The College Archives & Special Collections recently received new material on Louise Sloan, collected from a closet in what had been the long-time home of Sloan family on South Main Street (next to Town Hall). Louise (1892-1992) was a local character – a long-time time resident known for her thriftiness and spunk.
Born to Ida Withers Sloan and James Lee Sloan, Jr. (Class of 1884), Louise worked as an insurance agent and the 1920 census taker. Her father was described as “a local businessman, and sometime postmaster and mayor” by Mary Beaty in her book, Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937. Sloan, Jr. occasionally owned a store or two on Main Street, invested in the Linden Cotton Mill in town, and served as mayor from 1900 to 1920 and again for 1925-1926. Both of Louise Sloan’s parents came from prominent local families, with ties to the area that predate the founding of Davidson College. She attended Peace College (now William Peace University) in Raleigh, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1911.
There are many town stories about Louise Sloan, many dealing with her extreme frugality and propensity for never throwing anything away. Jan Blodgett and Ralph Levering’s One Town, Many Voices contains many such tales and reminisces:
“She loved reading the Wall Street Journal, but only if she could read it at the college library or retrieve copies from the trash at the post office.”
“‘She was always very dressed and had her rouge on,’ Elaine McArn recalled. ‘She wore a little black suit a lot with a black hat with a veil.’ ‘She wore fifty-year-old clothes or older and walked all over town and picked things up,’ Mary Fetter Stough noted. ‘Every evening she would go through the garbage cans [downtown],’ Jane Power Schenck observed. ‘We [children] were always afraid of her because we thought she was a witch.'”
“She was famous for attending weddings at DCPC to which she had not been invited. During receptions in the fellowship room, invited guests watched with amusement as she filled her purse with goodies that she presumably ate at home later.”
This last story is the most commonly repeated, and although she wasn’t invited, it was considered a slight if Miss Sloan did not crash your wedding. She worked for a bit at the College Library, and then Library Director Chalmers G. Davidson (Class of 1928) even took out a second subscription of the Charlotte Observer for the students because Sloan so often snagged the paper as soon as it arrived.
However, these tales of thriftiness shouldn’t give the impression that Louise Sloan was one-dimensional, or at all disliked in town – as Mary Beaty wrote, “Miss Louise is something of a landmark herself, one of Davidson’s human institutions, a southern gentlewoman of soft features and incisive mind.” (Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937)
One of the new additions to our collections found in the closets of the old Sloan house is Louise Sloan’s calling card collection – a wonderful snapshot of the social life in the town of Davidson in the first half of the 20th century. Some of the cards have the top left corner folded down, which could have several possible meanings – as Emily Post conveys in her 1922 Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home chapter on “Cards and Visits”:
Turning down a corner of a visiting card is by many intended to convey that the visit is meant for all the ladies in the family. Other people mean merely to show that the card was left at the door in person and not sent in an envelope. Other people turn them down from force of habit and mean nothing whatever. But whichever the reason, more cards are bent or dog-eared than are left flat.
These cards illustrate the relationships between families in Davidson – both old town families, and faculty families that made the town their home. We look forward to exploring more of the collections from the Sloan house, and learning even more about the fascinating Louise Sloan!