Thursday, February 13, 2014
An interview with Mary Walker Gatewood – part two
As our interview continued, I noticed the selective nature of the words she spoke. They were thoughtful. I attributed it to a fine Southern etiquette, and I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, assume anything unspoken.
In the case of Mary Walker Gatewood, much fell in between the lines. However, through the short stories and vignettes she chose to reveal, some things are known.
This is part two of a two-part narrative about a local matriarch, Mary Walker Gatewood.
She described her experience as wonderful, and the people as being kind. Washington, D.C., felt just like a small town back then. Roots that had been richly established in Holly Springs were there for her, already living in Washington. At one time, she could walk down F Street and see people she knew. “It was wonderful,” she said again.
It was also a tense time. Mary Walker Gatewood, like the rest of the country, waited for World War II. She arrived in April of 1941, just a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, at the age of 21.
Wall Doxey’s secretary greeted her at the train station and helped her settle into a boarding house. Doxey was the State Representative for Mississippi then, and a native of Holly Springs. She and her sister had grown up playing with his children on Randolph Street. She called them a “very congenial group.”
When the war began, she knew Washington was where she needed to be. Early war preparations by the government had opened the door for her and other young, single women to serve their country and provide for their families. Here, civic duty and opportunity collided, and Gatewood took a secretarial job for the Department of the Navy.
It started with a prudent measure made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt the year before. Anticipating the war, he urged Congress to approve the first peacetime military draft, and called for the registration of all men between 21 and 35. Many chose to volunteer despite the draft.
A total of 11 million men enlisted in the service during the war. Countless jobs were left as a result, and women were encouraged to step up and “do their part” by taking them. They worked factory, farming, and nursing jobs, as well as jobs in the war industry. These jobs included building aircraft, ships, and weaponry.
Other women, like Gatewood, flocked to Washington, D.C., for government office jobs. Known as “Government Girls,” they only expected to keep their jobs until the end of the war. Permanent work was never promised, and drafted employees, who had previously occupied these jobs, had the right to take them back after the war.
The war provided a different kind of education for many women, one that gave them new skills, higher wages, and support.
Gatewood’s work, however, did not end with the war. She cultivated a fruitful career for an additional 11 years after the war’s end in 1945. By the time she permanently left Washington in 1956, she had worked as a secretary for the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, and the Rockefellers in New York.
“My generation led the way for women to express themselves.” Gatewood said. “I remember an example of one girl in Washington who was a lawyer, and the only job she could get was a clerk. We’ve come a long way.”
She felt more strongly about leading the way for women after returning to Holly Springs, where she became a “token” woman.
Mary Walker Gatewood’s short stories were told in good humor. She explained that her family didn’t especially seek political office (though two of her cousins were elected in the Legislature), but they took politics seriously, and always voted.
When presidential candidates Harry S. Truman and Thomas E. Dewey ran for office in 1948, Gatewood told her father (a strong Democrat), that she wanted to vote as a Republican in the presidential election. It was a joke, but I guess he didn’t think so. He refused to pay her poll tax.
Today, the memory still makes Gatewood laugh. It was the only time she didn’t vote.
With the sudden passing of her brother in 1956, Gatewood decided to leave Washington to be with her mother and sister in Holly Springs. But she never left her interest in politics. To the contrary, after 15 years in the political world, her goal was to be actively involved in her hometown.
Gatewood joined the Mississippi Democratic Party, where she was the first woman to participate. A self-proclaimed “token” woman in the party, she looked for ways to become more involved. It was during one meeting that the county’s Democratic convention was on the table, and the party had to elect a delegate to go. By chance, one of the men said, “Let’s elect Mary Walker Gatewood!”
She knew he meant it as a joke, but it was the first convention she attended. There, she had another sobering realization. “It was my first introduction to politics,” Gatewood said.
When she arrived with Charles Dean, the committee spokesman, at the convention in Okolona, Dean left her sitting in a courtroom, alone. There was no explanation. “Finally, an old man came in,” she said. She asked him, “Where is everybody?”
“They’re out there deciding what to do, and what to tell us to do,” he said.
But the fire was lit, and Gatewood pursued more conventions. She became a regular at district conventions, attended a state convention, and was elected to be on the city’s Democratic committee.
Over time, other women followed her lead. Gatewood remembers one good friend who joined the county’s committee later on. The two of them traveled together to district conventions, and loved the experience.
Gatewood began to formally lose interest in politics in the 1970s, but continued to participate in local issues. She feels that everyone should participate in politics.
“I like to say, and I am not the originator of the saying, that you don’t participate, then you get what you deserve,” she says. “Change is inevitable, and when you balk about changing, sometimes it’s to your detriment.”
The Marshall County Historical Museum is proud to have several historical pieces from Mary Walker Gatewood’s family, including her grandmother’s 150-year-old-quilt, and her mother’s wooden chair, which was made on the farm, where she grew up.
Mary Walker Gatewood continues to contribute through her insightful input as a member of the museum’s board of directors.
Be on the lookout for another “report from the museum,” a bi-monthly article from the Marshall County Historical Museum, in “The South Reporter.”
In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about Marshall County history, you can visit the Marshall County Historical Museum anytime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Saturdays are by special arrangement. Call 662-252-3669 for details.
We are also happy to announce that our neighbor down the street, The Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery is now open at regular hours Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
McCort-Wagonor vows said in September 21 ceremony
Maggie Kennedy McCort and Richard David Wagoner were married on Saturday, September 21, 2013, during a weekend wedding at Creekside Resort in Greenville, W.V.
The ceremony was officiated by Bishop Martin Townsend and Father Rich Maloney. Steve Anderson, uncle of the bride, performed a ceremony reading. The weekend included the rehearsal dinner, a bonfire by Indian Creek, the ceremony at Centerville Presbyterian Church, and the reception dinner with comfortable bluegrass music by the Gallatin Canyon Band from Blacksburg, WV.
The bride is the daughter of Jim and Sylvia McCort of Fort Ashby, WV. She is the granddaughter of the late John and Alma Kennedy of Holly Springs, and the granddaughter of Jane Kennedy Parham and stepgranddaughter of John Parham of Collierville, Tenn. She is the granddaughter of Virginia McCort and the late Nelden McCort of Fort Ashby, WV.
The groom is the son of Bob and Cindy Wagoner of Fort Ashby, WV. He is the grandson of Dave and Dottie Greene of Romney, WV and Jake Taylor of Richmond, Va. He is also the grandson of the late Ray Wagoner and Ruth and Harold Michael.
The bride is a graduate of Bethany College with a bachelor of science in biology, and now works at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC.
The groom graduated from Fairmont State University with degrees in aviation maintenance technology and airframe/aerospace electronics technology and now works as an aviation mechanic with West Star Aviation in Columbia, S.C.
The couple resides in Columbia, S.C., with their dogs, Tank and Lola.
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