Women Archives - StoryCorps

“I Want to be Remembered as a Person Who Cared”: A 93-Year-Old Retired Nurse Looks Back on Her Service

Ruth Owens has lived her whole life in the mountains of rural Tennessee. She worked as a nurse in the area for over four decades, eventually retiring when she was 85 years old.

Now 93, she sat down at StoryCorps with her grandson, James Taylor, who, along with several of her kids and grandkids, followed in Ruth’s footsteps to become a nurse. 

They begin by talking about Ruth’s childhood in the late 1930s and how she eventually found her calling. 

Photo: Ruth Owens with her grandson, James Taylor, in April of 2019 at their StoryCorps recording in Cookeville, TN. Photo by Rochelle Hoi-Yiu Kwan for StoryCorps.

Originally aired March 20, 2020 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

This interview was recorded in partnership with Independent Lens and WCTE as part of a project to record stories about health and access to care in rural communities.

The Leesburg Stockade Girls, a Forgotten Moment in Civil Rights History

In July of 1963, a group of African American protesters were arrested during a series of non-violent, anti-segregation demonstrations in Americus, Georgia. More than a dozen girls, some as young as 12, were taken to the county jail before being transferred almost 30 miles away to the Lee County Stockade — a small cement building being used as a makeshift jail.

Leesburg

And although the girls were never formally charged with a crime, they’d stay there for nearly two months without their parents’ knowledge. One guard watched over them in this run-down structure with barred windows, a broken toilet, and very little food.

The girls were released after nearly two months when Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) discovered their location and sent a photographer, who published photos of the living conditions at the stockade.

More than fifty years later, a few of the Leesburg girls, now women in their sixties, sat down for StoryCorps to shine a light on this overlooked moment in civil rights history.

Also Verna Hollis, who was pregnant while imprisoned at the stockade, sat down for StoryCorps with her now-adult son, Joseph Jones III.

Hollis

Top photo: (From left) Emmarene Kaigler-Streeter (who also recorded an interview with StoryCorps), Carol Barner-Seay, Shirley Green-Reese and Diane Bowens in 2016 outside the stockade building in Leesburg, Georgia where they were jailed as teenagers. By Alletta Cooper for StoryCorps.
Middle photo: Young women are held in the Leesburg Stockade after being arrested for demonstrating in Americus, GA. They have no beds or sanitary facilities. From left to right: Melinda Jones Williams (13), Laura Ruff Saunders (13), Mattie Crittenden Reese, Pearl Brown, Carol Barner Seay (12), Annie Ragin Laster (14), Willie Smith Davis (15), Shirley Green (age 14, later Dr. Shirley Green-Reese), and Billie Jo Thornton Allen (13). Seated: Verna Hollis (15). Photo by Danny Lyon for Magnum Photos.
Bottom photo: Joseph Jones III with his mother, Verna Hollis, in Americus, Georgia after their StoryCorps recording in 2016. Verna Hollis died the following year. By Alletta Cooper for StoryCorps.
Originally aired January 18, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Olivia J. Hooker, Pioneer and First Black Woman in the Coast Guard

In November 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law a bill that established the United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve. Known as SPARS, this new law allowed women to serve in the Coast Guard Reserve for the duration of World War II plus six months. Two years later, in October 1944, the ban on Black women becoming SPARS was lifted and in February 1945, Olivia Hooker joined four other women as the first class of Black SPARS.

An Oklahoma native, Olivia didn’t know anything about boats at the time she enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserve. Joining her fellow SPARS at boot camp in Manhattan Beach, New York, a month after enlisting, she went on to spend her service time in Boston where she worked at a Coast Guard separation center. When the war ended, the SPARS program was disbanded and Olivia returned to civilian life having earned the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class, as well as a Good Conduct Award.

Following her military service, Olivia earned her master’s degree in psychology and in 1961 she received her PhD. When President Barack Obama spoke at the United States Coast Guard Academy commencement ceremony in 2015, Dr. Hooker, 100 years old at the time, was sitting in the front row. As the cadets listened, President Obama called her “an inspiration” for the remarkable life she had led, and shared with the graduates her belief that, “It’s not about you, or me. It’s about what we can give to this world.”

In September 2018, At 103 years old, Dr. Hooker sat down for a StoryCorps interview with her goddaughter Janis Porter, to talk about what it was like to be a groundbreaking part of military history, and to share what her time in the service has meant to her. She passed away two months after this interview.

On Veterans Day 2018, StoryCorps collaborated with Google and YouTube on an animated Doodle featuring a voice representing each branch of the military, including Olivia’s. Explore it here.

Top photo: Dr. Olivia J. Hooker (right) and her goddaughter, Janis Porter. Photo by Afi Yellow-Duke for StoryCorps.
Middle Photo: From the original caption for the extra photo: Olivia Hooker (in front) and fellow SPAR Aileen Anita Cooks, pause on the ladder of the dry-land ship ‘U.S.S. Neversail’ during their ‘boot’ training at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Station, Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, NY, 1945.

Originally aired February 28, 2020 on NPR’s Morning Edition.