MATHESON HISTORICAL CENTER
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
INTERVIEWEE: Elisabeth H. Donnovin
INTERVIEWER: Mary Ann Cofrin
TRANSCRIBER: Charles E. Smith II
March 25, 1994
C: My name is Mary Ann Cofrin, and I am conducting this interview for the Matheson
Historical Center. Would you please give your name for the tape.
D: Elisabeth H. Donnovin.
C: Where were you born, and on what date?
D: In Gainesville on February 17, 1902.
C: And your parents' name?
D: My mother was Sarah Smith Hammargren and my father was Leonard Ernest
C: Where did they come from? They were not native to Gainesville, were they?
D: They were from Sweden. Or at least my father was. My mother was a native of
C: How did they meet and end up in Gainesville?
D: Well, my father was sent here. He was with the government with the Land Office.
C: What year was that?
D: I'm not sure of that (prior to 1899).
C: But they came to Gainesville separately?
D: They met here.
C: What year were they married? Do you know that?
D: Probably 1900 or 1901.
C: Were their parents from this country, or your mother's anyway?
D: My mother was from Maryland.
C: And her parents?
D: From Maryland, also.
C: Your father was from Sweden, and I guess his parents were from Sweden as well?
C: Did you know any of your grandparents?
D: Yes, I knew my mother's people. After we moved to Washington, I saw a great deal of
C: Did you go to school here in Gainesville?
D: I went to school here in Gainesville, and graduated from high school here.
C: So you graduated from Gainesville High School (GHS)?
D: Yes, that's right.
C: Where was GHS located at that time?
D: I should know the name of the building, but I can't remember the name of it.
C: Was it the old Kirby Smith building? Or was it out on University Avenue where
Buchholz used to be?
D: One of the buildings was on Buchholz property and some on Kirby Smith.
C: What are your earliest recollections of your childhood?
D: Well, my mother and I returned to Gainesville when I was nine. She had become a
C: So you were born in Gainesville, then moved away and then came back. You had been
away six or seven years maybe?
D: That's right.
C: And you lived in Washington?
D: Yes, my father was with the government there.
C: And your mother, did she have some particular reason for coming back to Gainesville?
D: Yes. She felt like she had to work, and she knew people here. And it was a better place
C: Were you an only child?
D: I was an only child.
C: What are your other early memories of the town at that time?
D: The trees and the shade.
C: Who were your friends and playmates?
D: Joanna Morris, Josephine Brooks, and Ada Hiers.
C: Do you remember what it looked like around the square downtown?
D: Certainly. By that time, the courthouse was there. And as I said before, trees.
Incidentally, there were trees all the way down University Avenue, all the way to the
University of Florida campus. There was quite a stir when they took them down.
C: Do you have a picture of your high school class?
C: It looks like a picture of a girls' basketball team. GHS 1920?
D: That's correct.
C: Is that the year you graduated?
D: I think so.
C: That's a wonderful picture. It looks like a wonderful picture of the courthouse with the
girls on it. It looks like a float of some sort. Tell me about it.
D: It was a Red Cross Society Circus. They had a parade. They put all of us on the truck
to be in the parade.
C: That's wonderful. You've all got flowers around your hair and pretty dresses on. Did
they have many dances in those days?
D: I'm sure they did. They had dances until I went to college.
C: Where did you go to college?
D: I went to boarding school in Virginia for a year and then I went to FSCW and graduated
C: Did you return to Gainesville?
D: Yes, my home was here.
C: Tell me about how you met Carl Donnovin.
D: I met him at a dance, I expect.
C: Where was he living at the time?
D: In Gainesville. He was sent here on ROTC duty with the University.
C: Where did he go to school?
D: He was from Ohio.
C: What was your memory of Gainesville when you were here as a young bride? Had
Gainesville changed a lot?
D: Oh definitely. It had changed a great deal.
C: Where did you live in Gainesville as a young bride?
D: A little house on Franklin Street.
C: Were your children born in Gainesville?
D: Sally was born here.
C: And what about Joe? When did you come back to Gainesville to stay?
D: I don't remember the date, but Sally was grown and in college.
C: Was Colonel Donnovin transferred back here?
D: No, he had retired at that time.
C: What were your memories of Gainesville at that time?
D: Oh, it had changed so much. So very much. And even now it is still changing.
C: You're happy to be in Gainesville though?
D: Oh, I love Gainesville. I wouldn't have gone anywhere else when he retired, I don't
C: Can you think of anything else you can tell me? Do you remember when the dial
telephones came to town?
D: No, they were here when I came back.
C: When you came back, I see. Do you remember the big fire? Were you living in
Gainesville in 1938?
D: I remember a fire downtown.
C: Were you a member of the Women's Club when you came back? Were you active in
any of those things?
D: Yes, I belonged to it briefly.
C: The population of Gainesville when you were little was quite small?
D: Gainesville was like a little postage stamp. A colorful one, though.
C: In 1900 the population was 3,633, and in 1920 it had doubled. Then in 1940 it had
doubled again. So you saw a lot of changes, didn't you?
D: I certainly have. It's different every time you go outside.
C: Can you think of anything else you can tell us about the people in Gainesville or your
earliest recollections? Your first day in school perhaps?
D: I don't remember that clearly.
C: Well, thank you for this information. It will be an addition to the Matheson Historical
Center's oral histories.