Ms. Will Harris
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
|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.
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
|"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
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
|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
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.
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
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