Interview with Dena Snodgrass April 29 1989

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Interview with Dena Snodgrass April 29 1989
Snodgrass, Dena ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Duval County Oral History Collection ( local )
Spatial Coverage:
Duval County (Fla.) -- History.


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'Duval County' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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Resource Identifier:
DUV 031 Dena Snodgrass 4-29-1989 ( SPOHP IDENTIFIER )


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Interviewer: Rick Alexander
Interviewee: Dena Snodgrass
April 29, 1989
A: This is Rick Alexander, and I am interviewing Dena Snodgrass

at her home in Wesley Manor, south of Jacksonville. Today

is April 29, 1989, and it is 4:20 P.M. The first question I

would like to ask you, Ms. Snodgrass, is where were you


S: In Thomasville, Georgia on March 25, 1906--in a bed of

violets. I know that because my mother told me so. Eugena

Price gives me something with violets on it every birthday.

A: Is that right?

S: Easter eggs and stuff.

A: What were your parents names? CL

S: My mother was named Frances LoAe ta Green and she was born

in Bagdad, Florida. My father was named Arthur Travis

Snodgrass, and he was born in Port Lavaca, Texas just after

the family had moved there from Virginia. I always

considered him a Virginian, and he always considered himself

a Texan, although he lived there only six months.

A: How did your parents meet?

S: My father's father was a lumberman, and they moved to

Bagdad, Florida where he had a mill. You see, that is where

my mother lived; her father was the postmaster. To show

something of the dictatorial nature of her fami-l, her

father put his name ,(Edward Albert Alexander Hamilton

Green on the cancellation stamp from Bagdad, and the U.S.

government made him stop. Now that I think about it, it

could have been Milton, Florida, the two little places are

a" /4i" -. )~~4' ...

right together just east of Pensacola.

A: And then Thomasville is just north of Tallahassee.

S: Well, Thomasville was not related to that. The family moved

to Patterson, Louisiana and then to Thomasville. All of it

,''had to do with lumber mills, just as M)s [Maud] Ramsay's

[Jacksonville resident and friend 'o M. Snodgrass] family

moved with lumber mills. Her family and my family were part

60 of the whole scheme of "cut out and get out." That is what

happened to west Florida, and the greatest cure for it has

been Mr. Edward W. Ball [prominent Florida railroad and land

entrepreneur, trustee to the Alfred I. IuPont estate]. He ^1

bought the land and planted trees, and no one else would buy

the land and plant trees. My family had nothing to do with

all this, they were long gone.

A: That is Jacksonville's Ed Ball?

S: Why, is there another one in all the world? [laughter]

A: I do not think so.

S: No.. Edward W. all, a very famous, very fine person. But 7jf

S thy-met-here. My father came there and they grew up

together. My father's family moved there in 1871 when he

was six months old. But they just grew up there and in


A: When did you move to Florida?

S: Well, we moved from Thomasville to South Carolina to another

mill there for a short time in 1917, just after the war

began, and then in 1918 we moved to Kissimmee, Florida in

December. I can remember my mother's telling me and maybe


the other children--there were a total of three girls and a

boy in the family--that a war was coming. She explained a

little bit about what it was. I went out to the side yard

and sat down. I was wearing a full-skirted dress, and I

just pulled my skirt around me and sat there in the middle

of the grass wondering what this meant.

A: This was in 1917?

S: When the war began. Then we moved to South Carolina for two

years and then to Kissimmee, Florida, where my father had a

contract with the same firm to be in charge of thee mill.

We moved there in December, and we immediately caught "la

p)( gr Vp." We did not call it the Spanish influenza, we called

- it "la gt4p" because our parents did. Our father especially

called things by their old-fashioned names. It had been

named "la gip" in many other places. Both of my parents
had had it in the past, but they did not have it in 1918.

We children did, but we were not very sick. I never heard

of wearing a mask.

A: In some places they did and some places they did not.

S: I do not remember having heard of it.

