Gentry: I'd like to talk to you on this tape about your background and your childhood. Where were you born?
Garber: I was born in New York City at 460 Riverside Drive. I was born at home on April 16, 1916.
Gentry: Born at home, isn't that unusual for someone in New York?
Garber: I don't know. I never have really found out why both my sisters were born at Women's Hospital in New York and my parents decided to have me at home.
Gentry: What was your father's occupation?
Garber: My father [Mason Garber] was a civil engineer and a contractor and his father, my grandfather [Daniel Anderson Garber], founded the Northeastern Construction Company which had offices in New York and Baltimore and later in Winston-Salem. My grandfather was concerned about the lack of standards in the construction business so he was one of the founders of an organization called the Associated General Contractors which set standards for construction companies. When you signed with a company that had the AGC emblem, then you knew that they met certain standards for performance and that they really knew what they were doing. It was very much like a Better Business Bureau is today.
Gentry: And he created that.
Gentry: What about your mother's father [Harry M. Archer]? What did he do?
Garber: My mother's father was a doctor and he was a fire buff. And when he was a little boy in New York City, he used to have an organization. In order to be a member of the group you had to know every fire box in the city of New York. But of course, there weren't as many as there would be now.
But after he graduated from medical school, he got interested in the fire department, and he outfitted his own ambulance. He, as they say, rolled, that is he went to every major fire in the city of New York for many, many years. He crawled under buildings to give shots to firemen who were trapped inside. And he became something of an expert on burns. He won the James Gordon Bennett medal for heroism. He was a deputy commissioner in the New York fire department when he died.
Gentry: That's fascinating. Well, they were both trailblazers. Do you think that had anything to do with you being a trailblazers as a woman?
Garber: I don't know whether it did or not, maybe there's something in genes. I think we were a family of individualists who if we saw something we wanted to do and something that we thought was important, we just went ahead and did it. That may be a genetic thing, I'm not sure.
Gentry: Where did your father go to college?
Garber: He went to Virginia Military Institute which is in Lexington, Virginia. He stayed there for three years but right before his first class or senior year he decided he wanted to be someplace where he'd be closer to my mother who was living in Allendale, New Jersey, and New York City, so he transferred to Columbia University. That's where he finished his education.
Gentry: I see. How did they meet, do you remember?
Garber: Yes. My mother [Grace Dean Garber] was fifteen, my dad was sixteen. She was living on Allendale and he was living nearby there. As young people they just got together. He used to come over to her house and play tennis and they became close friends. It developed into something considerably more than that.
Gentry: They were married a long time, weren't they?
Gentry: What was your mother's background, then? Did she grow up in New York City?
Garber: She grew up in New York City and she was the typical young lady of the time. She attended a private school called Semple School where the lady who was in charge made them stand up for "Dixie." I have never understood why they did that, but I guess it was because she had a Southern background somewhere.
Gentry: Must have.
Garber: My mother was brought up as young ladies were in those days and she, to describe her more than anything else, was a lady.
Gentry: And became a Southern lady.
Garber: Right. I've already told you about my mother's father. My mother's mother [Helen Louise Archer] ran the house and did all the things that a lady did in those days. She was a real beauty, with black hair and was a very lovely lady. But she died when my mother was twenty.
Gentry: How about your other grandma [Nellie Garber]?
Garber: She was a housewife, too, and she ran things for my grandfather's house. She was a Virginia lady and very proud of her Virginia ancestry.
Gentry: What was it like to be a small child in New York City? Do you remember much about it?
Garber: I wasn't a small child in New York City. About three weeks after I was born, or four, five, six weeks after I was born, we moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where my father was building the Customs House. I'm not sure how old I was when we moved back to New York City for a very short time, then lived in Ridgewood, New Jersey, with my grandparents. Ridgewood at the time was a very small community where everybody knew you. I would be going downtown or running around somewhere and the policeman on the beat would say, "Mary Ellen, go home, your mother wants you."
I started school there in kindergarten and went to school through the third grade. My grandfather was mayor of the village of Ridgewood for five or six years.
Gentry: Is that close to New York City?
Garber: Yes, it's about twenty-eight miles outside of New York City. It is one of those communities where everybody works in New York City and they would commute back and forth.
Gentry: What were your parents like in personality?
Garber: My father was a very outgoing person and I thought he was a very funny person, a real wit. He knew a lot about politics. He could talk on politics or music or sports or literature, just about everything, and he really knew what he was talking about. I know that at one time he offered each one of us a hundred dollars if we could beat him at any sport—except swimming which my older sister [Helen Garber] was very good at or horseback riding which my younger sister [Cornelia Garber] was very good at.
Gentry: Did you take him up on it?
Garber: None of us ever beat him. I don't think any of us ever even tried.
Gentry: That was a pretty good dare, though.
Garber: Right. Certainly was.
Gentry: Do you have sisters and brothers?
Garber: I have two sisters, an older sister who is four years older than I am. She was an accomplished pianist until arthritis made her give it up. Now she plays the recorder. She went to Hollins College and majored in piano and graduated there. Then she went to Michigan and got her degree in musicology. She got her degree in musicology and met her husband out there. She married and had four children, three boys and a girl, and they lived in California. Now she's living in Denver, Colorado.
And then I have a sister who is five years younger than I am. She's lived at home here all the time. I certainly would not have been able to do the things I did if she hadn't stayed home and looked after our parents, run the house, and did all the things that had to be done. Without Neely, I couldn't have done what I did.
Gentry: And so you've lived in this house how many years?
Garber: We've lived here since 1924.
Gentry: Wow! That's continuity.
Garber: Yes, it is.
Gentry: Once they got out of the East and into North Carolina, did they like this area a lot better?
Garber: Much, much better. It was a much better place to raise a family and I don't think they ever wanted to go back to New York City again. We never considered it.
Gentry: So you were only eight years old when you came?
Garber: I was eight when we came here.
Gentry: When you settled down, where did you settle in Winston-Salem?
Garber: We lived in a house which at the time was outside of the city limits and located on a dirt road with big ruts in it. It was called Lover's Lane. Now it is one of the big thoroughfares in the community and it's called Stratford Road. And when we moved here, we were the only house on the block outside of a white house which was on Buena Vista Road. Now the place is all built up. When we moved here, it was all woods and you could play outdoors and go just about any place you wanted to. It was a great place for kids to grow up.
Gentry: And you had a horse, it was country enough to have horses and—
Garber: Oh, that was long, long, long, long, long after that. We didn't have horses until during the War. Then we had horses in the back yard but that was—gosh, that was in 1945, '46, somewhere along in there.
Gentry: Did your mother ever work outside the home?
Garber: She worked as a volunteer. In those days, women very rarely worked outside the home. She worked for the Red Cross and she was active in church work and she was commissioner of the Girl Scouts, worked for the Juvenile Relief, and she did a whole lot of things outside of the home as a volunteer.
Gentry: Was yours the kind of family that did things together as a family?
Garber: Oh, we did a lot of things together. In fact, when we were growing up my sister Neely and I enjoyed doing things with our family more than we'd enjoy doing things with kids our own age. We went to the movies and we played tennis together and we played games in the back yard. I remember at one time we went through a period of dressing up for every Sunday night supper. Each week we would have some kind of a theme. I remember one time we had books and Neely stuck a pillow in her front and came as the "Shape of Things to Come." We had a lot of fun together.
Gentry: Did your parents dress up as well?
Garber: Oh, yes. Everybody did. The whole family did.
Gentry: As books.
Garber: Right. That particular time. We had different themes every week and that particular time it was books.
Gentry: Would you have to guess what each one was?
Gentry: That's interesting. So your family was really one that encouraged creativity, obviously, if you did all these things.
Garber: Oh, yes, they did encourage creativity. And they encouraged debate. We would have great discussions about politics and music and literature and everything because, as I say, my father and mother were very well informed. Dad encouraged us to think and talk about our beliefs and then he would challenge us by taking the other side, no matter what side—
Gentry: So you would argue.
Garber: Yes. And we used to kid him because when he started to lose, he'd say, "Well, all right, now, if you want to be silly." That meant that we'd won the argument and the discussion was at an end.
Gentry: It was just like a debate, then?
Gentry: This went on all the time?
Gentry: Did you have any family traditions that were particularly interesting?
