TABLE of CONTENTS

Remembering Stell

Center News

LA Folklife Collection

Meet the Center Staff

Vietnam Collection

Stell: In Her Words

Sound Bites

ORAL HISTORY IN LOUISIANA


Published by the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, Louisiana State University

Volume VII Winter 2000

Remembering Stell

 

Estelle Skolfield Williams' life was closely tied to Baton Rouge, and especially to Louisiana State University. When she passed away this March, her loved ones lost a dear friend, and Louisiana lost someone with a unique perspective on her hometown and state.

Estelle was born in 1908 in Baton Rouge. Her two older sisters would be her close companions through life. When Estelle was two, her father became warden of the penitentiary. The family moved into the Warden's House on Laurel Street in downtown Baton Rouge, where they would live for two years. Prison trustees worked as servants in their home.

Estelle's family owned a plantation called Gracelane, located ten miles from downtown Baton Rouge. She loved country life, especially horseback riding. She spent every summer from childhood through her mid-teens at Gracelane.

When Estelle was eighteen, she married Frank Lore. She attended LSU for two years following the marriage, but left school when she became pregnant. After the birth of her daughter, Mai Frances, Estelle returned to LSU and earned a bachelor's degree in commerce and a master's degree in English. In 1938, she took a job teaching English at LSU and remained there for twenty-five years. Shortly after she began teaching at LSU, she and her first husband divorced.

After her father's death in 1938, Estelle and her mother took on farming at Gracelane where Estelle lived happily with her mother and daughter. In the early 1940s, she met historian T. Harry Williams, and they married in 1952. Estelle and Harry were close companions and also enjoyed a fruitful working relationship.

Estelle aided her husband in his research and typed and edited many of his books. Their two biggest projects were his Pulitzer Prize winning Huey Long, and his uncompleted manuscript on Lyndon Johnson.Estelle retired from LSU in 1963, and she and Harry bought a summer house in Wisconsin. They spent many happy summers there working and boating.

Harry passed away in 1979, and Estelle carried on his work. She finished preparing the manuscript for his book, The History of American Wars from 1745 to 1918, and assembled a collection of his essays for publication.

Estelle also maintained a friendship with a group of widows who called themselves "La Girls": Mary Frey Eaton, Mary Miles Walker, Jean Collier, Nouge David, Pat Womack and Beryle Lapenas. They socialized and traveled together, visiting China and England, riding the Orient Express and cruising the Mediterranean Sea.

Estelle loved attending LSU football and baseball games and made many trips to Omaha for the College World Series. However, she most enjoyed spending time with her daughter and four granddaughters. In 1996, she wrote a family history, From Under the Magnolia Tree.

The T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History was named for Harry in 1991. Estelle was a wonderful friend to the center. We, as well as her family and friends, miss her.

Two of La Girls -- Mary Frey Eaton & Estelle Williams

Back to Top

 


Williams Center News

The center continues to finish and acquire many interesting projects. Sticking close to its roots, the center added more than 50 hours of interviews on LSU history to its collection this year. Dr. Hebert has worked closely with LSU's Museum of Natural History to document its beginnings. Graduate student Jennifer Abraham is collecting interviews with former SGA presidents.

Other projects finished or in progress include:

Photograph by Dr. Benjamin L. Price

Williams Center Staff

The center weathered some personnel changes this year. Center founder Pamela Dean resigned to pursue her independent scholarly work. Interim director Mary Hebert, who has worked at the center since its inception, will continue heading the center until a permanent director is named.

Mary successfully defended her dissertation "Beyond Black and White: The Civil Rights Movement in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1945-1972" this July, officially becoming Dr. Hebert.

Teresa Bergen works as a 3/4 time library associate. She holds an MFA in fiction writing from LSU and has worked in the field of Louisiana history for three years.

Persephone Hintlian is the new Estelle Williams Graduate Assistant. Persephone is working on her masters degree in anthropology. She comes from California, where she did her undergraduate work at the University of California, Berkeley.

Mindy Mire returned for another year as a student worker. Mindy is from Franklin, Louisiana, and is studying to be a clinical psychologist.

Eric Rivet, a history major and Baton Rouge native, joined the center staff this year. He also works part time on the USS Kidd.

Hung Le is majoring in computer science. He came to Louisiana via Vietnam and California.

Louisiana Folklife Collection

The Louisiana Folklife Commission donated its papers, which include 1,500 audio and reel-to-reel tapes, to LSU Libraries Special Collections early this year. We indexed 500 tapes from the Louisiana Storytelling Project, which provide the basis for the book Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana. Most of the remaining 1,000 recordings come from the various folklife festivals and folklife surveys sponsored by the Commission and deal with history, culture and Louisiana lore.