A: What about the schools? Were schools open, or were they


S: The schools were open, but everyone understood why people

were absent. In a little town, if you played hooky, people

would know. But in this case, so many people were sick and

everyone knew that they were ill, so there was no playing

hooky. We were just sick with the flu. We were too sick to

go to school, and we were given home remedies. No doctor--


the doctors were too busy with other people.

A: Were there more adults sick than children, or more children?

S: I think there were more adults sick.

A: That seems to be the characteristic of this flu. Most flus,

especially as far as deaths go, strike the elderly and the

very young. This flu was killing people in their twenties

more than the children and the old people. They seemed to

manage to make it through this flu.

S: My parents were just beyond that and we were below it. I

remember the house my father bought before we moved down.

It was built by a man who hated his wife, my mother said.

There were two rooms with one little room in front of that.

Then there was a room behind it, and then behind that there

were four rooms. That thing was just made like a very

elongated cross. If you were back in the kitchen and had to

answer the front door bell, they had to wait until you could

get to the front door. We had a servant occasionally, but

not too often. We children did the work of servants--I mean

the sorts of duties that servants would do that children

could do. In the house was a gas stove.

Our great-aunt, my father's father's sister, was living with

us. One time she went to light the gas stove, and it sort

of blew up--it made growling noise. We named it "the tiger"

after that. We children were upstairs way at this other

part of the house upstairs. There were only three rooms

upstairs. We heard this growl, so we came down on the

stairway where we could look through all these rooms back to


the kitchen. We were not allowed to go any farther out than

the stairs because our parents did not want us to get with

the firemen and give them the flu. They had called the

firemen when this thing blew.

A: I see. They would not let you go back there because you had

the flu?

S: Yes. They did not want us to give it to the firemen. They

were putting out the fire very quickly. I thought that was

terribly amusing. It tells you something of importance,

that these young adults who were in the fire department were

not to be subjected to it. We had on night clothes, which

means that we were sick enough to be in bed.

A: This was during the day?

S: Yes. I remember we said, "Oh, they must not see us." Of

course, the clothes covered us completely because it was the

winter time. That shows the degree of sickness. But it

also shows that it was not a very great degree of sickness,

because we were laughing and talking and standing on the

stairs to look to see what was going on, and that was much

more important than anything that was happening to us.

A: So you could not have been extremely sick.

S: We were not very sick, and I do not think we were out of

school but about a week.

A: Do you remember being really sick?

S: No. No, I ate and just took home remedies. Our father was

a "quack" doctor--he was not a real doctor. He wanted to be

one, but he never got around to going to college as his two

brothers had. He would experiment on us with all sorts of


wild mixtures. I think for something like this we used just

the usual home remedies.

A: What about the garlic? Have you every heard that one


S: No. All that reminds me of is asfedity [?]. -- -co /-''

A: Kids used to wear garlic around their necks.

S: Well, the only people I knew who did were the blacks. Maybe

some of my young country friends did, but I did not know

about it. Kissimmee was a town of about 3,000. The little

town we lived in in South Carolina was much less than that,

probably 1,000 or less. But Thomasville was much larger.

It is just north of Tallahassee. It is quite a sizable

little town now.

A: They wore garlic when? During the winter, or just when

there was an epidemic or something going around?

S: Asfedity [?]. You wore it all the time to keep illness off,

S to keep off the "hants." H-A-U-N-T is a hant. You know the

word? It is supposed to keep off all evil spirits.

A: I became familiar with "hants" in To Kill A Mockingbird.

S: Oh, yes. Well, that is the way they pronounce it.

A: Was this a spiritual thing, then, or were they kind of a


S: It was voodoo--nothing in the world but voodoo and blacks.

So many things that the whites began to do were not

traceable to the English, but to black voodoo.

A: A lot of words do, also. Okay, for example, comes directly

from Africa.