Garber: One of the family traditions we had was held every New Year's Eve or right around New Year's Eve. We would get together in the dining room and each member of the family would take turns sitting up in the big chair while the other members of the family would tell him or her what they had done well in the year and what they needed to work on. That included our parents. We would tell our parents what—
Gentry: You'd tell them what they needed to work on?
Gentry: That's great! How many years did you do this? Was it all through your childhood?
Garber: I don't remember. We did it quite a number of years.
Gentry: I'll be darned. And you constantly discussed politics and all kinds of current affairs.
Garber: I wouldn't say constantly, but we certainly had quite a bit of talk about them. There was always interesting conversation at the dinner table and around the house.
Gentry: Did your parents also encourage you to read?
Garber: Yes. And I remember right before I left Ridgewood, New Jersey, someone told me about the library. It was the first time we'd had a library in Ridgewood. I couldn't believe that you could go to a place that was filled with books and you could have any book you wanted. I couldn't believe that anything was as great as that.
But I didn't choose my reading material well. I just read everything I could get my hands on. Mostly I read sports books. My sister Neely was a very good reader. She read the best books—history and travel and things like that. I read mostly junk.
Gentry: Well, sports books aren't junk. Can you remember any particular books that were your favorite?
Gentry: When did your interest in newspapers develop?
Garber: I don't know. I decided when I was eight years old I was going to be a newspaper reporter. And I'm not sure I had any idea what a newspaper reporter was at the time. But when we moved here, I was ordered like most children to write letters back to my grandparents back in Ridgewood, New Jersey. And rather than just write them a letter, I took a piece of notebook paper and drew out a newspaper. Then I put all the things that children would usually write to their grandparents in as news stories and wrote headlines on them and reported all that went on in our family that I would ordinarily have written in a letter. I called it the Garber News.
Gentry: Well, you must have been pretty familiar with newspapers to put it in story form with headlines.
Garber: I don't know, I just did it from watching what newspapers were like because we had newspapers around the house. I just followed it from that. I don't think I really knew what I was doing.
Gentry: Did you do that for a number of years?
Garber: I did that for several years, yes.
Gentry: That's great! What about when you went back in the New York area to visit your grandparents, did you read newspapers back then?
Garber: I think that was when my interest in sports began because one summer right after we moved down here, I'm not sure if it was the first summer we moved down here or the second, but my grandfather came down here and took me back with them to spend some time with my grandmother and him in Ridgewood. And he was an extremely indulgent grandfather. I loved the New York Daily News because it had good funnies. My parents, my mother particularly, did not like me to read the New York Daily News because it was a tabloid and she didn't think it was the kind of newspaper that I should be reading. But my grandfather didn't let that bother him at all. If I wanted it, that's what I got.
So after I'd read the funnies, I thumbed through the thing and started reading the sports page. And there was a story in there, an interview with Jack Dempsey about how he had lost to Gene Tunney. So I read it and a couple of days later we went out to dinner with some of my grandparents' friends. The men were talking about the Dempsey-Tunney fight and what had happened to Dempsey because, of course, he was a great champion. And I piped up and reported what the New York Daily News had said. All of a sudden I was the center of attention and all the men were listening to what I had to say. My grandparents couldn't believe me. Where did I pick up all this? Of course, I liked being the center of attention.
Gentry: Did they ask you a lot of questions?
Garber: They asked me a lot of questions and I was able to answer them from what the newspaper story had said. Then I started reading sports pages and got interested in boxing. From that I went into baseball and then into football and pretty soon I liked all sports.
Gentry: Boxing, that's pretty unusual.
Garber: Yes, it was. And I guess if I'd read some other story about some other sport, it might have started some other way. I don't know.
Gentry: Was your father interested in boxing?
Garber: Yes. He was interested in all sports.
Gentry: As a family, did you go to a lot of sporting events?
Garber: We went to a lot of football games. He and I went to a couple boxing matches. There really wasn't that much boxing around here when we were living in Winston-Salem. But we went to college football games almost every weekend.
Gentry: Your whole family?
Gentry: So that's probably where your interest in sports really developed.
Garber: I don't know whether that's where it began or how, but we used to go to Duke, Carolina, Davidson and all the different college football games.
Gentry: Did you ever play sports in the neighborhood like a lot of kids?
Garber: Oh, yes. We used to play all kinds of sports in the back yard, then I sort of left this group. There was a group of kids that lived down at the end of Stratford Road and I went down there and played with them. They had a football team which they called BVDs, the Buena Vista Devils. We played teams from other neighborhoods on Saturday mornings. It was real tackle football and I was the only girl on the team. We didn't have any equipment, so I just wore a pair of corduroy pants and an old sweater. But I remember one time one of the teams that we played did have football uniforms, that was when little boy football uniforms were just coming in. And we beat them. We were very proud of ourselves because they had all this great equipment and we beat them, anyhow.
Gentry: Well, what did they think about the lone girl on the team? Did they accept you?
Garber: The boys accepted me and I was one of the group, one of the gang. I had everything, all the rights and privileges of a boyhood gang. But they treated me a little different from the way they did the other boys. For instance, one time one of the boys grabbed my sweater and tore it. And immediately all of the other boys jumped all over him and said, "Don't tear her clothes!" And you know, he didn't mean to, he was just trying to make the tackle and he just grabbed my shirt or my sweater. He wasn't trying to do anything.
Gentry: He forgot you were a girl.
Garber: Yes. And they reminded him very quickly.
Gentry: You were a big tomboy then growing up. Always a tomboy?
Garber: Yes. I sure was.
Gentry: Were your sisters also tomboys?
Garber: Neely played with us some when we used to play in the back yard but my older sister was not interested in anything like that. As I said, she was a pianist.
Gentry: Quite different.
Garber: Right. Neely liked horseback riding. She was much more interested in that.
Gentry: Well, did your mother object to you being a tomboy and playing football with the boys?
Garber: I don't think she did, no.
Gentry: You said she was a real lady.
Garber: She was a real lady. And I think she sometimes was worried, I think both my parents were worried that I was going to get hurt but they never said I couldn't do it. And at one time they went to New York City on a visit and they told me that while they were away that I should not go down to the lot at the end of the block and play. So I just told the little boys, "Come on up to my house," and they all came up to my house and we played in my back yard, which of course was not the point.
Gentry: Right. I'll bet your father was thrilled that he had someone who was so interested in sports since that was his interest.
Garber: Yes, I think he was. Don't get the idea that he ever thought I was his son, I wasn't. I was a daughter, I was a girl, he knew it and there wasn't any question about it. I never had the idea I was a boy.
Gentry: No, I'm sure you didn't. As a little girl, did you have particular sports heroes that you followed?
Garber: Well, Gene Tunney was my first one because of the boxing incident. And then I followed the New York Yankees for a while. But my big sports hero as I was growing up was Knute Rockne who was the coach of Notre Dame at the time. I think the reason I got started with him was because Notre Dame was so good. But then when I got involved with Notre Dame and there was a great deal of talk about the Notre Dame spirit and I just sort of got interested in that and followed them. I wanted to go to Notre Dame and I wanted to be like they were. I looked up to Knute Rockne and admired everything he did.
And of course, as you may or may not know, he was killed in a plane crash in 1931 when I was fourteen. I was just absolutely distraught. It was like losing somebody who was in my own family even though I had never met him or seen him. Of course, he had no idea that I existed.
Gentry: The team did, didn't they?
Garber: I used to write to the Notre Dame players. And they would write back letters to me. All my little girl friends wrote to the movie stars and I wrote to football players.
Gentry: I think that's great! Wasn't your interest in sports rather unusual for a little girl growing up in the twenties?
Garber: I don't know. I'm sure there were other girls who were interested in sports.
Gentry: You weren't expected to behave in a certain way because you were a girl?
Garber: I was expected to behave in a certain way because I was a girl and I did behave in a certain way because I was a girl. I think my interest in sports was unusual but I don't remember that anybody said you can't do that because you're a girl.
Gentry: Oh, I think that's great. Obviously, you had a family that allowed you to be what you wanted to be.
Garber: That's right.
Gentry: Be an individual. Well, your whole family is a group of individuals.
Garber: I think so. And they just sort of accepted this was my interest and we were encouraged to follow our interests. I said my older sister was a pianist, she was encouraged in her music; my younger sister was a horseback rider, she was encouraged in her riding.
Gentry: When you went to high school, did you continue your interests?
