Ms. Will Harris

  Cordell Hull is a name that almost everyone in this and the surrounding area is familiar with, but many who have heard the name don't know anything at all about him. And this is not a story that features him as a central character, although his life and work are directly related to the person I write about here.

Many, many years ago, approximately the mid-1800s, the property through which part of North Church Street now runs and also the land where First Christian Church is now located, belonged to Mr. John Hart. His home stood near where the building that once housed Overton County Health Department
and where just recently Overton County Ambulance Service moved from. One of John Hart's granddaughters, whose name was Susan Hart, married William Harris, and Mr. John Hart gave them the property on what is today known as the Judge A.L. and Lena Dean home that is located on Goodpasture Street in Livingston.



The original house the Deans lived in for many years was built for William and Susan (Hart) Harris, and they were the first to live there. A rose bush that was probably planted when the Harrises first lived there continues even today to bloom in the yard each summer.

William and Susan Harris had two daughters, Leila Harris, who was the older of the two girls, and Will Harris. Both girls grew up in the house on Goodpasture Street, and were educated in what was referred to then as Tennessee Common Schools of Overton County. They each completed the number of years necessary to receive a Tennessee Common School Diploma, and I copied verbatim the words that were inscribed on Leila Harris' certificate as follows:

  "This is to certify that Miss Leila Harris of District No. 6, Livingston, County of Overton, has completed the course of study in the common branches required by law to be taught in the public schools of the state, viz: Orthography, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, English Grammar, Geography, U.S. History, Elementary Geology of Tennessee, and Elementary Principles of Agriculture. Witness our signatures. Given at Overton Academy in the County of Overton, State of Tennessee, this the 18th day of June 1890."
The certificate was signed by J.C. Williams, teacher, and J.B. Lee, County Superintendent of Schools. Miss Leila Harris received this certificate when she was 15 years-old. While Will Harris remained unmarried, her sister, Leila, grew up to become Mrs. J.B. Dale. Over the years, Leila and J.B. Dale had five children whose names are Charles Harris Dale, Ruby Dale Stephens, Leilable Dale Officer, Rose Hart Dale, and Oscar Dale. Miss Will Harris went on to further her education in Nashville at Falls Business College, and then returned to Livingston, where she began employment as secretary to A.H. Roberts, a practicing, well-known and highly respected lawyer, who later became governor of the state of Tennessee. Part of Miss Harris' job as secretary to Attorney Roberts required her to travel with him by horse and buggy to courts in the surrounding counties,
and because of such poor road conditions and bad weather, she would spend nights in hotels in the area, one of which was located in Byrdstown, and others in towns such as Gainesboro and Carthage.

While Miss Will was employed by Attorney Roberts, and around the year 1910 or 1911, she had a home constructed on Mofield Street here in Livingston that is now the home of Mrs. Corynne Arney and her late husband, Cloyd Arney. Miss Will's mother, Susan Harris, and her aunt, Elizabeth Cash, both resided with her in that home. Over the course of Miss Will's employment with Attorney Roberts, Cordell Hull, who was appointed as Circuit Judge at the age of 32, was elected as
United States Representative. Some time after he began his career in Washington, D.C., he came to A.H. Roberts and asked that Miss Harris be allowed to come and work for him in Washington, where he expected to be for only two years, and although Attorney Roberts was very reluctant for his very loyal and hard-working assistant to leave his employment, he agreed to do so, telling Will Harris that he did not want to deprive her of a chance to live and work in Washington, D.C. And unbeknown to anyone, Miss Will Harris began a long career in Washington that didn't bring her back to Livingston, other than for visits, until May of 1965.

Cordell Hull's time to serve as U.S. Representative was not a long-lasting one due to the fact that President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him as Secretary of State after Mr. Hull had served only two years as U.S. Representative. And along beside him, Miss Will Harris continued in her work
as his assistant.

Mr. Hull's career was a very outstanding and quite distinguished one while he served as Secretary of State, and among his many, many accomplishments
were the authorship of the Atlantic Peace treaty and the Federal Income tax. I cringe thinking about Miss Will's long hours of taking down in shorthand and then typing these documents, and the many corrections she must have had
to make, not necessarily because of errors she made, but because more than likely Mr. Hull saw corrections and/or deletions or additions he wanted to make in what was given to her to work on, not to mention the kind of
typewriter she had to use back then, plus the fact that this kind of work had to be so very boring for her. Personally, I would have hated every minute of it. But then again, I'm sure she had to feel that part of the fact that Cordell Hull was nominated for and the recipient of the Nobel Peace
Prize while she served as his assistant was that she, too, played a part in his receiving that award through her dedicated efforts and hard work.



Cordell Hull received the Nobel Peace Prize in part because of his work establishing the United Nations, which resulted as his being known as the Father of the United Nations. The award also included his coordination of the Good Neighbor policy with the Americas.


Miss Will was a very intelligent and very well read person who always stayed current on what was happening with not only local but worldwide events. She had a very large circle of friends and acquaintances that included very prominent persons and families as well as foreign dignitaries in the Washington area. Miss Will was in Washington during World War I, and in addition to her duties as Cordell Hull's assistant, she did work for the Red Cross. She was also a baseball fan; she considered the old Washington Senators her team.

She returned to Livingston in May of 1965, and moved into the home of Mrs. Leilabel Officer, after residing in Washington for 53 years. She continued to live with Mrs. Officer until the time of her death. She had worked for 33 years in the federal government.

Mrs. Leilabel Officer kept a scrapbook for many years, and among the newspaper clippings she had saved was an article on the celebration of Miss Will's 90th birthday, which was held in Mrs. Officer's home. The article listed those attending that special event as: Mrs. W.P. Seat, Mrs. T.A.
Bussell, Miss Irene Mitchell, Miss Rose Hart Dale (who lived in Mission, TX, at that time), Mr. and Mrs. A.F. Officer Jr. and their sons, A.F. III, Michael, and David, and Mr. and Mrs. John Officer and their little daughter, Julie. Also in attendance was a close friend of Miss Will's from Washington,
Miss Asbjornson, who had served as secretary of James G. Burns, who was also Secretary of State. The article relates how Cordell Hull fondly referred to Miss Asbjornson as "that Norwegian".
Miss Will's life changed its course because of the insight Cordell Hull must have had regarding her abilities, and the fact that he somehow knew what a good employee she would be, even though neither one of them could have known at the time she began her work with Cordell Hull that they would each have such distinguished careers.

Her life began in the small town of Livingston, but the education she received and the family background she came from evidently prepared her extremely well for the life and career she went on to have in Washington. I believe she is a very good example of an old saying I've heard my mother repeat to my sister, my two brothers, and myself time and time again while we were growing up... "All that you do, do with your might. Things done by halves are never done right." It is obvious to me that Miss Will didn't do anything halfway, as the life she led was quite a fruitful one, and one that would not have been such if she had only done things halfway.

I wish to acknowledge those who are responsible for information provided for this story. First of all, to Mrs. Janie Stephens, who gave me the idea for a story about "Aunt Will", next to Miss Rose Hart Dale, a niece of "Aunt Will", who provided much of the information and the pictures of Miss Will
contained in my story, and also to Mark Dudney, husband of Laura Jane Officer Dudney. Mark is an authority as far as I'm concerned on Cordell Hull, and he was kind enough to share with me a great deal of information he has on Cordell Hull. My special thanks to each of you for paving the way forthis story.


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