S: I did not know that. Juke supposedly is from an African

word meaning to jump up and down, which is quite

appropriate. But I am not quite sure if that has been

documented. [laughter]

A: What about doctors in general?

S: That is one of the questions I have been anxious for you to

get to. Our doctor in Thomasville was Dr. MacIntosh. We

were scared pea green of Dr. Macintosh because he would come

to the house on regular intervals when it was time to

vaccinate us. We had to go into the parlor--houses then had

a living room and a parlor--and Dr. Macintosh would

vaccinate us. It was awful.

A: What did he vaccinate you with? Do you know what it is?

S: Just chicken pox and measles--the usual little school

things. See, it was not done in school. The doctor came to

your house to do it.

A: Is that right?

S: That is the way with us in Thomasville.

A: Were there any flu vaccinations? There were a number who


S: I was not familiar with any of it. I take them now, but not


A: Now they work, or are supposed to work.

S: See, this is when I was quite young. I equated Dr.

Macintosh with the visitors of my grandmother. I can

remember two particularly. One was a lady who must have

been every bit of sixty years old, but she is quite a bit

younger then than I am today. She and her daughter would


come visit my mother [Did your grandmother live with you? ,i, 1,1

Would these ladies visit your mother or your grandmothers or

both (if your grandmother was indeed living with you). Ed.]

and my great-aunt. We had to go in to speak to them to say,

"How do you do." I do not know which was worse: going in to

see Dr. Macintosh and getting the chicken pox vaccination,

or going into meet Mrs. Malette and her daughter, Miss ;Lla.

A: Why is that?

S: Well, I was just shy, if you could imagine, and to go into

the parlor to meet these people [was frightening]. I was so

young, too. I equated going into the parlor with unpleasant


A: I remember that when I was a child, too. We had the living

room where all of my mother's fancy furniture was, so I was

not allowed in there.

S: Yes, that is somewhat the same thing. I later met Miss E>a Q->-

Malette when I was an adult. After I was living in

Jacksonville, I went over there for some business with her,

and she was just as nice. I told her this story, and she

laughed. But that is my first impression of a doctor. The

next impression is that I would see them riding around in

buggies, and they would very often have a hat. It was

perhaps a top hat. They would have a little satchel. I

would see them, and I did not want anything to do with them.

Giving me that vaccination did not please me. But I had

what was known as variola minor [or alastrim]--that is a

name for a very mild case of small pox. You get it after


you have been vaccinated, is my understanding. I did have a

doctor for that, so maybe that is why those two things are

associated in my mind. The doctor came to see me, and I

remember his saying, "Stick out your tongue and say

"ahhhh.'" That is very important information for you to

have in your thesis.

A: I remember that, too.

S: I bet you do.

A: That is tough for a kid. They stick in that dip-stick. I

rdo not know if they had them at the time, but they did when

SI was a kid .

SS:: They did not have those, but I can remember them jamming

them down my throat. [If doctors did not use "dip sticks,"

i-what did they use? Ed.] But I do know there was a doctor

who'lived near us. His daughter was one of our friends. He

was a very fine man.

A: Were doctors generally respected?

"S: Very much so. All of them [were]. I did not know any bad

doctors when I was growing up during the flu time. I have

known some since then, but not during this time at all.

Before or during the flu, all of them were good men.

A: People generally looked to them for health care?

S: When we lived in South Carolina, some of our closest friends

were doctors. Then we moved to Florida, and we heard that

several of those doctors--they were the middle-aged people,

which the flu affected most, as you mentioned--had died, all

in one family. It almost wiped out one family.

A: Did they get this flu?


S: It was this flu. You see, we moved away, but we were still

in contact with our South Carolina friends. Those doctors

had died of the flu.

A: Where were they?

S: St. George, South Carolina; it is a little place north of

Charleston. Walter Ra I's place is nearby.'

A: Well, doctors were certai'hry/exposed to the virus.

S: So many of them there, too. That is very low country; it is

called the low-country swamp. I was filling out a form or

answering questions for some doctor somewhere here in town.