Garber: Yes, I wrote for the school newspaper the whole time I was there, all four years I was there. I took some part in athletics, I played on the girls' softball team. That was fun. I enjoyed that. And I ran in the city track meet. But I was never a really talented athlete, never.
Gentry: Were you too small?
Garber: I was small and slow and I just wasn't a well-coordinated athlete. We used to spend a lot of time at school hanging around the journalism office. We'd sit around, settle the affairs of the world and talk and run around together. That was the main thing I did when I was in high school.
Gentry: What high school was it?
Garber: I went to Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem.
Gentry: Was that a large one?
Garber: At the time I was there, it was the only white high school in Winston-Salem.
Gentry: Oh, really?
Garber: Yes. There are several now.
Gentry: So then it was quite a large high school.
Garber: No, it wasn't that big. I don't remember how many it was but it wasn't really that big. In the city of Winston-Salem there was the black high school which was Atkins and the white high school which was Reynolds. And then right after I left, several other high schools opened within the city. But at the time I went to high school, if you went to public school that was where you went.
Gentry: I see. Did your parents expect all of you to go to college, I mean was that just expected?
Garber: They didn't expect it, no. They offered the opportunity to go. My older sister went and graduated, as I say, in piano. I went and graduated in philosophy. And when Neely came along, she said, "I don't want to go to college." And that was it.
Gentry: She didn't go.
Gentry: Oh, I didn't realize that.
Where did you choose to go to college?
Garber: Well, when I graduated from high school, I wanted to go to Duke. And I'm afraid my reason was that they had a good football team—which was not a very good reason. But my father thought I was too young to go to a big university so he said if I would go to Hollins for two years that I could transfer. After two years, I didn't want to transfer.
Gentry: You really liked Hollins.
Garber: I liked it very much.
Gentry: Now, tell me about Hollins. Where is it?
Garber: It's right outside of Roanoke, Virginia. It's a girls' school and at the time I went to it, it was very, very small. When I went in the fall of '33, there were ninety girls in my freshman class and my first year there
I knew every girl in school by name. It's a lot larger now, but it's a very good academic school. As I say, I majored in philosophy because I planned to go into newspaper work and I thought it was important to have as broad an education as possible. And philosophy enabled me to take a wide variety of courses.
Gentry: And you would tell young people today to take a wide variety like that?
Garber: I think that it is better preparation for newspaper work to have a wide variety of courses than it is to go to journalism school, but that's just my opinion.
Gentry: Now, at Hollins, did you work on the college newspaper?
Garber: Yes, I worked on the college newspaper all four years and I was editor my senior year. We didn't have any collegiate athletics at the time because the philosophy then was it was bad for women to have the stress of competitive sports. So we had intramural sports, we had class teams, we had odds and evens in hockey and reds and blues in basketball. And I played all those sports but we didn't ever play against other schools.
Gentry: They were afraid you'd get hurt?
Garber: No. It was supposed to be very bad for you psychologically or something, it was a very strong feeling at the time.
Gentry: That was a theory at the time.
Garber: At the time, yes.
Gentry: Did you take any writing classes beyond the philosophy or was there a journalism department or journalism classes?
Garber: No, there was no journalism department, never was any journalism department. And I took—
Gentry: Creative writing?
Garber: I took some writing courses. I took several writing courses and my senior year I took an independent study in which I would decide certain topics and I'd go write on them. Then of course the thing would be critiqued and then I'd do something else. It was sort of a freelance writing class.
Gentry: How big were your classes in a small place like that?
Garber: Well, my freshman and sophomore years, they ran maybe twenty-five—twenty or twenty-five students in the class. Sometimes the lecture courses were a little bit bigger. But my senior year the biggest class I had was six and I had three independent studies in which I was the only one in the class.
Gentry: Wow! So you got to know your professors pretty well.
Garber: Very well. And my major professor in philosophy used to have her class up in her apartment and we would go up there at night and she always served cake and coffee after the class. And she had a big old cat named Kitsy Bunny. And Kitsy Bunny used to come into the open window and jump up on the table where Miss Williamson was conducting the class. And we used to always try to encourage Kitsy Bunny to knock the papers on the floor because that meant the end of the class.
And I had a professor who taught me American Diplomacy and International Law. When it came time for the final exam, I said, "What day do you want to give me the final exam?" And he said, "In the first place, it's too much trouble for me to make up an exam and in the second place, it's too much trouble for you to write it and in the third place, it's too much trouble for me to read it after you've written it, so I'm not going to give you one."
Gentry: That's terrific! Did he treat all the other students that way?
Garber: I don't know, I was the only one in the class. I'm sure he gave an exam in Political Science and the other classes where he had more than one student.
Gentry: Was it customary that professors would have their classes in their own apartments or houses?
Garber: It all depended upon who the professor was and it depended upon how big the class was, a lot of the classes, of course, you couldn't have them in an apartment. I think Miss Williamson was unusual that she had it in her apartment. I had my class in International Law and American Diplomacy in the professor's office.
Gentry: Didn't you hear a coronation?
Garber: Oh, yes. I guess it was George VI's coronation, we went up to Miss Williamson's apartment to listen to it on the radio. One of the professors who was up there had been to a coronation and she described how everything was when the procession came down to Westminster Abbey. It was just like being there because she knew everything that was happening.
Gentry: And so you learned a lot in that kind of an environment.
Garber: That's right.
Gentry: Then you think that a small place like Hollins was much better for you than going to a large place like Duke?
Garber: Much, much better because Hollins gave me a chance to do a whole lot of different things which I couldn't have done if I'd been in a large school. I had a wide variety of activities and Hollins enabled me to try my wings to do all the different things I wanted to do. They never told me I couldn't do something because I was a woman.
Gentry: Of course they wouldn't, with a woman's school. Did they tell you you could do anything because you were a woman?
Garber: We didn't discuss it. You didn't have any discussion about what you could do and what you couldn't do.
Gentry: On the paper there, did you have a specialty?
Garber: No, it was a very small paper, you just wrote about anything.
Gentry: Including sports?
Gentry: You covered their sports?
Gentry: When did you graduate?
Garber: I graduated in 1938.
Gentry: Okay, the Depression was on then when you were both in high school and college. Did that affect your family in any way?
Garber: Not particularly. We certainly never were hungry or never cold or never had any real deprivations from it. But people did come by here and ring the bell bow and say they were hungry and we would fix them a sandwich and hand it to them and they'd sit down on the front steps and eat it right then.
Gentry: That happened quite often?
Gentry: Your dad built a lot of buildings in Winston-Salem, didn't he?
Garber: Yes. My grandfather built Reynolds Auditorium and then my father came here to build the railroad station. He built the City Hall and the YMCA and the bus station and quite a number of residences.
Gentry: Was his the southern office of this construction company?
Garber: This construction company had offices in New York, Baltimore and then in Winston-Salem.
Gentry: Owned by your grandfather and started by your grandfather. Your dad ran the Winston-Salem office?
Garber: My dad ran the Winston-Salem office, yes.
Gentry: I see.
Garber: And then after the Northeastern Construction Company was—I don't want to say folded because that's not what I mean but the Northeastern Construction Company went out of business and my father set up his own construction company called Mason Garber Construction. And he did a lot of war work during World War II.
Gentry: Do you think living during the Depression in your formative years, your high school years and your college years, affected you later?
Gentry: In any way?
Gentry: Not affected your thinking?
Gentry: In high school and college, did you have a job of any kind—part-time job, summer job?
Garber: All I did, from the time of 1929 when I was twelve years old was go to a girls' camp called Silver Pines Camp in Roaring Gap, North Carolina. I went there as a camper until I was a senior in high school and then I became a counselor. And I was a counselor every summer until I went to work for the Sentinel. And that camp meant a great deal to me. It gave me a good feeling of self-worth and the feeling that I could do a lot of things. And also I learned a lot of fundamentals of sports while I was there.
Gentry: And when you were a counselor, did you teach sports to the kids?
Garber: Yes. I taught just about every one of the land sports. I was never a good swimmer—you had to be an examiner in the American Red Cross and I never could pass that. I wasn't a strong enough swimmer so I never taught swimming. But I taught baseball and archery and quite a number of sports like that, worked with the dramatics group and put out the camp newspaper and worked with the woodworking classes. I taught just about everything.
Gentry: Do you think your experience in working with that newspaper and working with sports and playing sports throughout your career helped later on?
Garber: I guess I did. I couldn't say in exactly what way, though.
