Mary Elizabeth Auman was a teenager living in the rural south during the waning years of the Jazz Age when electricity, the radio, talking movies, and the 1928 Presidential election were the talk of her community. After rescuing her diary from being discarded by his father in the late 1950s, her nephew, William Auman, held on to the written memories for years until recently when, as a tribute to her memory, he decided to share both Mary's insight into the social and academic life she experienced as well as his own historical clarifications.
Through her journal entries, Mary presents a portrait of life in a rural southern village, describing many trips with friends to parties, movies, and fairs. While providing vivid accounts of life in the dormitories at coed Elon College and social activities at parties, ball games, and other collegiate events, she also details how she and her classmates rebelled against the taboos of dating, dancing, and smoking-often finding themselves on probation or suspended from school as punishment.
The Diary of Mary Elizabeth Auman, Seagrove, North Carolina, 1928-1930 Provides a fascinating glimpse into southern history and into the development of a rebellious attitude by young females against the gender conventions of the day in a rapidly changing world.
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The Diary of Mary Elizabeth Auman Seagrove, North Carolina 1928-1930Proto-Feminist in the Age of Jazz
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 William Thomas Auman
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Chapter OneAuman Family History
Mary Elizabeth Auman was born on April 17, 1912, at Auman's Crossroads, a rural farm community located in Union township in south-central Randolph County, North Carolina. She was a descendant of German immigrants who arrived in Philadelphia in 1730 and lived in Pennsylvania and Maryland for three generations before moving to North Carolina in 1791. Her father, Frank Auman (1883-1941), was a farmer and a businessman. Frank was a son of farmers Franklin (1826-1911) and Elizabeth (née Ward, 1842-1892) Auman. Between 1903 and 1905, he attended Trinity Park High School in Durham and Guilford College near Greensboro. He taught for at least one term at the Mountain School, a Randolph County one-room public school located about one mile north of Auman's Crossroads. Before he married in 1909, Frank had gained business experience by clerking at a general merchandise store in Star and operating a small general store in Ulah. Mary's mother was Mattie Auman (1888-1963), daughter of Charlie T. (1861-1932) and Mary E. (née Allred, 1860-1912) Luck of the White House community that was located about five miles northwest of Auman's Crossroads. She was a 1908 graduate of Why Not Academy, a private secondary and public elementary school situated about one mile southeast of Seagrove, a village about four miles to the east of Auman's Crossroads. Mary had an older brother, Howard (1911-1998), and a younger sister, Mabel (1914-1968).
In 1896, the Asheboro and Aberdeen Railway Company built a railroad between Asheboro and the Montgomery County line that ran southward to Aberdeen and Troy. About twelve miles south of Asheboro, the railroad company built a depot that they named Seagroves in honor of one of their civil engineers. Seagrove-the painter dropped the final "s" in "Seagroves" when he ran out of space on the station sign-soon began to grow as land speculators and businesses moved into the community. By 1930, the population of Seagrove totaled 245 persons. The rural road that ran south from Asheboro to Carthage and Troy, the seats of Moore and Montgomery counties respectively, was often impassable during inclement weather. In 1912, a group of one hundred and twelve entrepreneurs in Asheboro and southern Randolph County pledged over four thousand dollars to finance the construction of an all-weather gravel highway complete with side-ditches that ran from Asheboro to the Moore County line. This new highway passed through the center of Seagrove. (In 1927, the state paved this road and designated it a part of U.S. Route 220.)
Enticed by the developing economic opportunities, Frank Auman bought a lot on Main Street situated about two hundred feet east of the Seagrove depot. He moved his family into a new house that he built there in 1913. Over the next few years, he owned a sawmilling business, speculated in real estate, became part owner in a hardware store, invested in a bank, served as United States postmaster at Seagrove (1914-20), and owned and operated a general store. However, it was in the lumber business that he made his mark. By the late 1920s, his Seagrove Lumber Company, a business that he bought in 1926 from Arthur Ross of Asheboro, was becoming one of the leading lumber companies in the central part of the state.
A house and lot belonging to David A. Cornelison (1876-1964) adjoined Frank Auman's property to the west. Dave was married to Belle Luck (1886-1968), Frank's sister-in-law. He owned and operated a dry-goods store located next to his house. Mary was very close to her Aunt Belle and Uncle Dave. In her diary, she records frequent visits to their home and store. In the winter of 1913, the citizens of Seagrove selected Frank Auman and Dave Cornelison to go to Raleigh to petition the state legislature to incorporate the town, which it did on March 5. Dave Cornelison became Seagrove's first mayor and Frank Auman one of the first town commissioners.
Mary's uncle, Ivey Burch Luck (1897-1989), a brother of Mattie Auman and Belle Cornelison, attended the Farm Life School in Moore County after he completed his elementary education. Farm Life was a secondary boarding school where students could earn part of their tuition, room, and board by working on the school farm. Sometime after he left there, he moved to Seagrove to seek his fortune. He boarded with the Cornelisons while he worked at various jobs, including clerking at the Cornelisons' dry-goods store and working at the Seagrove Lumber Company. He soon purchased land on the east end of Main Street just past the Frank Auman residence where he built and operated a combination service station, grocery store, and café. Mary frequently mentions Ivey in her diary.
