Accessibility Navigation:

Interview with Faith McConnell

McConnell, Faith
Causby, Anna
Date of Interview: 
Farm life; Housekeeping - History; Teaching
Faith McConnell gives interesting details about farm life including information on an ironing pot, how to make coal, and her experiences as a school teacher.
South Carolina, Charlotte 1910s - 1930s
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The WSOC-TV Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
AC (Anna Causby): Anna Causby, May 25, 1979 interviewing Ms. R--,M. R. McConnell. Ms. McConnell.
FM (Faith McConnell): I was born Faith Ford in York County, South Carolina. I especially came today because I have never heard anybody else tell of an ironing pot. And back in the days when I was a little girl and had to help with the ironing out on the farm. The kitchen could get extremely hot in the summertime. You had the iron ( ) that had to be heated either at the fireplace or on the stove. And from, by the time you kept that going all day to get a big ironing done, you just almost couldn't bear the kitchen. So during the summertime, we used an ironing pot. It was a about the shape of a, of the water bucket except quite a bit larger. It was made of tin on the outside and the inside was very, thick baked clay something like a flower pot. Just about four inches below the top of the ironing pot, there was a clay partition with holes in it. Down near the bottom there was small rectangular hole with a slide on it to control the draft. [coughs] Excuse me. My, you built of fire of charcoal on the top part above the grate of the part above the partition and when that burned down to coals you put your irons on. And then you take that outdoors and do your ironing out in the yard in the shade, which was much preferable to a very hot kitchen. My father burned his own charcoal. He would go out in some place where it was safe to have a bonfire and build a fire of green wood with enough dry stuff under it to start it. And then he would cover the whole thing over with dirt. Make a few holes around the top and then start the fire in the hole underneath left for the purpose. And when it began well, to burn well and then you let it smolder for two or three days and when you got through, the wood was charred all the way through and ( ) got to burn down to ashes and that was your charcoal. Rather than have to buy charcoal. And I remember to I--, I suppose you've heard of an ash hopper, haven't you? In our backyard we had an ash hopper. It was a V-shaped trough that at the bottom had a very small hole. And you collected the wood ashes all through the year from the fireplaces and from the place that you did your washing out in the backyard and put it in this hopper and you kept them covered. And then when you accumulated a whole lot of grease, usually at the hog killing time you would melt the grease in a big pot that we had in the yard, and be sure it was clarified and then, then you got that ready around several days before, you would begin putting water from the well on the top of the ash hopper. This would leach through the ashes and take out the lye, which came out as sort of a yellowish liquid in the bottom. And then Momma would mix this yellowish liquid, which had quite a strong lye ( ) which you had saved which was melted, and you would get a liquid lye soap which looked rather like dark molasses. We would use this especially for the laundry, but sometimes in the kitchen to wash dishes with. Saved a lot of money for the old yellow occupant's soap that we used at that time. And momma later on would really did rely on the can, she got quite sophisticated and she would save the fat and used this to make a hard soap, which looked very much like the occupant's soap. And it wasn't very easy on your hands in those days. You may be interested to hear the way we wash cart. Ours was not the size you usually associated with it. Ours was about like a half bowl made of iron ( ) nearly an inch thick. And this was set in a stand something like a barbecue stand made of stone with a chimney at one end. And the clothes we would put in there to boil when we washed the clothes. You had no bleaches to use so we had to boil them. We used the wash board at that time. We had to draw a lot of water out of the well. The wash day was quite, was quite a production. We also used that big 'ol pot when we killed hogs. You waited until the weather got very cold, and then we heated the water boiling hot, clear water in there. And we put it out into an ( ) and put the hog in after it had been killed and kept it there until the bristles were loosened and then you scraped those off with a dull knife. The fat meat was immediately put into a big wa--, big trough inside the smoke house. We did smoke our hams and in time we learned to make sugar cured hams, which were much better. The [pause] the trough we put them in was hollowed out from a poplar tree, which must have been between four and five feet in diameter. One slab had been sawed off to form the lid and then the other was hollowed out. The rest of the tree had been made into troughs in the barn, which we used for feeding the cattle. You want to cut it in ( ). You might be interested in the first school that I went to. The nearest school was a mi--, mile and a quarter away, which was too far for a little girl to walk by herself in the country. And so I didn't get to start to school until I was eight years old, by which time I could read already. And then one of the school teachers boarded near us, and I walked with her. If it just poured rain if it was absolutely no weather to travel at all, they took us in a buggy but that didn't happen very often so we walked a mile and a quarter to school. We had a little wooden school house consisting of two rooms only one of which was used at that time. The partition between the two rooms was made of wide ( ) pine boards put together flat. And the blackboard was just a black slab painted on these boards. There were big cracks between them and in places lower down where we could look into the back room where the lunch boxes were kept, and see the mice playing around sometimes.