Gentry: Well, you were involved with sports from an early age.
Gentry: Did you date in high school and college?
Garber: Not dating as such with me going out with one boy. We ran around in a group; as I say, we used to hang around the journalism office together and we did a lot of things from that. And I said we did a lot as a family group. I had a group of girl friends and when I was high school I organized Rockne Club and—
Gentry: Oh, you had a Rockne Club?
Garber:—and that was with some of my friends who were girls. We were interested in the Notre Dame football team, but I think I was the only one who wrote to them. Then we had a group of boys and girls that used to go around together. There was a lady who always had us down to her house on New Year's Eve, but I don't remember pairing off with boys and girls at all. When I was in college, most of the girls I ran around with didn't date much and I didn't either. We went to dances and parties and there were always boys and girls around.
Gentry: When you finished college, did you expect to marry or did you want to devote your life to a career?
Garber: I don't know that I made a great decision or thought about it one way or the other. I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I just don't remember thinking about whether I was going to marry or not.
Gentry: So you had exactly the idea of what you wanted to do.
Garber: I knew I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I don't think I had any idea of what sort of newspaper writing I wanted to do.
Gentry: No dreams of any particular kind?
Gentry: So you went back to Winston-Salem, right after college?
Garber: Yes. Right after I got out of school, I came back home. It was during the Depression and there were no jobs. So the first year I was out of college, I worked at Summit School, which is a private school in Winston-Salem. I worked with their after-school recreation program. And I got the sum of $25 for the whole year.
Garber: But I only worked five days a week for a couple of hours in the afternoon so it isn't as bad as it sounded.
Gentry: And you didn't try to find a newspaper job right away.
Garber: Oh, yes, I tried to get them but there wasn't one available.
Gentry: Summit School was what you could find.
Garber: I tried every place I could to get a job but I don't think I really knew how to go about sending out a resume and going to interview, I really didn't know how to go about it. I went down to our local newspaper and applied for a job and I did get a chance to do a couple of freelance stories for them. I wrote on a French girl who was visiting in Winston-Salem in the early forties. I don't know, it must have been '39 because it was before I went to work. The war had begun and she was worried about her people in her homeland. And then I did a survey of going through the police accident reports and wrote a story on the most dangerous intersections in Winston-Salem. But those were just—
Gentry: Right out of college, freelance?
Garber: Yes. And during the summers I was at Silver Pines. A lot of people from Winston-Salem went up there and spent the summer at Roaring Gap. And I did a weekly society column while I was at camp, telling about things that were going on at Roaring Gap. They ran that on the society page.
Gentry: Had you known anybody on the newspaper?
Garber: Oh, yes, there was the lady named Mamie—Mamie Hegwood, and then she married and she was Mamie Braddy. I've known her since I was in high school. And I think she was the one that kept egging the people down at the paper to take me on. I'm sure she was the one responsible for me getting my job.
Gentry: I see. [Tape Interruption.]
Did you finally get a job on the newspaper then?
Garber: Well, in February 1940, Art King who was managing editor of the Sentinel, that was the evening paper, called and asked me if I was interested in doing a survey on what readers thought of our society page. And he gave me a list of people to call and to go to see. I didn't have a car and I didn't know how to drive. So my dad took one of the workmen off his job, loaned me his Plymouth, and the guy drove me. And he was making more than I was. We went all through northwest North Carolina and knocked on doors and asked people what they thought of the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel society page. Then I compiled the answers and sent in a report.
Gentry: What did you get for that piece of work?
Garber: I don't remember, $60 a month was what I made when I went to work full-time. I've forgotten what I was paid for the survey, maybe $25 or $30. It wasn't much.
Gentry: How long did it take you to do the survey?
Garber: It took me about two weeks, maybe a month. I think I was two weeks on the tour and then compiled it. I wasn't a very good typist so my dad took my written account and had his secretary type it. It looked real fine. I'm real glad that she did it because if they'd ever seen how badly I typed, I probably never would have gotten a job.
Gentry: So you finally got a real job at the newspaper after that, didn't you? How did you finally break in?
Garber: Well, that happened in March. Art called again and asked me if I would like to be society editor of the Sentinel. What had happened was there were two women who were putting out the two society pages together and they were very good friends. They were spending all their time yakking with each other and there wasn't a lot of work getting done. So he put both the women together on the Journal and I came in and did the Sentinel society page. It made for a rather sticky situation because we were working in the same office. And needless to say, the lady who had been displaced as Sentinel society editor didn't think I was too—very much cute and she didn't much want me around. And it was a rather hairy situation for a while.
Gentry: Were just about all the women working on the society page at that point?
Garber: The only one who wasn't working society was Mamie Braddy who I think I mentioned earlier. She had been at the Sentinel since back in the late twenties or early thirties. Right after she got out of high school, she had to get a job, so she went to the newspaper and said that schools were something that everybody contributed to and they wanted to know more about them. She suggested that she be hired as a school reporter who would tell about what was going on in the different schools and board meetings and things like that. And they hired her on. From there, for the time she spent at the paper she covered every beat there was. She was one of the best police reporters we've ever had. She was excellent at the police department, knew every cop in the place and if there was anything to be found out, she could find it out.
Gentry: Were society pages beginning to change by then?
Garber: No, no, no. They were just like society pages used to be in the old days. We wrote about parties and we wrote about weddings and we wrote about engagements. About the only difference I did, I did more on club meetings and I tried to cover the whole city, not just the society section club meetings. We wrote about women's golf but mostly it was what the ladies wore, what the fashions were and what they had for lunch. And we had a long column every day, what we called personals which reported that Mr. and Mrs. Jones were visiting friends in Asheville. About the only offbeat thing I did was a column for women on how to watch football. And that was how to watch it at a game because television hadn't even been invented then.
Gentry: So you told them just how the play-by-play went?
Garber: Not play-by-play but what to watch for and what a first down was and that the guys in the white uniforms were trying to get the ball over the one line and the guys in the blue uniforms were trying to stop them. It was really very, very basic. But it was just so that you wouldn't feel too stupid when you just went with your boyfriend to the game.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Gentry: How did you write your stories for the paper back then?
Garber: We wrote on manual typewriters on long strips of white paper which we called copy paper. We made carbon copies of everything and kept the carbon paper in a big roll in the cabinet. We'd cut out a new piece when one got worn out because obviously it would when you wrote several stories on it. And one of the things I remember when I first came, I was scared to death about everything, as most new employees are, and about the second day that I was there I lost the piece of carbon paper they'd given me. And I didn't know that all you had to do was go to the cabinet and get all the carbon—
Gentry: They only gave you one?
Garber: They had given me one because there was a whole roll in the cabinet. And I thought, gosh, and here I've lost my carbon paper on my first day and I'm going to get fired. And I went to Mamie, Mamie Braddy, who was our sister confessor, and she took me by the hand and showed me where there was a whole roll of carbon paper and I could get all I wanted. But I was terrified for a few minutes.
After you typed out your story, you put it in a little tube and sent it up to the third floor to the composing room. There it was set in type by a linotype operator. A linotype operated something like a typewriter, only instead of printing words on paper, it set them into lines of metal type. These were placed in long trays. The type was covered with ink and by placing a piece of paper on it, a copy could be printed out. This was given to proof-readers, who went over it for errors in spelling, punctuation or fact. Corrections were made on the side of the page, just as proof-readers do today. Then, it went back to the linotype operator for corrections. The trays holding the metal type were taken to a larger tray, for want of a better word. These were the size of the newspaper page. A composing room worker placed the type on the page, just as it would appear in the paper.
I would come up and watch as the composing room man placed the type. I could tell him if I wanted something changed, but since I was not a member of the union, I could not touch the type. There was another reason for not touching it: If I dropped it, the lines got all out of place and this was called pied type. It had to be straightened out by hand. Needless to say this took time and made the composing room men very unhappy. Also, the type was hot. Once they let me pick it up, and I didn't want to try it again.
After the type was all in place, they would put another big piece of paper over it, roll it again, and I could make corrections from what we called the page proof.
Gentry: Well, how did you like covering society? It's so different than sports.
Garber: Yes, it was, and I know it sounds awful, when I told people I was society editor, they'd go, "Ya-a-ack, why would anybody want to be a society editor?" But you must remember that first it was a job, which is something I hadn't had. And second, I was really working for a newspaper and that's what I wanted. I got along all right with most things, I did the club meetings and even the weddings and everything else.