Lebbeus Auman (1885-1949), Frank's brother and Mary's uncle, attended a private military school for his secondary education. He served in the U.S. Army as a noncommissioned officer for about thirty years. The Army assigned Lebbeus to the Panama Canal Zone for his first tour of duty; he served the remainder of his military career at Fort Eustis and Langley Field, Virginia. He married Bertha Mae Luck (1890-1970), a daughter of Charlie and Mary Luck. (Note that the brothers Frank and Lebbeus Auman married the sisters Mattie and Bertha Luck.) Lebbeus and Bertha Auman had three children: twin sons Samuel and Thomas, and daughter, Evelyn. Mary refers to her Uncle "Leb," Aunt Bertha, and their children at various times in her diary.
Chapter TwoSeagrove High School Days
Mary attended the Seagrove public schools. In 1920, the county built a new schoolhouse a few yards to the east of her home. It provided both elementary and secondary levels of instruction. Due to overcrowding, the county constructed a new nine-room brick schoolhouse in 1926 about one-quarter mile northeast of the Frank Auman residence. Instruction included elementary grades one through seven and high school grades eight through eleven.
Mary's diary opens in January 1928, when she was a senior at Seagrove High School. She and her brother Howard were members of the first class to graduate from Seagrove High School-the class of 1928. She writes about her academic studies, her teachers, and her school social life. She records the coming of electricity and the radio to Seagrove and the arrival of talking pictures to movie theaters. Mary often refers to the 1928 presidential election between democrat Al Smith and republican Herbert Hoover; she was an Al Smith supporter. Mary takes many trips to High Point, Greensboro, and Asheboro, where she shops and attends movies. She has many friends in Asheboro, the seat of Randolph County, where she frequently goes to parties, to movies, and on dates. Mary also comments on the many trips that she takes to visit friends and relatives in other communities and towns.
To-day, being very cold, I spent the better part of it at home reading "David Copperfield." [David Copperfield is a novel written by Charles Dickens.]
Returned to school to-day after Christmas vacation and received my Geometry mid-term exam paper, which was perfect. [There were six teachers at Seagrove School: Harvey White of Greensboro, the principal; Charlie and Lillie O'Quinn of Star; Verda Morgan and Thryra Wright of Asheboro; and Marie Wrenn of Franklinville. White and the O'Quinns taught high-school classes. The O'Quinns were siblings or otherwise related.]
Attended school today and visited new laboratory in the north-west room.
Attended school today. Returned home and wrote a composition on "the Life of Julius Caesar."
Mabel's birthday-14 yrs. old. Vada and I came thru the pasture to town from school. Then home. [Mabel Auman (1914-68) was Mary's sister. Vada Graves was a close friend who lived on the north side of Seagrove about one quarter of a mile from the Mary Auman residence. She would be Mary's roommate at Elon College in the fall. Vada was the daughter of Hiram and Stella Graves. According to the census, Hiram's occupation in 1930 was truck driver.]
Took final exam on Caesar this morning (made 98) afternoon! Seagrove played scheduled basket ball game with Bennett. Score 18-15 in favor of Seag. V. & I ransacked dinner baskets. [Mary did not make clear whether she meant "morning" or "afternoon." Bennett is a hamlet located in southwestern Chatham County.]
January 7 Saturday
Rode Howard's new horse to the dam and spring in our pasture this morning. This evening read Shakespeare's "Othello." [Howard Auman (1911-98) was Mary's brother.]
Went to Sunday school this morning. This afternoon: visited Uncle David and Aunt Belle. This evening: went to church. [Belle Cornelison (née Luck) was a sister of Mary's mother, Mattie.]
Attended school today. Read "Lorna Doane." [Lorna Doone is a novel written by Richard Blackmore.]
Attended school today and spent the afternoon in the library with Raeford Williams, who with Howard in a car wreck got his leg broke. [As Howard drove south out of Asheboro in foggy weather, he slammed into the rear of a truck ahead of him, injuring Raeford Williams, a passenger in his car. Raeford, age about eighteen, was the son of Wister and Cannie Williams, farmers living in Union Township several miles west of Seagrove.]
Spent the afternoon in the library reporting on Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream" with Vada & Martha Graves, Louis Tucker, Harwood Graves & Leslie Auman. [Martha and Harwood Graves and their siblings, Philmore and Della Mae Graves, ages about seventeen, eighteen, twenty-three, and thirteen respectively, were the children of Delphia and Della Graves, farmers who lived in the Why Not community. Leslie Wade Auman (1908-72) was a son of Pearson and Jennie Auman, farmers who lived in Union Township. Leslie was a member of the Seagrove High School basketball team during the 1927-28 basketball season. In September 1929, Leslie Auman enrolled as a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.]