AC: [laughter]
FM: So the maps were kept back there too. But at the back of the front room where the school was held, we had a big water pitcher, but one dipper for us all to use. I don't know [laughter] how many diseases we transmitted then. But after a few years we heard about germs, and then everybody got his own little collapsible water cup, drinking cup, just as the Boy Scouts I think use now. We thought we were very modern when we got around to that. The benches were made of planks, and they would hold three of four people in my time, but only two of us there because the school had about died out. And sometimes we had only fourteen pupils. Later on we went to a consolidated school. Everyone carried book satchels and the favorite kind then after you got to be a little person had a strap over your shoulder. The favorite kind was one made of a long piece of denim, a hickory strap shirting that was folded into the middle and sewed around and just an opening left in the middle of the side. You put your books and whatever else you carried in one end and threw it over your shoulder. You were getting grown up when you had that kind of a book satchel. We had thick, five cents tablets and our pencils, if you didn't have much money to spend [pause] were, had a little piece of rubber stuck in the end that you could sharpen down like the pencil. If you were doing real well, you got a good pencil that was painted yellow. It's a eagle brand pencil that you have day and had a regular eraser with a metal band around it. If your father was doing extra well at the cotton ( ) you could buy blue horse tablets which had smoother paper, and they still make them today. But you had to pay ten cents for those, so most of the time we used the thick grade paper and the five cents one. All the boys wore corduroy pants, and they went swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. And nobody but nobody, you had to be at the very lowest of the low to wear blue denim to school. Jeans weren't heard of, but blue denim was overalls. And you just weren't in the social picture at all if you had to wear blue denim to school. And the girls wore either gingham or primp cotton dresses, which always faded. They never looked as pretty. You always soaked them in salt after the first wearing before you washed them to set the color. If it was blue, you used a little vinegar, but still they faded and by the end of the year your gingham's and your cottons looked pretty faded. But every girl wore hair ribbons and that was one of the favorite Christmas presents was hair ribbons. A big broad bow and usually you pinned it across the back of your head. But maybe you tied it up on it. And, I forgot to tell you too that the kitchen floors, which were wood were scoured with on old fashioned scouring brush. And I had to do that when I came home from school pretty often. You would take a piece of hard wood, hickory if you had it. Usually about four inches in diameter and the old man who made it would skin off the bark. Then he begin at one end and pull down shavings sort of a ( ) knife that he had close to the other end. The shavings were about as thick as the ones 'at the cotton baskets were made of. And he would pull those down to about three inches from the other end. Then he would go back up and go all around it and do it again. And keep on until he had the core to the thickness of a handle. A little thicker than the broom handle we use now. Then those shavings would be bent backwards so that the part where they were not separated and tied down and it made a broom that was flexible and slightly stiff. But still you could scour the kitchen with it because it was quite abrasive but then you had to do something to get those rough logs clean. If, out in the yard , you swept the yard with a bundle of twigs bind together. And lots of people wanted hearth brooms made out of broom straw. You had to go to a place where the broom straw was very tall. You would tie it up into little bundles about the thickness of your finger. Tying the thick ends together. Then you would take these little packets and bind them together with string or intertwined them until you got your broom as thick as you used it. [pause] When I began to teach myself, we thought we were pretty modern, and the teaching was not too far different from the way it is now. I taught at the Wesley Heights School here in Charlotte.
AC: Where did you get your education?
FM: I went to Winthrop College. I got an AB degree there. By the way, my school that I went to was an un-graded school. And therefore, it was not accredited, and I had to stand an examination. Fortunately, I read a good bit the teacher sent me one year to take the examination as a just to see what it was like. So I would not be scared the next day, the next year when the time came for me to take it. Through some miracle I passed that year so I got to school a year earlier than I meant to be. I taught second grade at Wesley Heights, and we were taught then what I still think is most important and what we are coming back to and what really was the main thing in the second grade. We taught some spelling and some math and a good bit of sentence construction, but reading was the main thing to teach at that time. And I am proud to say that my children did pretty well. I was always interested in reading myself. I was there four years, and then I got married and you just didn't keep your job if you were married in those days.
AC: ( ).
FM: You were not--. You were automatically disqualified. One of my fellow teachers was married in January and kept it a secret until June. We never knew how she managed to do that. And I didn't risk it. After I was married, I substituted some.
AC: You mean it was actually like a law that you--? Not a law but--.
FM: It was a rule that you, if you married you were automatically out.
AC: Oh, I thought they did it--.
FM: That may not have been all over, but that was here and she kept hers a dead secret. I did do some substitute teaching after I was married. My husband opened grocery stores in various towns. And once in Forest City, they sent me out to a little school there in the country to substitute for a teacher. It was a one-room schoolhouse too sort of at the foothills of the mountains. And I was there three days. And those children only one time did I ever have to make any effort at discipline at all. One little boy was studying real hard and he was studying out loud so people could hear in. And I had to ask him very gently, would he please whisper to himself. And it looked like it embarrassed him to death. He was so heartbroken I was almost sorry I had to do it. But wouldn't teachers now like to have some problems of not of discipline like that. I don't think of anything else that I have to say.
AC: OK. Thank you very much. You've told a lot about farm life ( )--.