(It has been since 1975 or later for the one I have now.) I

said I had had malaria. He asked if I had lived in South

Carolina, and he said that that is the last place they

stamped it out.

A: I thought it was here.

S: Well, it really is not stamped out. In the United States

you occasionally see a case, but it is virtually under

control. But he picked it out as the last state that called

itself malaria-free. But as far as even up to the time when

I was grown--thirty, forty, fifty years old--I had the

greatest respect for doctors. It is only in recent years

that I have found that doctors are human beings, and some of

them do the evil things that other people do. Today we see

doctors doing all sorts of things. But none of that was

S associated with doctors back then. I w s going to show you

an AmericanA Dr. George Doherty Fi er Ashby r( 4u

SHammond is going to have Dorty'sicture on the front of

10 / \ .'

his History of Medicine. ,' /

A: Yes, I talked to Hammond. ?/+ T )" ")

S: George Dohert was the first doctor to graduate from,/

Transylvania UniversityE-'n present-day Romania-. Then he

moved to DeFuniak Springs and then to Pensacola. He lived

at Bay Point. & -&c t' 5 '.J

A;" That is very interesting, because we studied that in my

science class, how early on most of the American scientists

went to German schools. That is where Transylvania

/.'i University was.

S: Yes, that is right (I thought I had a picture of him in

here but I do not. It shows a little better.) [What shows

a little tter? Ed.] The lawyers went to England. Most

them--the good ones--in Charleston before the Civil War

,< k ~ all went over there to the Court of St. James. Our question

91" is what I had thought about doctors, and I think I have

answered that. I do not think the fact that he was a doctor

influenced me because, well, I just do not think so. When

you start talking about the professions in a community that

are good, you start off with doctors, and automatically in

the vernacular you are speaking of men in the professions.

If you just make a comment, a perfectly casual comment about

the different professions, you start with doctor and lawyer.

A: Yes, even today.

S: Yes, that is what I was meaning.

A: I am curious about something. I can definitely see and

state, I think fairly safely, that, by the time of the.

Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, doctors were highly respected


and were looked upon to administer health care, at least in

the upper-middle-class groups. I know this is a tough

question, but from your perspective, do you think that

attitude had filtered down to, say, the blacks. You say

they wore garlic and those sorts of things. I am just

trying to see if, among them, they did not see doctors, that

they did not look to doctors to provide health care.

S: Yes and no. If a black was very ill, the black would go to

a white person who was a friend--or during the slavery days,

to the master--and say, "My wife is so ill, you must get a

doctor. I have tried this, this, this, this. You must."

They would do that. Of course, there were some you might say

who were so remote from the whites, who lived on some of the

Georgia islands, the gullas and geeches. Well, those people

just lived by voodoo entirely because they were so removed

from the white people.

A: In Kissimmee and those areas they did not?

S: Not so much Kissimmee. Kissimmee is a strange little place.

is solid yankee town. y ry j

A: Not many blacks?

S: Yes, plenty of blacks. You see, it is near the early sugar J

cane [plantation] when Hamilton Disston [son of Henry,---- ., J

Disston, who started the saw mill enterprise in the United /

States] bought 2,500,000 acres for $1 million, or twenty-

five cents an acre. Is that right arithmetic? Anyway, be

bought all of this. [The land was bounded on the south by

the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee to above Tarpon


Springs in the north, stretching more than halfway across

central Florida. Ed.]

A: A quarter an acre?

S: Yes. Then he started sugar cane all around that area, and

these people were there. The cattle business [was also

big]. One of the best cattle people in the state of

Florida, twenty-five to thirty years ago, was named

Lawrence Silas, who lived in Kissimmee. He was black. He

was written up by Zora Neale Hurston, the black novelist for

the Saturday Evening Post. But it went to his head, and

they caught him as a peeping tom after that. That-is sad.

