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Lean Times at Duke

“On the Duke Endowment scholarship I would not get one lump sum, but one-half at the end of each semester. Covering my needs meant going to the Morris Plan Bank and borrowing as much as required at a 4 percent rate of interest. This further reduced my capital funds.

Duke Divinity School Archives
Depression-era students Carl Haley D’36 and his roommate considered it a “splurge” to go to dinner at Duke’s Union.
Depression-era students Carl Haley D’36
and his roommate considered it a “splurge”
to go to dinner at Duke’s Union.

“Food was always an important matter, considering the limited financial resources. We often ate in our room or apartment in the morning. Then we might go to the coffee shop on campus and order a hamburger, an order of fries and two glasses of milk, and a bottle of catsup. Dividing the sandwich and the fries with my roommate gave us a good lunch.

“In the evening we often went in a carload to Mrs. Clark’s boarding house downtown near the cigarette factories.
There we could get a full ‘starchy’ meal for 25 cents, or perhaps splurge and go to the Union for dinner.

“My 1934 summer assignment [in Henderson, N.C.] . was to two churches located in the locally-owned cotton mill villages. Each block had a public water faucet from which the people carried their water. Most of them were on two- or three-day employment at the mills, just to keep them going through the Depression.

“With all their poverty I found the people very kind and thoughtful, and when you ate with them you felt like a thief. But they had so few pleasures that we tried to be entertaining . as we visited. The ladies always insisted, “Now Brother Haley, pass the beans and you ‘Take OUT.’ I shall ever be grateful for the experience of working with these people.

“Ed Earnhardt was pastor at the large beautiful stone First Methodist Church in the center of town. His parsonage had such a leaky roof that he arranged for the board of stewards to leave the church where they had met one rainy night, and go across to the parsonage for some refreshments. When Mrs. Earnhardt came to the door to greet them she was carrying an umbrella in the house. He got a new roof shortly thereafter.”

Excerpted from Carl W. Haley’s reflection “Duke Daze, 1933-36.” Haley, who died in 2008, was one of the members of “The Chain Gang,” a group of alumni who stayed in touch through chain letters and occasional reunions. The son of a circuit-riding Methodist pastor, Haley served many parishes and agencies across a long career.