But the time I really got in trouble was we had a big Easter Monday dance at one of the downtown society clubs and everybody got dressed up in their finery. And the society editor was supposed to go and report what everybody had on. And all I knew was that you had on a blue dress and she had on a red dress, so I knew I was going to be in trouble with that. I had a friend who worked at one of the fashion stores. She went with me and told me what all the different ladies were wearing and what the dresses were like. So I got along fine and I sounded real intelligent.
Gentry: Was that the only time you had to do something like that?
Garber: That's the only time.
Gentry: Everything was segregated in Winston-Salem back then, wasn't it?
Garber: Oh, yes, there was strict segregation. We did not run any news of black people in the regular news section. We had a daily column which we called "Activities of Colored People." And we had a black man who had an office downtown and he would collect all the news of church meetings and society events and anything that would be of special interest to our black citizens. He would bring his copy up to the paper and we would run it. But, the only time a black person got his or her name in the news sections was when they were arrested and then they'd have John Jones, Negro, arrested for whatever he'd been arrested for.
Gentry: For murder?
Garber: Whatever. It didn't make any difference. And then on Sunday we had the Negro news page which was a full page and we ran pictures and reported on activities of the black people in that.
Gentry: Was it called Negro news back then or colored?
Garber: Activities of colored people in some way or Negro news. But when you identified a black person, it was John Jones, Negro, not John Jones, Black.
Gentry: What kind of salary did you make that first year in society?
Garber: Oh, my salary was enormous. It was $60 a month. Of course, that may not seem like much but it was a whole lot more than I'd been getting. And also, we could go downtown after we'd put the Sentinel to press and have lunch and we could have a meat and potato and vegetable and drink and dessert for I think it was thirty or thirty-five cents. You never had to tip the waitress because she was delighted to be serving you. And you could get a hot dog and a drink for a dime. So $60 really went a long way.
Gentry: Certainly. Before the war, were there very many women on the paper?
Garber: Mamie Braddy was the only one that was on, but by the time I came, the draft had gone in and men were starting to be called into the service, so we added women. I came and then Frances Griffin came and Annie Lee Singletary came. And by the time the war started, we had six girls on the staff.
Gentry: Did you socialize quite a bit? Was it a very easy, friendly place to work?
Garber: There was an easy, friendly type atmosphere. I remember one of the first days when I got there, one of the men came over to me and said, "Don't worry what anyone else tells you, we run this paper and we'll tell you what needs to be done." We had a real team spirit on the Sentinel, everybody worked together and we had a lot of fun together.
And there was a guy named Stuart Rabb. And he and his wife—and then there was another couple with them and a guy who worked up in Mt. Airy named Tom and I can't even remember his last name. We used to get together every weekend and go over to somebody's house and drink coffee and beer and have a big time and settle the affairs of the world and do all the things that you do when you're twenty years old.
And then we had a lot of staff parties, too. The whole crowd would go and we'd go someplace and we'd dance and we'd do all the same things that anybody else does when they have fun together. But it was a group activity and we all enjoyed each other's company.
And then during the war when we had the six girls, we did a lot together. We just went everywhere together, we ate together, we socialized together. In fact we got so carried away with ourselves that we wrote a book which we called "Copy Cats" and we sent it off to be published and were amazed to find that a publisher,
Henry Holt, was interested in it and asked us to rewrite it. And we did and we sent it back in. But by that time the lady who was supposed to be the reader fell and had an accident and she was out of the office for several months. The war ended and of course then the thing was deadaroo and we never had anything to come from it. But we had a lot of fun together.
Gentry: What was the book about?
Garber: About six girls putting the newspaper out during the war and all the things that we went through.
Gentry: All the trials and tribulations?
Garber: All the trials and tribulations.
Gentry: Those six girls I don't suppose were all journalists, were they?
Garber: Yes, all of them had writing experience. One of the things that we did was when Nady Cates—he was our managing editor who I think I probably mentioned earlier—got married, there wasn't anybody there to give him the traditional stag party. So we six girls gave him a stag party. That was one of the most unusual things. Also when his baby was born, he didn't pass out cigars, he brought candy.
Gentry: What kind of stag party did you give him?
Garber: We did just what anybody else does on a stag party. We invited him out to somebody's house and he was the only man there and we gave him a real hard time.
Gentry: That sounds like fun.
Garber: It was fun.
Gentry: When you were in society before the war, what kind of hours did you work? Was it a nine to five job?
Garber: I came on nine to five or eight to four but it was a very easy job. You went at a certain time and you came home at a certain time and I had more than enough leisure time, I just had plenty of time to do anything I wanted to do.
Gentry: So you kept on with your home life and your family?
Garber: Oh, sure, everything that I'd always done, went to the movies and did everything I'd ever done. Working in society was a snap.
Gentry: And you were still living at home with your parents?
Garber: Yes, I was still living at home.
Gentry: When did you get out of society and break into the news?
Garber: I think it was in 1942, I'm pretty sure that's when it was. And I can't even remember what my first news beat was. I got a chance to get out of society and get into news. And I think that was when I did the Community Chest and what we used to call the do-gooders, the welfare department and all things like that. I kind of enjoyed that.
I know one of the stories I wrote was one of the caseworkers in the welfare department had told me that the payment to welfare recipients with large families was really not enough to sustain life. I wrote the story and of course the head of the welfare department had six fits, one right after another. And she was great. She never let on that she'd told me and of course I never let on that she'd told me. She kept looking at me and she'd say, "Mary, where would you get such information?" And I said, "Well, I haven't any way of telling you, I'm not going to tell you anything about it." And she'd been the one that told me. But it was a good story and it was something that needed to be told.
Gentry: What were some of your beats when you were covering news?
Garber: As the war went on and more of the men left, the women covered everything. I covered the county courthouse which included court and which I did not like at all; court just bored me to death. And I thought federal court was even worse than state court. That was horrible, I didn't like that at all. I covered the labor unions and I liked that. But the labor unions were trying to organize Reynolds [tobacco] and I'm afraid I got carried away and I got very much interested in it and I started reporting what the labor unions were doing, overemphasized what they were doing, and didn't really present the company side fairly. I was taken off the beat and I should have been. It was the wrong thing.
And then for a while I worked on the morning paper which is the Journal, on the news side, and I covered the fire department there and I just loved that. One night they had a fire over in one of the poor sections of town and I was roaming around in the dark and the fire chief saw me. And he said, "Miss Mary,"—you've got to remember in the South everybody is Miss whatever your first name is—he said, "You should not be out here tonight, it's cold and you shouldn't be here. Go sit in my car and I'll come tell you all about it." So I went and sat in his car and his driver opened the door for me, turned the heater on, and it was oh, so nice and warm and comfortable. It was rainy and cold and gooky outside. And in a few minutes, he came over and he said, "Miss Mary, so and so and so lived here and this is how much damage was done and this is what started it," and everything.
Gentry: He knew how to report it.
Garber: Yes, he had everything about it. And then another time there was a fire downtown in one of the big department stores and he asked me if I'd like to go in and see the damage and I said, "Yes." And he said, "Now, it's kind of messy in here." So he took my hand and took me inside and showed me everything. And he was right, it was messy. There were three inches of water on the floor and everything stunk and smelled and I ruined a good pair of shoes. So much for covering the fire department.
Gentry: So there were real concessions made for you because you were a woman?
Garber: Oh, there were, very definitely. In those days, gentlemen really looked after women—
Gentry: They really respected them.
Garber: They really respected you and you never had to do anything if you didn't want to, it was really nice—in a lot of ways.
Gentry: Covering news, did you have an ordinary schedule or did you have to work into the night?
Garber: No, no, there was very little night work. Once in a while you'd have a night meeting to cover. I remember one time I covered a PTA meeting at night. And of course when I covered the labor unions, there were night meetings. On the Sentinel, we just sort of worked it out. Up until—I can't remember, I think it was about '43 or somewhere along in there that the wage an hour law came in and you had to start filling out a time card. But for a long time, we never filled out a time card. You came in and did whatever you had to do
and when you got through you went home. You might be sitting at the movies at two o'clock in the afternoon or working at ten o'clock at night. And you didn't worry about what the time was.
Gentry: The labor unions, was that a dangerous story or was it violent or anything?
