I mean something like $200 a month or something so small you could just get by on them. I got by because I still had this pension. I had the social security, the child support from that. So I could manage.
PAMELA DEAN:
Just cover from month to month and not much else?
MARY TURNER LANE:
Oh no, you didn't put aside much in savings, and I was living in rented housing, always.