My first regular job at fifteen was with Wadsworth and Sons as an office boy. This company sent a buyer to the St. Louis market and bought hundreds of horses and mules wholesale; shipped them by rail to Charlotte, housed and fed them, and sold them individually to farmers who came into Charlotte to buy. The two or three dollars I earned each week was used mostly to study shorthand at night. I bought a book on typing and an old typewriter; taught myself the "touch", system.
Next I worked for a collection agency. Using a bicycle I got to know every street and alley in Charlotte. Most of the bills were doctor's charges for those who had failed to pay for medical services. Bills sent by postal service had been returned unanswered. I did get some new addresses where people had moved, that's all. In the black neighborhood the debt was acknowledged but they had no money to pay. Some could not even pay the $10 monthly rent for their small frame houses.
After learning typing and shorthand I applied for a full time job as a typist with the Charlotte office of the Standard Oil Company (New York). I passed the tests, had good references, and was hired at $25 per month, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Later I was promoted to $30. Stephen and I often visited the new public library, individually. After work hours, and read books by French scientists, who were alleged to be atheists! Then we would talk together together about what each of us had read. We were revolutionaries, in mind, to the prevailing economic and social system in Charlotte. Still teenagers we kept our newly acquired knowledge and stance to ourselves. We were thankful to the generosity of the Andrew Carnegie Fund for giving Charlotte these books and later a new public library building. Stephen would have made a great priest, as was his original intention. As it turned out he became a recluse, led a sad life, and died long before his time.
My sister, Mary, got a job as a stenographer with Aetna Insurance Company. At the same time she managed the household and did a good job at both.
There were still my father and five children in the household. She insisted that I pay for room and board at horne to which I agreed. One half of my pay, $15 each month, was given to her. Most of my remaining salary was put into a savings account, which after several years, amounted to over $200.
Was I to stay a mere typist the rest of my life? To get ahead I needed an education. But there was no money available except what I had saved.
One day my father read a letter, printed in a Catholic weekly sheet, from a widow seeking a mate. He responded without telling our family. When her reply came by post, Mary saw the letter. Now a battle started between Mary and my father. She was not going to let some strange woman, whom no one in Charlotte knew anything about, come into our home and take over as wife and step-mother.
Not without a fight. She needed support so she went on visits at night, after supper, to several relatives (cousins). I had to go along because it was considered improper for a young woman (22) to be out at night without a male escort. Age of the male escort (I was 16) was unimportant. During the conversations with relatives Mary came up with a new and novel concept of morality. Once married, especially where there are children, a surviving spouse should not remarry! This doctrine did not receive wide acceptance. When my father heard about her novel doctrine, he said out loud, "Mary is trying to be better than the Pope! How can anyone be better than the head of the Roman Catholic Church?" Mary lost the argument, but not the battle. Next Mary came out with a flat-footed statement to the effect she would not tolerate any woman coming into our home as wife and mother. My father gave in, and although painful to him because he no longer had sex gratification, led a celibate life thereafter. He, like the rest of the family, considered that sex intercourse, outside of marriage, was sinful. Besides it would have to be reported at the next confession! Also being in a minority (Catholic) group, in the midst of a strong and powerful Protestant community, the opportunity for sex motive or even remarriage was strictly limited.
After several years leading a celibate life my father seemed to become kinder and more considerate to all members of his family. Once I told him that I was a Socialist. Instead of chastising me as I expected, he said, simply, "Do not let the leaders in Charlotte hear you say that.
Where to go for an education was a major problem. Why not go to Chapel Hill and study law, as Ralph Kidd had done two years before? Too late-the entrance requirements had been raised. Now you had to be a graduate of high school. Mr. Parker, a lawyer, suggested that I go to high school and graduate. Three or four years more before I could enter college? not me. I was too old, 19, to be with 15 year old students. My father wanted me to go the Catholic University, Washington, D.C. I wrote asking if there was any way to earn enough for my board while there. The reply was brief.
I would be admitted but no way to work. I must pay the full tuition, etc. My family did not have that kind of money. No hope now. Next my father took me to see the parish priest. He might know how I could get in.
Father Joseph Mueller said I should go to State College at Raleigh. Note 7 My father nearly fell off his chair. Here was a priest telling me to go to a non-Catholic college! I shall always be grateful for his advice. Now my father could not deny me this golden opportunity; a priest's recommendation.
Instead of being a lawyer I decided to become a chemist. This agricultural and engineering college had many farm boys who had also been unable to finish high school. Like some of them I entered conditionally. I had to "make-up" and pass certain required entrance subjects: Advanced Algebra, Geometry, etc. By pleading with a math teacher I was taught these subjects in the evenings for a very small fee.