Garber: No, no, I don't remember that we had any violence. It was a very emotional thing and the labor union that came in and organized was definitely Communist-dominated and that made a big difference. But the people that I worked with and the men that I saw day by day weren't Communists and I liked them and I enjoyed being with them.
Gentry: But you were sort of pro-union, you thought?
Garber: Then I was much too pro-union. You cannot allow yourself to get involved with a story that you're covering where you're for one side or the other, you've got to be strictly down the line with as fair with one side as the other. That's what a reporter does. And I was wrong, there's no question about it.
Gentry: Did someone talk to you about it?
Gentry: Who was that? Nady Cates?
Garber: No, the publisher talked to me about it, and was very nice and explained the situation to me and why I was falling for this. But in your twenties, you're so idealistic and your eyes are so full of stars. For instance, I remember they brought an organizer in from outside named Karen Morley. And she had been a movie star, married to a movie star. And she talked about how if you could get the labor unions in, they could control things and they could just pull out everything and just bring the country to a halt. And I didn't know what she was talking about. You know, I did not understand at all what she was saying. When I look back at it now, I think, "Good Lord in heaven, why in the world was I so stupid as to not realize what she was telling me!"
Gentry: Well, you were young.
Garber: I just was too young and had too many stars in my eyes.
Gentry: And you hated the courts—or you didn't like reporting on the courts.
Garber: No, I didn't. I just never liked court. I thought it was boring. And that was another situation where women were sort of at a disadvantage because there'd be an especially hairy case of rape or something else like that and the judge would say, "Now, Miss Mary, you don't want to listen to this." And you know, it was just—
Gentry: He'd say it right in the court?
Garber: Yes. And he'd just lean over to you—see, you sat up by the court reporter and he would lean over to you and say, "Now, you don't want to listen to this, do you? You're going to be embarrassed."
Gentry: Did they allow women on juries at that point?
Garber: At first, no, but later they did. One time they were trying to get a jury for a divorce case and they went around the courthouse rounding people up and I went down there. And the judge said, "I'm sorry but women can't sit on the jury." This was back in—gosh, what, '42, I guess.
Gentry: Did your salary improve any over the $60 a month when you were in the news?
Garber: Yes. As you got experience, you went up. I don't think it was because I switched from society to news. In any job, after you've been through a probationary period you get a raise and I got periodic raises as I went along.
Gentry: How long did you stay in the news department?
Garber: Until 1944. Then I went to sports.
Gentry: Since you were still in news during part of World War II, how was the war treated as a story in your paper?
Garber: Most of the actual war news was handled by the wire services. And of course there was a great deal about it. You've got to realize now as we're heading into another very serious international situation in 1990, we can turn on the television and we see people from the actual war front talking to us. But in those days, you'd hear Ed Murrow in London but he would make a tape and it would be flown over to the United States to be broadcast. Or we'd hear it on the radio. But it took a whole lot longer to get news than it does now. But we who were here, of course, did not have any actual—we didn't have any invasion or anything like that in North Carolina or in Winston-Salem. So we didn't have any actual coverage of the war.
But the thing that you've got to understand is everything was World War II, everything was involved in the war, all of us were. There was no one who didn't have somebody in the armed service, you either had a son or a husband or if you were a child, a father, or a friend or a brother—or a sister. Somebody was involved in the war services all the time and so all of us, whenever anything happened in the war, we were a part of it. And there was constant keeping up with what was going on overseas. We had a service which we called "Soldier Boys Pictures." If your son or your husband or any member of your family had been promoted or been sent overseas, you could bring his picture in and we would run his picture in the paper saying "Private John Jones has been sent overseas." Of course, we couldn't say where he went or what group he was with. Or we would say that John Jones has been promoted from corporal to sergeant, or to private first class or whatever.
Gentry: People were very interested in that.
Garber: Very much interested.
Gentry: I mean, that was big news.
Garber: And it was amazing because from the high society of the most important people in town down to the lowliest people in town, they'd still bring in their pictures and pull them out with us and they were just as proud of their boys. And we never turned them down; everybody got run.
And then we ran what we called "Pictures for Daddy" because a lot of times the men would be overseas when their babies were born. And so the mothers would bring the babies in to the photographic studio and we would take a picture of the baby and the mother and run it in the paper and then we would send a copy of the picture to Daddy, wherever he was.
Gentry: Oh, that was nice.
Garber: And then we ran a weekly letter which we called "A Letter to Joe," in which we included such things as the high school basketball and football scores and what was going on in the town and any just purely local news that you would write to a kid who was overseas. Then as the servicemen started coming back from overseas, we ran interviews with them if they'd been in any major action. And of course, all of that had to be
cleared with the department—whatever service they were in, whether air force or navy or army. And we had the numbers for all those people and who were the public relations officers. By the time you'd done it a while, you knew pretty well what you could use and what you couldn't. And you knew when the kid told you something you couldn't use, you just automatically eliminated it. We would call and say, "I've got a story." I used to be able to read them pretty fast because I knew exactly what I couldn't use—what I could use and couldn't use. And sometimes you'd read along and he'd say, "Hey, wait a minute, what'd you say?" And then you'd have to go back and say. And then he'd say, "Oh, yeah, that's okay."
Gentry: It must have taken forever to clear all that.
Garber: It did. And the thing that really took forever was that when you put in a long distance call you had to wait. Everything was priority and military had priority over everything. We had a priority over you as an ordinary citizen because we were a newspaper. And when it got close to deadline, we'd use our newspaper priority which meant that only the military went ahead of us. But sometimes that took a while to get through and you just had to sit there and wait until you could get through. That was the way it went.
And we ran a lot of local stories. Everything was patriotism, of course. Everything was promotion. We wrote stories about bond drives and the movie stars would come through selling bonds and we'd go interview the movie stars. And there were scrap drives and there were blood drives and there were drives for the Red Cross, people did knitting for the Red Cross. And all those things which we now would consider promotions were run as—we would put them on the front page, even.
Gentry: Was there ever any criticism of the war, in any way?
Garber: No. No. Why would we criticize it? This was our life. And there was rationing news. Everything was rationed. You couldn't get anything, shoes were rationed, clothes were rationed, food was rationed. And you'd swap back and forth during the war. For instance, we had a cow which we kept out in the country so we had butter all the way through the war. But we would give butter to somebody and they'd give us something that they had. And I remember one time I went to a meeting and they had a mixer to get everybody acquainted. You went around and shook hands with everybody and told them what your name was. And somebody had a prize in their hand and when the music stopped, if you had the prize, you got to keep it. I had the prize and it was one square of bitter Baker's chocolate. And I sat right down there and ate it.
Gentry: You'd think it'd be melted.
Garber: Because I hadn't had chocolate in I don't know when. You couldn't get soft drinks, you couldn't get chocolate.
Gentry: You couldn't get chocolate?
Garber: No, all that went to the armed forces. Everything went to the armed forces. You couldn't get cigarettes, you couldn't get Coca-Colas, you couldn't get candy. Everything was rationed.
Gentry: With this all-woman staff of reporters during the war, did you ever have a chance to do a story on women's impact, like women doing Rosie the Riveter type jobs?
Garber: No, because that wasn't news any more because everybody was doing—women were doing every job. So it wasn't a big deal when a woman was doing anything.
Gentry: You didn't do stories like that?
Garber: I don't remember that we did. About the only thing I can remember that I did on something like that was a story we did on how do you feed your pet during the war, because the present pet foods had not been developed and it was hard to get table scraps to feed your dog and cat and the only pet food they had was just awful, the dogs and cats just hated it. But that was all they had, so they ate it.
There were all kind of funds for the dogs and cats who were hurt in the Blitz and we would collect money in the United States and send money over to Europe for the dogs and cats.
Gentry: I'll be darned. That's great.
Gentry: Do you remember the ratio of men to women on the paper during the war?
Garber: It was all women. The only men we had, we had a man who was managing editor who—he wasn't a cripple but he had a bad leg. And then we had two older men who were working on the desk who made up the paper and wrote the headlines. And everything else was women.
Gentry: But it was six of your women who actually did all the reporting.
Garber: Did all the reporting, yes.
Gentry: And this is for the afternoon paper.
Garber: The afternoon paper, right.
Gentry: So your newspaper really ran with a skeleton crew, didn't it? Or were there enough women to replace the men?
Garber: The Sentinel was a very small paper, I think we had about a thirty thousand circulation. And I don't remember how many we had on the staff when I came there but we didn't have a whole lot more than six, it was a very small paper.
