Oral History Interview with
Widow of the late Dr. Stuart A. Rice, sociologist, statistician; Assistant Director for Statistical Standards of the Bureau of the Budget, 1940-55, and a member of the executive committee for the establishment of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, 1938-39.
Mrs. Stuart A. Rice
August 20 , August 27 and December 18, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened September, 1974
Harry S. Truman Library
See also Stuart A. Rice Papers
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Oral History Interview with
Mrs. Stuart A. Rice
August 20, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mrs. Rice, to begin this morning would you give me a little of your personal background?
RICE: Yes, I'll be very glad to Mr. Hess. I was born November 3, 1911 in Newnan, Georgia. That's a small town about thirty miles from Atlanta. When I was only two my family moved to Birmingham, Alabama and that's where I spent the rest of my life, except for a year at the University of Chicago, until I came to Washington as a bride in 1934. I went through the Ensley High School and then entered Birmingham-Southern College, that's a small Methodist co-educational liberal arts college, and my family was very poor. My mother and father had been divorced when I was quite young and mother had no money to pay my tuition though she did occasionally get me a new dress. But I got a job and worked my way through college and I always felt
that in many ways I got actually more practical knowledge from the jobs I held those four years than I did in the classroom. I was on the staff of the public relations and press office of Birmingham-Southern and was paid a small monthly salary. I also helped in the summertime operate the switchboard and put out the mail and so forth, and went to summer school. And going to summer school every year -- because I earned the same amount of money if I took three hours out for classes as if I didn't, so I ended up with a major and two minors and about twenty-five extra credits when I graduated. But in addition to this job, I worked on a newspaper the four years. One year on the old Scripps-Howard paper the Birmingham Post, and three years on the Birmingham News, and I was paid by the column inch, and everything I got in the papers about the college, interviews with distinguished chapel speakers and news events and social events and fraternity and sorority parties, I clipped that and glued it all together and each month I measured that and submitted my bill to the college. So, if I wanted a new dress for a fraternity dance I could just find all kinds of things to write about.
And I majored in sociology and had a minor in French and a minor in journalism. And the way I worked in the office of public relations was one year the head of the
department was on sabbatical. He edited the alumni magazine, a quarterly publication, and then each week we sent out news releases, mostly to the small weekly newspapers about students when they made their letter in different sports, or they'd gotten a scholarship for graduate work. So, the year he was abroad I did all that myself. Although I was just a sophomore he'd trained me very well and had confidence in me. So, I edited this alumni magazine and did the press relations that year in addition to my regular work.
At the time of graduation, I made application for a graduate scholarship. At that time I knew that I wanted to do graduate work in sociology and preferably in race relations. Although this was in the '30's I had very little if any race prejudice. Although my mother was quite prejudiced she still let me participate in some inter-racial affairs. Since we had no colored servants, the only colored people I knew personally were well educated.
So, I made application through a very, very dear friend (well, I'll get to him in a moment), but I made application to the Social Science Research Council for a graduate fellowship of $1,000. (This was in the midst of the depression.) And I was very fortunate to be one of
six or seven southern students who did get graduate fellowships and my professor of sociology, Dr. Kenneth Barnhardt, had gotten his Ph.D. at Chicago and he said, "That's the only school to go to for race relations." And Louis Wurth was there and Robert Redfield, in anthropology, and he said, "That's the only school to go to."
So, I was awarded a $1,000 fellowship. By the time I got to Chicago, it had dwindled to $600 because of the state of the Stock Market, which was very little money to live for a year on. So, I set aside $300 which was $100 for tuition for each quarter and lab fees and so forth, and spent the $300 the first quarter on living expenses. I got a lovely room in a private home right on fraternity row because, although I was a graduate student, being in a city for the first time in my life I wanted to take advantage of a lot of the cultural things and I did some of the fraternity parties and all.
So, Christmas came along and I was broke. I had just enough money to get a day coach train ticket and sat up all night to go home and spend Christmas with mother and we talked about what I could do. She still didn't have any money to give me, though there again she would occasionally make me a dress or send me something, but she said, "Well, you've always worked since you were twelve years old
when you had jobs in the summer, and you've worked your way through college, and if you really want to finish your degree I'm sure you'll find a job." So she encouraged me to go back which I did. I'd left all my clothing and books and everything in Chicago.
So, right away I got a very interesting job in a settlement house, it was called the Hyde Park Neighborhood House. It was in an old church with about four stories and the board of directors was composed of university professors, mostly, and their wives. Ernest Burgess a very famous sociologist there was on the board and he was one of my professors at Chicago, so I'm sure he helped me get the job. And I worked for my room and board and I had saved my tuition money. Sometimes I would cook my meals in the great big kitchen. And I worked with "incipient gang" children. This was the end of the Al Capone period. In fact one night I came home, and as I got to the settlement house, I heard shots and a gangster had been killed just a block away near the Illinois Central tracks, and this was nearing the end of the gang period and these children were incipient gangsters. The toughest and the strongest boy, was the head of the gang, and what Burgess and other criminologists were trying to get us to do as graduate students, was to turn these gang
feelings into club feelings and democratic processes so that they elected the president, and elected the treasurer and other officers.
HESS: Did you ever have any success in that?
RICE: Well, to some extent I think we did. Now I worked with young boys ages eight to ten. Another girl graduate student worked with teenage girls the same way, and I think we had some degree of success. We finally held some elections and usually the strongest boy did get elected, but at least we went through the process of holding an election and explaining what an election was.
HESS: Did you ever see Al Capone?
RICE: No, I never did.
One experience we had: There was a very poor family in the community and we announced at our various clubs that this family had several children, and they were hungry. We asked our young people if they would all bring a little food from home; a can of soup, or beans or something. Well, the food poured in, but we got complaints from the neighborhood grocery stores, the children had stolen the food. So, we weren't quite sure whether that was a good idea or not.
HESS: Didn't know whether that was a plus or a minus.
RICE: We didn't know really. Then another experience I had. They warned us never to keep much money with us and so I wrote a check just for $10 anytime I cashed funds for food, that was all I would write it for. And so one weekend the head of the settlement and her family had been away on a holiday and the other graduate students had been away and so I was the only person there. And I had left my key and I couldn't get in. And this was about 6 o'clock and it was getting dark and cold and I was kind of desperate to know what to do on a Sunday right. So, two or three of my boys came up and said, "Oh, Miss Mayfield what's the matter?"
And I said, "Well, I've left my key inside."
And they said, "Do you want us to open the door?"
And I said, "I surely would appreciate it."
And they said, "Under one consideration, that you won't come up and see how we do it."
So, they went up to the door and in five seconds the door was open and all this time we thought having it locked would protect everything. Those children could have opened that door anytime they wanted to.
Shall we take a break?
HESS: That will be fine.
Mrs. Rice, being a Southerner, to what do you attribute
your liberal leanings?
RICE: Well, I think the main thing was Christian training in Sunday School. I wa