Raleigh 1916 with Gretchen Hodges
Money from my savings account paid the first year's tuition. My father sent me $15 monthly for meals the first year. During the remaining three years I was on my own financially. I worked in the central student cafe as a waiter and did clerical work in the Registration Office after classes. I signed long-term notes for the tuition, at low interest rates. Several years after graduation I repaid these notes. How fortunate I was to be able to work my way through college! No time to go in for athletics of any kind. Nor to attend any social functions, except once, in my junior year. One Sunday afternoon a group of girls from Meredith College in Raleigh, came to our campus, properly escorted by a woman teacher as chaperon. Here I met Doris Jenkins, who later became my first wife. We even shook hands. That was as close a contact as was permitted. Later we corresponded. I had never had a date with a girl in my life--not until long after graduation.
Military training was given by the U.S. regular army, and drilled freshmen and sophomores as cadet officers. At the close of freshman year, I went downtown in Raleigh and joined the State National Guard, Company B, 3rd North Carolina Regiment. Now I would be able to spend two weeks summer training at a camp near Morehead, N.C. on the Atlantic Coast. We would receive pay, food, clothing, and medical services. Each year I did this mainly to earn pay and the experience.
Soon I became a drill corporal. Albert Cox, an attorney in Raleigh, joined Company B as Captain. In the summer of 1916 we were ordered to go to the Mexican border at El Paso, Texas, where we spent several months training. I was Captain Cox's clerk and was promoted to sergeant. When WWI started Captain Cox formed a volunteer regiment of North Carolina field artillery and became their Commander, a Colonel. Later in life I met him in Washington, D.C. He was then a Brigadier General, Commandant of the Military District there. President F. D. Roosevelt called him “Al”.
He received hree commissions: Captain, Infantry; Colonel, Field Artillery; and Brigadier General. Few men could equal this military record in modern times. Later his son, Archibald Cox, a Harvard law professor became Special Prosecutor for the Justice Department in the renowned Watergate scandals during the Richard Nixon administration.
Let's get back to the State College. My subjects were Math, Physics, English, German, Qualitative and Quantitative Chemistry, Soils, Botany, Zoology and other subjects. Mr. Heck held his students in Physics spellbound. Mr. Harrelson, math teacher, excited me with his prediction of the future for mankind of higher mathematics. He had military service in WWI. Colonel Harrelson later became Chancellor of North Carolina State University. He and my sister, Mary, who worked in a Raleigh office for several months, became good friends.
A classmate of mine, Kerr Scott was a good student. Later he became Governor of North Carolina and still later a U.S. Senator. He and his wife, Mary, were the guests of my wife, Virginia and me at the Cosmos Club In Washington on one occasion. No politics, just friends.
While I had paid up my indebtedness to North Carolina State several years after graduation (notes owed on tuition) nevertheless I felt my education warranted more than this small cost. Never could I repay the full value; but ever since retirement, 20 years ago, I've made a financial contribution to North Carolina State university as a member of the "Century Club."
In my junior year my room was in Watauga Hall. One day some boys took a horse, tied to a hitching post outside the building, unhitched him, and led the horse up the several flights of stairs to the fourth floor, and put him into a student's room, and closed the door. When the rider returned and discovered his horse missing he let out a howl. Someone had stolen his mount! A student who had observed the trick told him to be calm. His horse was in Watauga Hall, Room 407. Now came problems. It was easy to get the horse to back out of the narrow student's room into the hallway. But at the staircase (I was returning to my room on the fourth floor from class at this time and met the horse face to face) the horse refused absolutely to go down the steps for fear of falling. By this time 20-30 students had gathered and were making suggestions. If the horse were pulled, head first, down the stairs, he would certainly fall and break a leg or his neck, or both. Someone suggested that the horse be turned around and go down the stairs backwards, just the reverse of the way he so easily had climbed. Again the horse refused. By this time the commotion had been brought to the attention of the Dean and other officials. They could do nothing about it. Finally a senior student in animal husbandry was called to the scene. He got a strong rope and tied it to the horse's tail. A number of strong students were assigned to go to the rear of the horse and pull. Their effort had to be greater than the horse's effort to resist. Halfway down the first flight of steps the rope tension relaxed a bit and the horse. went up the steps again pulling several students with him. Two hours later the difficult operation was successfully completed. The rider mounted his steed and with elbows flapping and hoofs flying, man and beast quickly left the campus.
There were other tricks on the campus but time will not permit going into them now.
I well remember, D. H. Hill, President, Mr. Owen, Registrar, Mr. Bowen, Finance, Professors Withers, Williams, Riddick, my English professor, and others. I never joined a fraternity--too busy. I did join a debating team and learned to speak before a group.
Our German teacher, whose name escapes me at this moment, precipitously left the campus, even without waiting for his salary, the day war (WWI) was declared. Talk centered about his being a German military officer on leave of absence to teach (and to spy?) in the U.S.A. He was last known to have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border en route to his home in Der fatherland.