Gentry: Did you cover much of anything besides the war during those years?
Garber: There wasn't anything beside the war, there wasn't anything that went on that wasn't connected with the war. We had a Daily Vacation Bible School at the Episcopal Church and it asked the children what they wanted to do in Daily Vacation Bible School. Instead of studying about Jesus, they wanted to learn close order military drill. So we got a man from the Office of Flying Safety which was stationed here. And these were children from eight to about fourteen, boys and girls. And he stood them out there in the hot sun and he taught them military drill just as you teach the men in basic training. And a couple of them fainted and he said, "Haul 'em off if they can't take it." And they were absolutely marvelous. And by the time the end of the Daily Vacation Bible School—we covered it for the newspaper—they were absolutely precision. They came and performed their drills in front of all the parents and everything like that. And then all the parents and all the visitors and spectators and the children led the way and with the cross in front of them and the kids singing "Onward, Christian Soldiers." We marched into the church. And there wasn't a dry eye in the place. And all of these were children whose dads were overseas or their brothers were overseas and they were just proud that they could do something that their older brothers or their dads were doing.
Gentry: That's great. Didn't the war give you your first opportunity to really break into sports?
Garber: Yes, it did, because we had a high school boy who came in before he went to school in the morning and put up a Sentinel sports page. And then when he got to be eighteen, he joined the navy and there wasn't anybody there. So they asked me if I'd like to go into sports and that was when I got my first chance to go into sports.
Gentry: Why did they choose you?
Garber: I don't know. Probably because I was always talking about sports and I liked to go to games. And Jim Wommack, who was a photographer on the paper, and I were arguing about who was going to win particular games. I remember we had a standing bet on the Duke-Carolina game, which was not surprising because people frequently bet on games. But the surprising thing about it was that I bet on the team I wanted to lose because I felt I was a real albatross and if I bet on the team, they would lose for sure. So every year I would bet with him on the Duke-Carolina team and I always bet on the team I wanted to lose. So I was delighted when I lost the bet.
Gentry: Funny. So there were no men on the sports staff at all—
Garber: Not on the Sentinel. Now, on the Journal, Frank Spencer, who was too old to go into the army, put out the Journal sports page by himself. What we did was sort of supplement because obviously one person couldn't do everything. For instance, when I went on the Sentinel sports page, I hired what we called correspondents from each high school. They were all kids who were in school and they would bring in the reports of the games. I remember one young man who worked for one of the schools brought in a story about his team playing and he said, "J. C. Kelly was the star of the game as Mineral Springs beat so-and-so." And of course, the author of the story was J. C. Kelly.
Gentry: So you weren't running constantly, then. You had these kids reporting—
Garber: No, no. We had these high school kids, I had one young man who worked with me for the whole year that I worked named Horace Billings. He went with me to the baseball games. He started from Old Town and he used to cover all the high school games. He was sort of an assistant to me. And he and I did a lot of things together. In fact, he was the one that took me fishing for the first time. I told him I'd never been fishing. So he took me up to his grandmother's place in the mountains and we went fishing.
Gentry: So it was really the two of you.
Gentry: And these correspondents who were in high school.
Gentry: And you did it all.
Garber: We did it all. You have to remember, during the war there wasn't that much sports going on because all the men were in the army and the navy and college sports was made up almost entirely of men who were in the service. For instance, they had a naval program at Carolina and they had one at Duke and that was where they got their teams, from the men who were in training in the army or navy. They played on the teams. And in high school, women coached the teams and the high school kids played on them. And several places they had a high school boy who coached the team and he'd play and then coach the team.
Gentry: Wow! Had you ever in your wildest imagination envisioned yourself a sports reporter before that?
Garber: Never, because it just was considered that women couldn't do it. Now, some women had done sports, of course, but most of them were specialists. One lady who preceded me called in women's golf to the New York newspapers. She played in the golf tournaments and then she'd get the scores and call them in. But most of it was people who were specialized in some particular sport.
Gentry: And I suppose in some of the papers in your area there were women—
Garber: During the war?
Gentry: During the war because—
Garber: Oh, yes, during the war there were quite a number of women. Most of them were just filling in at the time and in fact, during the war, one time I got the flu and I was out for about two weeks and the society editor put out the sports page. I mean, they just handed the material to her and she wrote the heads and she didn't know one story from another. We gave her a bad time about that.
Gentry: So during the war, what kind of sports stories did you actually cover?
Garber: During the war, I covered two college games. One of the first games that I covered was the Duke-Carolina game. And of course, you remember I was working on the evening paper so I didn't have to write a game story, I just went to the game and then on Monday I wrote a report of what had happened. Right before Thanksgiving, Nady told me that—Winston-Salem State, which is a black college in Winston-Salem, played a traditional Thanksgiving morning game. So Nady said, "I want you to go over and cover that game because we have always covered it." And I had never covered a football game in my life. I didn't have the faintest idea how to cover a football game. And he showed me how to make a play-by-play and to put all the plays from one team down one side of the paper and plays from the other team down the other side. And I went over there and I didn't have any idea what to do. There were no programs, there were no line-ups, there were no numbers—there were numbers on the players but I didn't know who they were. And I was just desperate, I didn't know what to do. And I went into the so-called press box which was jammed with men. And I sat down there and there was a very nice black man sitting next to me. And I told him my troubles. And he said, "I know all the players, I'll help you." So he sat down beside me and he said this is so-and-so carrying the ball. And between the two of us we got the whole thing and I came back and wrote the story. And I was so pleased with myself but bless that man's heart, I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't had him.
Gentry: You didn't even know who he was.
Garber: No. I have no idea who he was.
Gentry: Did that go on a Negro page or a colored page?
Garber: No, no. We ran that in the news section, on the Sentinel sports page.
Gentry: So they were loosening up on—
Garber: They were starting, yes. I think sports was probably the first place to break down and bring in black news because sports people are just way ahead of everybody, anyhow.
Gentry: You're a little biased, I think.
So what were some of the changes in sports during the war? I mean, you had mentioned some of them, were there any others with all the men gone?
Garber: With all the men gone. As I say, there were women coaches and—in the spring of 1945, we had a professional baseball team come in here from a farm club of the St. Louis Cardinals. And I was really nervous about that because Nady told me that covering high school kids was fine because they were young and they were glad to get their names in the paper and they would do anything they could to help me. But he said, "Now, baseball's different. Those professional baseball players are not going to like it when a woman comes around." And he thoroughly scared me.
We had a photographer who just worked that one winter named Frank McMillan who had played professional baseball. He showed me sort of how to score a game. I told him that I was worried and he said, "Don't worry." He said, "You be nice to the baseball players, they'll be nice to you." And he said, "You treat them fairly and you write nice things about them and you won't have any trouble, they'll like you." So that made me feel better.
But the manager's name was Pappy Smith. When I met him, I thought he was 9,800 years old. But he died about a year ago and his obituary was in Sporting News and he was only a year older than I am. But I just thought that he was the oldest person I had ever seen in my life. And he took one look at me and he said, "They told me down in spring training there was a woman here but I didn't believe 'em!" And I thought, "Oh, goodness, this is going to be awful." But to give him his credit, he was never unfair to me and he always did everything he could to help me and be very nice. I don't think he ever really accepted me. I made friends with his wife and that helped a whole lot because she helped keep him in line.
But the players on the team were no problem at all because they were kids. The shortstop was fifteen, one of the outfielders was sixteen, one of the pitchers was seventeen, and the oldest guy on the team was twenty-six years old and he had something wrong so he was 4-F. But we just had a great time together. I went around with the players, we went everywhere together, and they would tell me what was going on, and they'd tell me things long before they happened. So I had no trouble at all covering the games.
When they used to go to Greensboro, the boys didn't want to ride the bus so I'd load my car with players and we'd go over to Greensboro to the game. And at the time, you could not go over thirty-five miles in your car or they'd take your rationing stuff away from you. The boys used to give me such a bad time about that, they'd say, "I could get out and run faster than this." And so I'd tell them, "Well, get out and run faster than this if you can do it."
Gentry: You had enough gas available to you to do this?
Garber: There were three levels of ration cards in the war. One was the A card which the average person got. It varied how many gallons of gas you got according to the rationing periods. Usually it was about three gallons a week for the A cards. The B cards were for people who used their car on business and really had legitimate business. I think we used to get about six gallons a week. And then the C card was for the military personnel and people who were in a war business. My father was doing work for the navy so he had a C card and he could have all the gas he wanted. You could get it any time you wanted and have all you wanted.
