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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Edith Mitchell Dabbs, October 4, 1975. Interview G-0022. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Self-sufficiency at Rip Raps Plantation and thoughts on marriage and family

Dabbs describes what it was like to settle at Rip Raps Plantation in Sumter County, South Carolina following her marriage to James McBride Dabbs in 1935. Dabbs describes how they became self-sufficient farmers during those years, so much so that she does not recall the Great Depression as having any sort of adverse impact on them. In addition, she briefly explains how she met James (he was her professor at Coker College) and she explains how she hoped to help create a home atmosphere for him that would allow him to excel at other things.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Edith Mitchell Dabbs, October 4, 1975. Interview G-0022. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ELIZABETH JACOWAY BURNS:
And this home always was a refuge, as you were saying earlier this morning.
EDITH MITCHELL DABBS:
Yes.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY BURNS:
It was a buffer against the world out there and a place to come back to and regenerate.
EDITH MITCHELL DABBS:
I always felt that if I could keep it like that, if I could keep it a sanctuary, there was nothing in the world that he needed more than that. He certainly didn't need more money. We took care of the money thing by trying to be totally self-sustaining. We weren't consciously trying to imitate plantation days where you had the work done for you and that kind of thing, but we were trying to be self-sustaining as an isolated farm family because that's what we were. The Depression was still going full tilt and very few people had much money. We even grew our own rice. We couldn't grow coffee and we couldn't grow sugar, but we grew sugar cane and cooked syrup and we grew our own rice, as I said. We grew corn and made our grits and meal and we grew wheat that we would grind for homemade bread and I just thought that we were licking the world singlehanded, you know. Single, because the two of us were together just that much interwoven and we figured that as long as we had each other and were both convinced that this was what we wanted to do, there was no need to consider anything else. We didn't have any sense of loss. You know, I was startled a year or two ago to realize from some remark or casual conversation with somebody else, that those years were the Depression years. I was on cloud nine. I hadn't heard about a Depression and in all these years, I never thought about that. It never crossed my mind. It was not a reality. I made the children's clothes. I made little James, Jr.'s suits. Not a heavy winter coat, I didn't manage that, although I did make little cloaks for Carolyn That was one of the first sewing jobs that I did after we were married, a darling little blue coat with a cape, I remember. She just loved it, thought she was so dressed up in it. Well, sewing and cooking and keeping things calm around here, trying to keep us comfortable enough to be happy all the time, because that kind of comfort isn't what makes you happy anyhow … I thought that was enough of a job for and I felt justified in not trying to have a separate career of my own and James and I were just a team. He would do some things and I would do other things. I thought many and many a time of a former friend of ours, a colleague of his at Coker who had been my teacher, too, just as he was. She was never married and I often thought that as a student she admired James very much and of course, that was perfectly all right because everybody else did, too. She told me, I think right after we were married, I was back over there for something and she was still teaching at Coker and she told me that she just couldn't resist saying something to me, I think that she still thought of me as a student and was going to give me some of the facts of life and a little advice which was very sweet of her because it was done in a very warm friendly fashion, but she said, "I just have to tell you that I would give my eye teeth, anybody would give anything to be in your shoes. You have a chance to make a background for somebody who could be the lion of any drawing room and he is just a wonderful person. Of course, you know that, but I just want to tell you that I think you are so fortunate and I hope that you are going to remember all you have to do is to make a background and let him be himself." I thought that it was very perceptive of her, very generous of her to say that she would like to have it so much herself. There was nothing catty about this. It was just real nice and I felt warmer and more friendly to her than I ever had before. I had admired her but I hadn't felt warm. She was a rather elegant looking person and very self-sufficient and somebody that you could hardly get close to and feel warm about easily. After that, I felt more so.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY BURNS:
You had been a student?
EDITH MITCHELL DABBS:
I had been a student at Coker. I was a senior the year that he came there to teach. So, he had taught me for two years and that's how I got to know him. So, I've always felt that maybe she was right. I was justified in being lazy about some other things if I could just keep him relaxed enough so that he could be his full self, because he was so much more articulate than half a dozen other people I could name, that that was his job to do the articulating. He could write and he could talk unusually well and he had a beautiful mind and spirit to express the right things in the right way and so, he was the spokesman and that was right. I was perfectly willing to make a setting. Of course, if it was here for us, it was here for anybody who was harmonious with us, anybody who enjoyed what we enjoyed and would like to come just to be with us. They could appreciate the place and they would get a certain period of sustenance, but even on a brief visit you were free from worry and sort of a new, made over, fresh, optimistic approach for whatever they had to face when they went back. It was sort of apart from the world out here, just because it is quiet and it is surrounded by enough woods that you feel you are way off from everything—and you are. It's about three-quarters of a mile down to the highway and the Black River Swamp behind us is about a mile wide. There is not a neighbor here right now. There is not a human being, I would daresay, within almost a mile in any direction. And with all that country remoteness, it never was lonely. Of course, it has been lonely like nobody on earth could describe these last five years, but that is the other side of the same coin. By the same token, it never was before and I used to say that we could never be lonely and you couldn't say that without a chuckle coming up because it was so smilingly interesting that anybody could think this was a lonely place. It is just quiet and peaceful and so rejuvenating. So, I think that we always felt we owed the world something because we had so much and I don't know of anybody else among all my friends who has just the same thing. There are lovely, lovely places, beautiful, lavish homes, maybe, but not quite the peace and tranquility that we find here and that so many of our friends found here. It was sort of an extra responsibility to share it. We never felt that we had any right to be selfish about it. It wasn't something that we did, you know. It was a place that we were fortunate enough to live in.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY BURNS:
But you chose to keep it this way, you chose to keep it natural.
EDITH MITCHELL DABBS:
Oh, yes.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY BURNS:
And to keep it unpretentious and unhurried and unstructured.