Oh, the police did not do anything to him. They just

watched him, and after awhile he stopped. He was a grown

man. I knew him. He was a fine man, and the crackers liked

him. Now, that is the very best, the very finest test of

all. See, the crackers and blacks, just like the poor

whites--and I do not mean cracker born in just Georgia or

Florida (I am a Georgia cracker)--liked him because he was

fair and honest. He was just natural in his approach to

people. He was not bigoted, and he was not servile,

therefore he gained their respect. He worked hard, and he

knew what he was doing in raising cattle. He had a lot of


Our family lived there in Kissimmee. We w e away h '-,
college and so on, and Al16n was away working, as were

others. [Who was Alle ? Ed.] But even though my father's

home was Kissimmee for fifty years, we were still the new

people. We were n cattle people. Of course, nowadays

^M&C. K]

nothing is the same.

A: So you really cannot tell me, other than when they really

needed help, how the blacks viewed the doctors.

S: They went to a white man's doctor for his magic when their

magic failed.

A: And this was true even through the flu epidemic and so


S: I think it was true.

A: What about the poor white people? Do you know about them?

What did they do?

S: Oh, they had respect for doctors.

A: I imagine there were times they just could not afford a

doctor, so they would go see a doctor only when they

absolutely had to.

S: That is true.

A: They wanted to go to a doctor, is that right?

S: Yes. I think that is true of the blacks, too. They would

not go to doctors until they were desperate because they did

not have the money. But the blacks had a tool that the poor

whites did not have, and that is they could play upon the

sympathies of the white people. It used to be the

slave/master situation, but what you call the paternal

system was substituted.

When we moved from Thomasville to South Carolina, one black

man, Calvin gbmethiihg, moved along with us. We did not

take him with us--he just came because he liked us. I think

he felt that we would look after him in some way. I can see



now the little house he found, a little tiny house where he

could live in St. George. One time in Thomasville our

father saw him in front of a dry goods store, and he was

looking at some shoes--very yellow shoes with bumps on the

toes. Dad said to Calvin, "You know you cannot buy those

shoes, Calvin." And he said, "Boss, when you had a horse,.. '

--you shodded the horse (put the shoes on him), and whenyo

got a nigger, you ought to shod the nigger. My father went

into that store and bought those shoes.

A: Did he?

S: There were times I expect that we did not have what we

wanted because he bought things for someone. There is a

woman who worked for me--I will get off this subject soon--

for years in Kissimmee, and I had her do things for my

father when I was in Orlando and then up here [in

Jacksonville]. She would keep having babies trying to get a

little boy. When those babies needed something, she would

come to me. Well, if I had plans to 1ld something for

myself [Is this an expression? What does it mean? Ed.] and

it was not within my budget, I would give her whatever it

was, since I did not need it. This statement is unclear to

us. If it was not within your budget, how could it be that

you did not need it and could therefore afford to make a

cash gift? Please clarify. Ed.] She knew how to work me

to a tee. Even today, I have another one [another woman, /

' .---....the-school teacher ?] hanging around my neck.

A: It sounds like the paternal system. There is a lot of

continuity between the Old South and the New South. That is


one of the big debates concerning the Reconstruction. C.

Van Woodward [leading historian of the New South] has said

that there is tremendous discontinuity between the old South

and the new South, but there are those now who argue that

there are a lot of things that did not change.

S: The discontinuity comes only with so many northerners coming

into the South. Not just northerners, but crackers who had

come up from being crackers and had broken away. Then the

negro is becoming educated, and he does not want it. They

repel anything that looks like paternalism.

Some of them do, but some of them do not, like this

woman whom I said was still had hanging on to me. [This '

must be a different woman from the one who worked for you in

Kissimmee, because that woman kept having babies "trying to

get a lit-bte-boy." Please clarify.. 1Ed;-1JShe was a teacher

,-at the school. She had a fairly responsible position, but I

"do not know what happened about her pension. She retired

and did not get as much as she needed. She had a good son,

and I was helping send him to college. He was doing very

well in Tallahassee, but he fell in love with a little gal.