Gentry: Six gallons a week didn't give you a lot of games to cover.
Garber: No, we didn't cover much.
Gentry: You had to be careful.
Garber: I didn't go—outside of that Duke-Carolina game—and of course, Winston-Salem State was right here in town.
Gentry: Or to Greensboro, for instance.
Garber: And then I went to Greensboro. We only went two or three times. That's only twenty-five miles so that's not far. We didn't do very much traveling, no.
Gentry: Did sandlot football and being a spectator at all these games in your childhood really prepare you for covering sports?
Garber: I don't think so, not really. I think it helped them in that I had played a little football so I knew what it was like to throw a block and knew what it was like to make a tackle. I remember one time when I was playing, I made what I thought was a great block on one of the bigger boys and just knocked him flat and I thought I was doing so well. He grabbed me by the arm and he said, "That was a clip and don't you ever do it again because you can hurt somebody." So nobody ever had to explain to me what a clip was.
And then I remember another time I met some of the kids from another team and they said, "We've got a play that we don't think you can stop." And of course, I had to say, "Yes, I can." And they ran what was a reverse. I'd never seen one before in my life and of course, I went the wrong way and I got caught completely out of position and to their great delight did not stop the play. But I learned what a reverse was and nobody ever had to show me what that was. So in that way it helped but when you got down to actually covering the game, no, I did not have the background. I had to do an awful lot of work to get it.
Gentry: Do you think you were accepted pretty much as a woman sportswriter back then, by most people?
Garber: At first because, as I say, women were doing everything and so it wasn't that big a problem. I was dealing with high school players and they accepted me easily and, as I say, the baseball kids were so young that I didn't have any problems with them, either.
Gentry: Was it that first year of covering sports that really convinced you to do that for the rest of your life?
Garber: Yes, it was, because I had never thought about sports before. But once I got into it, I found this is something I truly, truly love to do. And even though I had always enjoyed newspaper work and wanted to stay in it, this was just something special. I think maybe Nady Cates summed it up when he told me one day, "When you were just a news reporter," he said, "you were just routine, you weren't any better than anybody else. But," he said, "you're different since you've been in sports, you're much better."
Gentry: Mmm. That's perceptive.
Gentry: Then when the men started coming back, really all coming back, did you expect your job in the sports department to end?
Garber: I knew my job in the sports department was just—I believe the word was "for the duration," and I knew when the men came back that I'd be put back in news.
Gentry: You didn't have to sign any kind of contract?
Garber: No, no. Our paper is not a contract signing paper. They say, "Would you like to do this?" or "Will you do this?" or "We want you to do this." And you say yes or no. But there's no contract signing.
Gentry: So then the people you replaced were back again.
Garber: Yes, Carlton Byrd was. The boy I replaced never came back because he was a high school kid. He was a temporary employee. But Carlton had been the sports editor and he flew a fighter plane during the war
and when the war was over, he came back and took his job back as sports editor of the Sentinel and I went back on news. That was in the fall of '45.
Gentry: You never had a fear of losing a newspaper job during this time at all?
Garber: No. No.
Gentry: Did many of the other women that were hired temporarily get fired?
Garber: No. Of the six girls we had on the staff, one of them, Mamie, stayed until she retired. Frances Griffin who was another one of the girls on the staff stayed. She worked, I think, about twenty or twenty-five years until she went to be public relations director at Old Salem. That was her choice. Annie Lee Singletary who had worked on the paper left shortly after the war to go to work as a public relations person for the Baptist hospital. Libby Holder who worked on the paper during the war left because she was married and was going to have a baby. And E. Sue Shore who was the other girl on the staff left because she was getting married. I was the other one.
Gentry: It just worked out.
Garber: It just worked out.
Gentry: There were no hard feelings?
Garber: There were no hard feelings. Nobody left because they didn't want to.
Gentry: The paper sounds like it was very humane.
Garber: Yes, it was a humane paper. We enjoyed each other's company, we had a good time together and it was a real good place to work.
Gentry: I guess you kind of miss all that all-woman staff, though?
Garber: Huh-uh. No. Men are so much fun to be with. We have a marvelous time on our sports staff. We enjoy each other's company and we get along well. Men are great to work with.
Gentry: When you left the sports beat, then, and went back to news, what kind of stories were you asked to cover?
Garber: I went back to cover the news beat and I can't even remember what it was now. And then I did a lot of other things, I edited the Negro news page once a week and I just covered a regular news beat and I really don't remember what I did. But I was so hooked on sports that I kept going over to Carlton and saying, "Wouldn't you like me to do this?" or "Wouldn't you like me to do that?" And he was real nice and always let me do things.
Gentry: He'd let you sneak in?
Garber: Right. Then finally after about a year, Nady said, "Look, you're spending so much time working for Carlton and not much time working for me, why don't you just go over and be on the sports page?" I remember the day it happened. Wallace Carroll was the managing editor at the time and he called me and he said, "Would you like to go back in sports?" And I said, "Yes, I would." He said, "Okay, you can do it." Reynolds High School was playing a game in Greensboro that night and I went back to the paper to pick up some stuff. I was running down the stairs just as hard as I could go and he was coming up the stairs. I just about cold-cocked him. And he said to me, "Are you glad to be back in sports?" I said, "I sure am."
Gentry: So you had a lot of mentors on the paper, a lot of people that would give you freedom to do what you wanted to do. I mean, you could write sports stories when you were supposed to be in news—
Garber: Right. They just sort of let you go your own way and they were very good to me.
Gentry: Is that true still? Is that the way the paper is?
Garber: Oh, yes. That's just the way we are. And as I say, Nady Cates was the one that helped me get started. And of course, I couldn't have done it if the top management hadn't said, "We're willing to have a woman on staff." And poor old Carlton, no one knows what he went through when he had a woman on the staff. I'm sure he got a lot of flak.
Gentry: And after the war, you were the only woman sportswriter in the area—
Garber: In the whole area.
Gentry: For how many years?
Garber: I don't remember.
Gentry: Twenty or thirty?
Garber: At least that.
Gentry: So they must have had some flak from somebody or—
Garber: Oh, they did. I know. Nady used to say that people would come to him and ask, "Why do you want to put that woman on your staff?"
Gentry: What would he say?
Garber: He would say, "That's our business. We want her and that's the way we're going to have it." And of course, that helped. You had to have the backing of the top management because don't forget, there was no civil rights. They could have let me go any time.
Gentry: But you were obviously very good at what you did or they wouldn't be for you.
Garber: I hope I was good. But all I know is that they let me stay—after the war. I think it's interesting to look back on two of the big days in World War II. One was, of course, the Sunday that Pearl Harbor was bombed because I think everybody that was alive at that time remembers that perfectly horrible day and how you just couldn't comprehend it. You couldn't believe that it had happened. And all of a sudden everybody in the United States was your friend. We walked downtown the day after Pearl Harbor and well, you just spoke to everybody. People were walking downtown carrying American flags. I know that sounds corny but that's the truth, that's the way it was. And for at least several months you were just totally and completely united and you loved everybody and you were just so concerned with everybody who was overseas. If somebody came up to you and said, "My boy is at Pearl Harbor," then they were your friend and you just hoped that everything was all right. And you stopped total strangers and asked them if they had anybody overseas.
And then the joyous day when the war was over. V-E Day was good but when the war was over in Japan and Japan surrendered, then all of a sudden, everything was off. I was spending the weekend at Silver Pines Camp when the word came. And after we put the kids to bed we had a big celebration at the camp. We got hamburgers—and of course, you hadn't been able to have meat or anything like that for so long.
And we got hamburgers and catsup—and that had been rationed, too. I remember cooking a big old hamburger and taking the catsup bottle and just shaking it until the meat was completely covered with catsup because it had been so long since I'd had all the catsup I wanted.
And my family went downtown in Winston-Salem and sat on the porch of the club there and watched the people go by. Everybody was walking around hugging everybody else and it was just a completely joyous occasion, having been through so much and for so long to know that the people you loved were going to come home.
Gentry: I imagine the paper had streamer headlines.
Garber: Oh, we had streamer headlines that the war was over and quotes from everybody including John Jones on the street. We wanted to know what did everybody thought. It was just marvelous.
© 1991, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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