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Sallie Stockard and Adversities Met by an Educated Woman of the New South

Sallie Stockard and Adversities Met by an Educated Woman of the New South

By Carole Watterson TroxlerPublisher: North Carolina Office of Archives and HistoryISBN: 978-0-8652-6492-2Genre: Nonfiction: BiographyPrice: $25.00, paperback / $19.99, e-book

Sallie Stockard -- ambitious, well-educated, and hard-working -- lived from 1869 to 1963, beginning in the North Carolina piedmont and ending on Long Island, NY. Her adult accomplishments exceeded the expectations of women of the rural South, but she also endured difficulties as an adult that were greater than most of her cohorts expected. Her life provokes this question: how did it happen that the first woman to graduate from a major southern university (UNC, 1898, MA 1900), and who followed that accomplishment by publishing the first histories of Alamance, Guilford, and three Arkansas counties, spent the next quarter century cleaning other people’s houses? The answer is deeper than the obvious factor: her husband’s 1909 abandonment of her and their children while the couple homesteaded in New Mexico. After decades of poverty, frugality, and self-promotion in the southwest, she landed on her feet in Manhattan, with substantial educations for her children -- always her lodestar. Stockard did not achieve her professional ambitions, but with land and a pleasant home on Long Island, she farmed, as she said, “in a small way,” and began writing memories of her childhood near Saxapahaw, a long-delayed pleasure.

Beneath details about social norms, farm and family life, and material culture of the 1870s-1890s, there runs an undercurrent of anguish regarding slavery, the Civil War, post-war southern poverty, and white-on-black violence. It was sharpened by anger that tight-lipped adults had ignored her efforts to understand the recent past and present.

Troxler's biography is followed by her edition of Stockard's childhood memoirs.

In 1895, President Edwin A. Alderman of the University of North Carolina hand-picked four young women to ensure the success of his controversial goal of instituting coeducation at UNC. The first to graduate was Sallie Stockard. Her subsequent life offers a commentary on the clash between contemporary social expectations and higher education for women, particularly in the South.

In decade following her subdued graduation, Stockard earned an MA in history, published three books of history and a book of poetry, campaigned unsuccessfully to become State Librarian, worked in a Raleigh bookstore, taught school, and was a freelance writer for The Progressive Farmer. Inspired by "New South" reforms in public education, she parlayed her way to Clark University in 1902, where the pioneers of Educational Psychology were attracting students who would go on to train teachers in "normal schools." Stockard did creditable work, enough for a master's degree, but Clark would not grant degrees to women for several more years, a fact her enthusiasm overlooked. She cherished the learning, the library, and the faculty, but for career purposes, the year was wasted: there was no diploma.

Stockard expected to combine marriage with a career of writing and/or teaching. Totally out of step with the world around her, the expectation originated in uncommon features of her birth family and upbringing. In Arkansas, amid euphoria over launching herself as a history writer there, she married a handsome widower.

Five years later, she was stranded in New Mexico Territory with two children and no hold on the homestead her husband sold to his adult son. Thus began a quarter century of cleaning houses and frequent moves for short-term teaching sessions in more than twenty rural and small-town schools. It was her time of trial, studded with humiliation, resourcefulness, self-promotion, adoration for her children, and unrelenting work. Her experiences reveal much about her and her rural southwestern context.

She remembered those years as torment after she established herself on Long Island in the late 1920s, having moved her teenagers to "a more civilized place" and secured their educations. Her activities on Long Island reflect her grounding in the North Carolina piedmont, even as she began writing memories of her Cane Creek childhood, with which this book concludes.

In her late life, Sallie Stockard described herself as "A daughter of the piedmont, a stranger elsewhere.” Her long exile from North Carolina was self-imposed but unintended. Empowered by her mother and inspired by her great-grandmother, Sallie developed a literary sense of herself that matured into academic ambition throughout the 1890s. She envisioned a life of teaching but would not be content in the public schools near her home. There and elsewhere in the rural South and Southwest, teachers with barely a high school education taught brief, intermittent terms. Following graduation from Guilford College in 1897, Sallie took the unprecedented step of enrolling in the University of North Carolina. She had no money, and most of her family repudiated the action, her mother having died. There was no acclaim when she became the first woman to earn a degree from the University in 1898. She was excluded from the class graduation photograph and the public ceremony.

She had pushed the first few gates that blocked autonomy for women, but efforts to get past the next gates landed her in something like a rodent’s maze in the Southwest. She was able to move herself and her children to Manhattan, and ultimately to Long Island, in the 1920s.

Recalling the exhilaration of writing three books of history between 1899 and 1904, Stockard returned to writing on Long Island: first, a local newspaper featuring things she wanted to write for public consumption, and then memories of her childhood in North Carolina’s Alamance County. Troxler’s edition and annotation of the childhood memoirs form the last one-third of the present work.

The first woman to graduate from a major southern university (UNC 1896), Stockard soon earned an MA, produced three pioneering county-level histories, and studied educational psychology at Clark University prior to her 1904 marriage in Arkansas. Abandoned with two children while homesteading in New Mexico, she struggled for two decades in the southwest: cleaning houses, living very frugally, and teaching in district schools whose other teachers had a high school education at most. She left no personal records of these decades of struggle, which became the focus of research for this biography. After she saved enough money to flee to New York and finance appropriate capstones for her children's education, she continued working as a cleaner, earned another master's degree, and refused to speak of the hardships in Arkansas and the southwest. Stockard resumed writing in her late sixties on Long Island, where she sold vegetables and eggs produced on her two-lot home and relished her autonomy. The edited childhood memoir forms the final one-third of this book.

The author analyzes Stockard's life as her path through a series of locked gates facing women wanting to be active beyond the servient and decorative functions their communities assigned them. The gates against which ambitious women pushed at the turn of the century existed beyond the South; nevertheless, regional promoters of "New South" policies raised expectations there, even as their dependence on the doctrine of white supremacy narrowed the possibility of female autonomy.

With a Ph.D in history, Troxler taught 32 years at Elon University. She received the Christopher Crittenden Award from the North Carolina Literary and Historical Society.

Books by Carole Watterson Troxler:

The Loyalist Experience in North Carolina (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1976).

Shuttle & Plow: A History of Alamance County, North Carolina (co-author with William Murray Vincent, Alamance County Historical Association, 1999).

Pyle’s Defeat: Deception at the Race Path (Alamance County Historical Association, 2003) -- Willie Parker Peace History Book Award.

Farming Dissenters: The Regulator Movement in Piedmont North Carolina (North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, University of North Carolina Press 2011).

The Red Dog: A Tale of the Carolina Frontier (CreateSpace, 2017).

About 25 essays in collections and professional journals.