The following tale came from storyteller Charles Rex Record III, recorded in May, 1990, at Ethel, Louisiana:

This fellow was riding down the road one day, he and his wife, sightseeing, out in the country. He was on this blacktop road. He look out his window and he says, "Wife! That's a three-legged chicken!" And by this time that chicken had got tired of them looking at it and took off down the road. Well she [his wife] looked over that way, and she said, "I don't see anything." He said, "Well I'm going to catch up with him. That thing had three legs!" Boy, he put down on the accelerator and took off down the road to catch up with this chicken. Finally after a mile or so he caught up with this chicken. And she [his wife] looked over there and sure enough that thing had three legs. Well they rode along down looking at that chicken and marveling over how in the world that ever got to be. The chicken got tired of it and just took off down the road and left them. He floored that car and that car couldn't catch up with that thing but he could see him. Finally he saw him turn down this little dead-end road, and the thing was making dust. He said, "I'm gonna follow that dust and see where that chicken went." So he turned down that road and followed that chicken down in there and finally ended up in this farmer's front yard. The farmer's wife and daughter were sitting there on the porch, and the farmer got up and went out, "Howdy! You looking for somebody?" The fellow said, "Well, I thought I followed a three-legged chicken in here." The farmer said, "Well, yeah, you probably did. I got a field full of them back there. You want to see them?" The man said, "My gracious, I sure do, and my wife does, too." The farmer said, "Well come on, we'll go round there." So they went around back of the house, and there was an acre and a half of three-legged chickens. [The city slicker] said, "This is the most fabulous thing I ever saw in my life! How in the world, Mr. Farmer, did you come up with these three-legged chickens?" [The farmer] said, "Well, you know, we like to eat fried chicken, and every time we sit down to the table it would be two drumsticks. And I like drumsticks, and my wife likes drumsticks, and my daughter likes drumsticks. There was always an argument over who was going to get the drumsticks. So I bred up these three-legged chickens; I was going to stop all that arguing." "Oh!" the city boy said, "That is just marvelous, that's the greatest thing I ever heard of in my life. Did you ever eat any of them?" The farmer said, "Nope, couldn't catch them."







Vietnam Collection

In the 1970s, LSU history professor Beatrice Spade coordinated a series of interviews with Vietnam veterans. The interviewees included men who fought for every branch of the military and several Vietnamese refugees residing in Shreveport. Spade's students found a group of men with wide-ranging experience, from career military to reluctant draftees, from soldiers who flew helicopter missions to officers who worked to improve village education systems. The veterans talk about their combat experiences, feelings toward civilians, black market activities, prostitution, attitudes toward commanding officers and the American government.

Materials from this collection can be accessed at Hill Memorial Library. If you know of anyone involved with this project or have any questions about this collection, contact Mary Hebert at 225-388-6577, or by email at mheber1@lsu.edu.

 

Back to Top

Stell, In Her Own Words

Here are some excerpts from an interview former Williams Center director Pamela Dean conducted with Estelle Williams in August 1994.

On Estelle's childhood home:

My poor father wanted so much to get away from Mama's family that he had built a house out on Florida Street, which was considered way out. It was in the sixteenth block, I believe. It was two blocks [away from] the Magnolia Cemetery. We moved there during World War I. It was 1918, probably, when we moved there. Daddy had built that house on the lot that my step-grandfather had given my mother. It was a brand new house, and it was a nice house, too, very nice house. We were living there during the flu epidemic. Now, the flu epidemic in the First World War was a great, great thing in this country, because nobody had ever had the flu and the people died, maybe five or six a day, in Baton Rouge. And, you see, we were right near that cemetery, and we watched through the windows one funeral after another, every day the funerals going by.

On attending convent school:

We had catechism every day. And one day the question was something about who would go to heaven. Of course, the answer was only those that belong to the Roman Catholic Church would go to heaven. Well, I rose up and said I didn't believe that. I had a good friend who was Louise Hoag, and I said, "Surely, the Lord will not shut her out because she's not a Roman Catholic." Well, about that time, the catechism class was over, and Sister DeSales called me, and she says, "Now, you know, you shouldn't have done what you did; you should not question the catechism." And, we talked, and she says, "Now, I'm not going to report you to the Mother Superior, but just don't do anything like that again." Well, I did do things like that again. Now, even though there was never any indication of the ecumenical movement, I was moving by that time because I had a lot of friends who were not Catholics, and a lot of good people I knew that were not Catholics. It was just absolutely ridiculous for us to be taught that we would be the only people to go to heaven.