They have not married yet, but he stopped going to college.

His father was the janitor at the building where I worked.

He was my strong arm, and I was his banker. I lentlmoney

and he would work it out on a Saturday. It was all very

pleasant for me.

But now, this woman [not the school teachext,-right? Ed.]

who used to help me keep house when was in Jacksonville

6 \

and she would come clean my apartment [Did you have a house

j jor an apartment in Jacksonville, or both? Ed.], when I told

her I was going to come out here she said, "Oh, Miss Dena, I

thought you were going to live here and I would nurse you

the rest of your life." Well, she was sicker than I was.

She was not as well as I until I had an operation. Then she

sent me a Christmas card, and I sent her a fifteen-dollar

check, and I cannot stop it. Now she has decided to send me

birthday and Easter cards. Well, I did not send her checks,

but I did get some old clothes together and mail them.

I talked with her about medicine, and she will just try any

old patent medicine before she would go to the doctor. And

she is a girl who has an education! She was working in the

bean fields down in Palm Beach County, where all the family

lived. She went to junior college and got a college degree.

She is as black as the ace of spades. I have a great deal

of respect for her, but life is just falling on so.

She has a son--there are no other children [Apparently there

are two women: one was a school teacher and had onl -k e <46v'K

child (a son), and the other worked for you and had several/ -i'

daughters. The retired school teacher is the one who is

"still hanging on." Can you recall their names? That would

clear the confusion. It also seems that both of them earned

college degrees. Ed.]--and he is having kids by the dozen

with some girl. I think he has a job in one of these chain

st res. I knew him and talked with him while he was going

to college, and he seemed all right. But then he suddenly

became "black."


I mentioned the wKk nigger before, but I was quoting the

black man. We were never allowed to say that word! My

mother, being from southern Alabama, would never allow us to

say it. I think we children must have, because I remember

one of us said something ugly to one of the maids who kept

us, and I remember my mother saying, "You must not say this.

You must be nice to her. She is helping." So I remember a

lecture on something we kids had done, and we were not

allowed to say that word. If any of the children said it at

the table, we were sent from the table. I have heard my

father use it. He had worked with so many of them, I guess

he had some of them that were pretty contrary. Well, I have

wandered far afield.

A: But this is very good stuff.

S: There is something else I was going to tell you. Oh,

doctors seemed to be very much interested in history.

A: They still are.

S: And they make pretty good historians. Dr. [Willard] /

Straight probably does not do all of his research. Dr.

Webster Merrit in Jacksonville--I do not know if you would

have any use for this--wrote this.

A: The History of Jacksonville Medicine. I borrowed this book

from Dr. Ashby Hammond.

S: He had an artist draw that little map. He knew where some

of those people lived.

A: Oh, I see. ..

S: It is in the back too, if it is not dispoiled by now '


A: Baldwin was the great doctor in Jacksonville.

S: Dr. Baldwin's house is there, yes. Are you interested in

Dr. Baldwin and his family records?

A: Do you have them?

S: I know where they are.

A: That is very interesting, but he was long before my research

period. His book does not come up to the period that I am


S: Oh, this one does not help you out, then. His granddaughter

has them, and I have her name.

A: Are you going to get them for the Florida Historical


S: No. They will keep them for two or three more generations.

Well, do you have any more pertinent questions?

A: I cannot think of any. I think you covered a lot of ground.

S: re wa a doctor in Wh eng, Massachusetts whofinished

at Bo [Universoty ?] in 1862, andh wrote home to his

family. [Where-was home? Ed.J-Then after the war he bound

the letters. This was the Battle of Fredericksb rg. What

about the Battle of Fiedericksberg? Ed.] There are two / }

books of these. /One letter was twenty pages long. i

A: This is unbelievable!

S: He wa sn the service for 140 weeks, and he wrote 192


A: Well, I think that is all. Thank you very much for your

time. You have been a great help to my research.