Tried our first experiment in the laboratory to-day, which was constructing & using the hygrometer. Mr. White forbids the senior class studying in the library together because we "sang" too much. [Harvey E. White, high school teacher and principal of Seagrove School, roomed at the Eli Leach household in Seagrove. A hygrometer is an instrument used to measure humidity.]
The "Athenian Literary Society" entertained the "parent-teachers association" tonight. I spent this afternoon in the Music room studying & practicing a piano solo, which I played tonight. S.H.S. basketball team played Star. Heard two heavyweights, Sharkey & Heeney fight to-night over radio. [Star is a small town located about eight miles south of Seagrove in Montgomery County. The Tom Heeney-Jack Sharkey fight was a draw; Sharkey lost to Gene Tunney in July 1928 in a contest for the world heavyweight title.]
January 14 Saturday
Vada spent last night with me. Visited my great aunt, Mrs. H.D. Smith this afternoon. Howard is seventeen to-day. [Mrs. H.D. Smith was the wife of H. Duckery Smith, janitor at the Seagrove School. They lived in northwest Seagrove near Vada Graves.]
Went to my grandfather's this morning. Rudolph & Anna Grace Frazier & Bonnie Davis were there. After lunch, we went to the "Cat Fish Hole." The scenery was very beautiful. Rudolph especially thought so. [Charles "Charlie" T. Luck (1861-1932) was Mary's maternal grandfather. He lived on a farm located about seven miles northwest of Seagrove in Cedar Grove Township. Charlie was a farmer and a deputy sheriff. The Cat Fish Hole was a natural swimming pool in the Little River, a stream that ran through the Luck property.]
I began new week in school this morning. Had mid-term exam on history (United States). Bill Boroughs came to see Howard. Bill has just come home from Port Arthur, Texas, & Mobile ala [Alabama].
Martha [Graves] spent last night with me. We studied for geography exam which we had today.
Exams. being over, I had a good time at school to-day playing ball and bicycle racing. Read O. Henry's "Cabbage and Rings" tonight. ["Honor Roll" students in the senior class at Seagrove High School-those who made a grade of "B" or better for the fourth month of the school year-were Mary Auman, Howard Auman, Elijah Lucas, Vada Graves, Martha Graves, and Lane Russell. One student-Alta Mae Matthews-made As on all subjects.]
Read "the Oregon Trail" today. [The Oregon Trail is a novel by Francis Parkman.]
Went to Bennett to-day to see the ball game between Seagrove and Bennett. The latter won by score of 39-11.
January 21 Saturday
Embroidered a tea apron this afternoon. Heard that Billy Hughes is very sick. Seagrove H.S. boys gave Negro minstrel [show] here to-night. [Not able to locate a witness to this show, the editor presumes that the boys performed it in blackface. Students staged a second "Negro minstrel show" at Seagrove School on November 10 of this year. Billy Hughes-a son of Mamie Hughes-was Mary's first cousin. Mamie was a daughter of Charlie and Mary Luck.]
Went to Sunday school this morning. Alberta Auman visited me this afternoon and we made candy and parched corn. To-night Edith Brower & Edith McDowell visited me from Asheboro. [Edith Brower was a daughter of Curtis Brower, a lumber dealer; Edith McDowell was a daughter of Joseph McDowell, a chauffeur; they both lived on Walker Avenue in south Asheboro. Alberta Auman (1910-2001) was a daughter of Artemus R. (1872-1942) and Lora (née Yow, 1880-1973) Auman, owners of Seagrove Hardware.]
Mr. Hicks, from Asheboro, had a wreck this morning when he ran into Boode Bean's truck. The car turned over in our yard. [Boodie Horatio Bean (1905-89), age about twenty-two at this time, was a son of Horatio L. and Adline Bean, farmers living in Union Township west of Seagrove. Boodie, then employed at Frank Auman's Seagrove Lumber Company as a truck driver, was a close friend of the Auman family. In the 1920 Federal Census, the name is spelled "Brodie." In the North Carolina Death Collection, it is spelled "Boodie."]
Electric lights are now beginning to be installed in Seagrove. This afternoon the post was erected in front of our house.
Today, during Geography period, we looked at pictures of many points of interest in all parts of the world.
Our class planned to go to Caraway Mountains this afternoon but Mr. White detained us. [The Caraway Mountains are located about three miles northwest of Asheboro. They are a subset of the Uwharrie Mountains, the oldest mountain range in North America.]
Read O. Henry's "Four Million" to-day.
January 28 Saturday
Snowed last night. Mabel and I skated this morning. Obsira Leach visited me this afternoon. [Oberia Leach, age about twelve, was the daughter of Garet and Grace Leach. The Leaches lived in Seagrove near the school; Garet was an auto mechanic.]
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Auman Family History....................1
Chapter 2: Seagrove High School Days....................5
Chapter 3: Elon College Days-The First Year....................53
Chapter 4: Elon College Days-The Second Year....................115
Chapter 5: End Matter-Important Events, Birthdays, Anniversaries, Christmas Cards Sent and Received, and Memoranda....................157
Chapter 6: Epilogue....................161