On her education at LSU:

My last year, I decided I had better get a teacher's certificate. I had to change to Teacher's College. Well, there were so many courses that I hadn't had. I had to have all those fool educational courses. I took two, and then I took one by correspondence. Well, anyhow, I took enough of them to get to graduate in '33. I could not get a job teaching in Baton Rouge, and I didn't want to go anywhere else. So [my friend] Ethel Cologne's aunt, Mrs. Heidelberg, was the secretary to President [John Monroe] Smith. Ethel called me, she hadn't been able to get a job either, and neither had [our friend] Mary Bird, there were three of us. She said, "My aunt can get us a scholarship to go to graduate school. It will pay only a hundred dollars." Mary was living with her family, Ethel was living with her aunt, and I was living at home. So we got the scholarship, and then we went to the dean of the graduate office, who was Dean [Charles] Pipkin. Dean Pipkin was a high-flying man. He had a bald head; it was the reddest thing you've ever seen in your life. He associated only with people in the Music School and society people in Baton Rouge. When I went in, I had my transcript, and my grades were fairly good. Now, they were not all A's, I assure you. I said to him that I wanted to get a master's degree in economics. He says, "Economics! Whoever heard of getting a master's degree in something like that? You will get your degree in English." And, with that, he made out my program.

On the reign of Huey Long:

[Huey Long] did a lot for LSU. He got money for LSU, and goodness only knows, we needed money. Now, that scholarship that I had was a Huey Long scholarship, and though it paid only a hundred dollars, it enabled three of us to go to school for another year. I don't think that he interfered very much with the academic part of the university. I think he would like to have, but that was stopped right away with the band business. When he wanted to increase the band, and he wanted to fire the band master. Major [Fred] Frey told him that if he did, it would ruin the accreditation of the school. But he was very much interested in the football, and in the band, and making a great to do about his university.

My mother thought he was wonderful, and my father called him a you know what. My father could not stand him. My father belonged to that old school of politicians in Baton Rouge, in Louisiana, that had been running the state for many, many, many years and running it completely in the ground. Huey Long, well, he did a lot for Louisiana. We got all those good roads and bridges, and, of course, he was very interested in working out a plan whereby every student who wanted a college education would get it.

Huey Long did more good than he did harm. Now, he was crude, but a lot of the things that he did, he felt he had to do because of the people he was dealing with.

[Mother] thought he was doing good things for LSU, for Louisiana. He really did. She would recognize his good qualities, but my father would not recognize them. He was going to be whatever [former governor Jared Young ] J. Y. Sanders said to do. Daddy was very interested in politics and had a lot of pull in politics. He had a lot of friends in politics. They were the old order. But, my mother thought Huey was great.

Mama didn't mind saying exactly what she thought, and Daddy would say what he thought. But they didn't come to blows over it. When the election would come up, they would go and cancel out each other's vote without hesitation.

On researching Huey Long with T. Harry:

We had just bought that [tape recording] machine, and I had really not learned to use it. It was very difficult to use. You had to do a lot of connecting of parts, you know, like for the speaker and the repeat, and the recorder, and all the various things. So, the first person that we went to interview was [Huey Long supporter] Jess Nugent, and we called him, of course, "Cousin Jess," because that's what Huey called him. We went one afternoon and interviewed him, and he talked and talked and talked about Huey. He would always say, "Well, Huey, if that's the way you want it . . ." Everything would be just the way he wanted it. So, we came back and we put the tape on to listen to it. It was absolutely blank. I told Harry, I said, "It's just blank. I'm sorry." Harry didn't say one single word. He just got up and walked out in the yard, I guess maybe to keep from murdering me, I don't know. But anyhow, he never said one single word. He got up and walked out. When he came back in, he sat down, and he says, "Well, just sit right down there and write everything that you can remember, and I'm going to write everything that I can remember." I'm sure that we got every bit of it down. It was all nothing but praise of Huey Long to begin with because Cousin Jess could not envision that there was anything that wasn't perfect about Huey Long.

 

Back to Top

Sound Bites:

Oral History Around the State

Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklife Program

The Folklife Program has created a website about Louisiana folklife at www.crt.state.la.us/folklife. The site provides information about the Folklife Program, Louisiana's traditional cultures, and Louisiana Voices: An Educator's Guide to Exploring Our Communities and Traditions. The Louisiana Voices Folklife in Education Project also offers professional development workshops and institutes for Louisiana teachers and librarians. Workshops are available to school districts or individual schools. To set up a workshop, contact Donna Onebane at 318/237-3110 or donnao@cybermp.net.

William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive

The archive holds videotaped oral history interviews recorded by the New Orleans Jazz Commission and the National Park Service. Music historians Tad Jones, Barry Martyn, Dr. Jack Stewart, and Dr. Michael White conducted the 45 (so far) interviews with jazz greats.

USL

Graduate student Erin McInnes interviewed prominent local businesspeople for her public history degree. Among the people interviewed were Lafayette businessman and philanthropist Herbert Heyman, and Alfred and Gloria Knox, two pioneers in the south Louisiana oil and gas industry.

McNeese

Oral historians at McNeese celebrated the institution's 60th anniversary by interviewing members of its 1941-1943 classes. The interviews are doubly interesting because they talk about starting junior college at the end of the Depression and the start of WWII.

 

Back to Top

Oral History in Louisiana is edited by Teresa Bergen.