By Emily Miller Ladner
Ad die Carroll was born in North
Carolina in the same year that the last
Federal troops were removed from the
South, ending Reconstruction. She was a
girl in north Texas when her father took
part in the run into the Cherokee Strip;
she lived on his claim in a dugout heated
by burning cow chips. She moved to Alvin,
Texas with her husband and three children
in 1916 to raise oranges, and two years
later, the orange trees dead from a bitter
freeze she became a Houstonian. Today Addie (Carroll) Van Verth is 100
She moves vigorously about the
home she shares with her daughter, Jessie
Van Verth. Her hearing and sight are not
as sharp as they once were, but the bright
blue eyes are clear, the voice strong and the
She recalls family stories of the Civil
War, of how her grandfather hid his horses
deep in the swamp to save them from Yankee soldiers. They tied a rope around his
neck and threatened to hang him if he did
not disclose the hiding place. Addie's aunt,
then a girl of about 17, went out with her
penknife to cut the rope from his neck and
to dare the soldiers to try to put it back.
The men, impressed and amused by her
spirit, laughed and desisted.
Little Addie was 12 years old when
her family left North Carolina to travel
by the recently built railroad to Waco,
Texas. She still regrets that her formal education ended then.
"My schooling was rather poor, and
that was the greatest disappointment of
my whole life—that I didn't get an education." Her vocabulary and grammar, however, prove that education is not confined
The Carroll family stayed in Waco
only a short time. Then, driven by a devastating series of droughts that destroyed
the crops, they moved by covered wagon
first to Wichita County and then to Greer
County on the Oklahoma border, and
finally into the Cherokee Strip, where they
homesteaded near the new town of Enid.
Building materials were scarce, so to shelter
his family her father dug two rooms into
a hillside; he was able to get shingles to
roof one, but he had to use a tent to cover
the other. One day a rainstorm came up.
"It rained—and it rained—and it
rained," Van Verth remembered. "Suddenly we heard an awful splash from the kitchen. The hog had got out of his pen and
had walked onto the tent. Water and hog
both came down into the kitchen. The hog
wasn't hurt—he walked through the front
room and out the door. And the dirt floor
being on a slope, the water flowed out
While they were living in the dugout,
Addie told her mother that for three nights
she had dreamed that they were living in a
By Ruthe Winegarten
Oral histories are a vital metnod of
reclaiming and preserving the lives of ordinary women who have been systematically
excluded from history books. Collections
of women's oral histories are currently
being compiled by the Oral History Project
at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger
Library, Radcliffe, among other places.
You, too, can be an oral historian.
Grab your tape recorder, get good quality,
90-minute tapes and corner your mother,
aunts, grandmothers, cousins, neighbors,
friends and local old-timers. Once they
know you're interested, they'll spin the
yarns of old memories into tapestries of
their lives—on tape.
Important areas to cover include the
family backgrounds of the interviewee's
parents and grandparents; date and place of
birth; size of family; childhood; mobility;
menstruation; education; courtship and
marriage, and work inside and outside the
home. Information about birth control,
abortion, illegitimacy, health, church, club
and political activities, discrimination, rearing of girls, values and attitudes about the
changing roles of women and the current
women's movement are also significant.
The interviewee's experiences, with
and memories of the suffrage movement,
the Depression, wars, the civil rights and
peace movements, labor union activities,
election campaigns and feelings about
growing older are worth recording.
The kinds of questions to ask will
depend upon your relationship with the
interviewee and her sensitivity to "delicate" questions. Sample questions might
include: How many times were you pregnant? Did you ever hear anybody say she
didn't want a child? How did women feel
about having large families? What was
pregnancy like? Was your baby delivered
by a midwife or in a hospital? How long
did women nurse their babies? Did your
mother tell you about menstruation?
What was a typical day like? How did
women keep house when you were young?
Were boys and girls treated differently?
Outstanding oral histories of women
include Sherna Gluck's From Parlor to
Prison, Five American Suffragists Talk
About Their Lives; Kathy Kahn's Hillbilly Women, and Nancy Seifer's Nobody
Speaks For Me, Self Portraits of American
Working Class Women.
Frontiers, a journal of women's studies, is publishing a special issue of "Women's Oral History" this month. For a copy,
send $3.25 to Frontiers, Women's Studies
Program, Hillside Court 104, University
of Colorado, Boulder, Colo. 80309.
You can also join the Oral History
Association for $10 a year, for which you
will receive their publication, The Oral History Review. (Address: P.O. Box 13734,
NTSU, Denton, Tx. 76203.)
Addie Van Verth
new house, and the dresser was the only
piece of furniture they had in it. A few
hours later, set on fire by sparks from the
chimney, the dugout and everything they
had was burned, except for her mother's
trunk—and that dresser.
Young Addie Carroll married Al Van
Verth, who came to Oklahoma from West
Virginia by way of Kansas; he bought a
claim and built a house, and they settled
down to farm and and raise a family. The
rest of Van Verth's life story is one of
droughts and floods, fires and freezes,
depressions and business failures, with an
occasional stroke of good fortune that
rewarded the hard work, kept the family
together and educated the children.
At one time, to pay off a debt on
their farm, Van Verth ran a boarding house
in a school town. "I had 25 to 30 boarders,
three meals a day, five days a week. What
do you suppose I got for a week's board?
Three' dollars and a half a week—but I
could get enough meat for a dollar to serve
them all," she said.
Asked how she felt about the many
moves and new starts, Van Verth said, "I
never did care, whatever Al wanted to do
was all right with me; I never did fight
back about any of it. But when he wanted
to move to New Mexico, the children were
of school age, and they had to be in school,
so that was one time I balked."
She went against his wishes one more
time, to buy a house in Houston; he didn't
want to go into debt again.
"I maneuvered to buy that house;
I never had undertaken anything like that
before," Van Verth said. She rented out
part of the house to help make the payments, and things were fine for a while;
then the Great Depression came, and all
her roomers lost their jobs.
"I lay awake nights, wondering how
I would make the next payment," she remembered. "There was an old street car
with a flat wheel on our line, and I could
hear it coming all the way out, late at
night, with that flat wheel saying, 'I told
you so, I told you so!' "
But the payments were made somehow, and her son and two daughters grew
When pressed for details on the latter
part of her life, Van Verth was vague. With
her husband dead and her children grown,
life did not present the same challenges.
Only her daughter, Jessie, remained at
The younger Van Verth has been
taking care of her mother for quite a few
years. Retired for 10 years after a 36-year
career with the light company, she is now
75. "Mama's living easier now than she ever
did before," says Jessie.
The Van Verth family are charter
members of the Second Baptist Church
of Houston; on November 19 the whole
church will celebrate Addie Van Verth's
100th birthday with a gala party.
Breakthrough's tapes of the Addie Van Verth interview are being donated to the
Oral History Project at the Elizabeth Schlesinger library at Radcliffe College.
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PAGE 4 NOVEMBER 19, 1977 DAILY BREAKTHROUGH