Dr. Gary Freeze named Rowan Public Library Friend of the Year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Deirdre Parker Smith
Salisbury Post
Dr. Gary Freeze of Catawba College was named the Rowan Public Library Friend of the Year by the Friends of RPL Thursday night.
Freeze, narrator and script writer for the video series, “A Ramble Through Rowan History,” is chairman of the library’s Board of Trustees.
The series, which has covered the land the library is built on and the mystery of Peter Stuart Ney and Napoleon, will continue with “The Regulators” and a segment on the Revolution in Rowan. The DVDs are available at the library and play on the city’s cable channel, 16.
The next planned segment will be life in Rowan in the early 1800s, and will include Davie and Davidson counties, which were part of Rowan then.
Speakers Alice Sink and Nickie Doyal, talked about their book, “Boarding House Reach: North Carolina’s Entrepreneurial Women.”
Sink, who recently retired from High Point University, grew up in Lexington. Her grandmother had a boarding house and Sink was her helper.
The grandmother’s husband died young, leaving five children in a big house. She had a garden, chickens and “she knew how to keep men in line,” Sink said.
She opened her house to men coming to Lexington to work in the furniture industry, and wasted no space.
“In her four bedrooms, she had as many as three double beds in one room, and one tiny bathroom,” Sink said.
Her grandmother cooked breakfast, dinner and supper for the boarders, feeding them on a huge oak table. “Boarding House Reach” is a phrase from the heyday of boarding houses. The women who owned the houses put food in the middle of the table, and the boarders had to reach for it. “Woe be to the man who reaches for the last biscuit,” Sink said.
“Every Monday, she changed the sheets, but not the way we change the sheets.” Her grandmother would take the top and bottom sheet off, both straight sheets, put the bottom sheet in the wash and use the top sheet on the bottom. Each bed got a clean top sheet.
But the boarding house both women remember the most belonged to Mama Thornton, who lived between High Point and Greensboro.
She ran a baby boarding house for almost 16 years. A widow with three children, she was already cooking meals for a road crew nearby. Then someone suggested she take in babies.
Her biggest challenge came in 1938, when farmer Jesse Davis brought her his 9-day-old triplets. Although their mother was able to deliver them, she died from complications a few days later. Davis already had two other children and no way to take care of the babies.
Mama Thornton took them in for $1 a day each. The triplets, Martha, Tom and Sara, lived with Mama Thornton for 5 1/2 years, until they started school.
And it just so happens they all live on family land on the same road where Sink lives, so she was able to interview them directly.
“They grew up just fine,” Sink said, and Mama Thornton was included every year in their Christmas Eve celebrations. She died in 1993 at 100.
Mama Thornton took in babies of unwed mothers, children families couldn’t care for and others. She kept them until they were old enough to be adopted, and her own daughter, Pauline, made a baby book for every child, something the triplets still treasure.
Nickie Doyal, who graduated from college at age 56, took several classes with Sink, and earned a stipend to do research for her during her senior year at HPU.
Doyal discovered a great deal about women’s rights in her research. Women in the 1800s in North Carolina gave up all property rights when they married. They could not buy, sell or own property or enter into any contract.
It wasn’t until women’s suffrage came along that things began to change. Women opened boarding houses in places like Chapel Hill to board students, or in towns with textile mills, to house workers.
A good example is Elizabeth Haywood, widow of John Haywood, first North Carolina state treasurer. She had 10 children, and no other means of support when she opened Haywood House in Raleigh in 1829.
Examples abound through the years of women opening boarding houses in order to survive. Even up to modern times.
Odessa Holt, now about 105, ran her boarding house in Mayodan until the early 1980s, when she was 80 and decided she had had enough.
“Boarding House Reach” is published by Dram Tree Books in Wilmington.
The next event sponsored by the friends is Belle Banks’ reviews on May 15, including Sophie Kinsella’s “Remember Me?”