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Celebrating Oseola McCarty, the Woman Who Donated Her Life Savings to Create a Black Scholarship Fund

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March 14, 2024

In honor of Women’s History Month, BOTWC recognizes the extraordinary contributions of women who have defied the odds, uplifted their communities, and left memorable marks on history. Among these remarkable individuals is Oseola McCarty, whose life story is full of perseverance, hard work, and philanthropy.

According to Philanthropy Roundtable, McCarty was born in 1908 into challenging circumstances in rural Mississippi. McCarty’s early years were marked by adversity and hardship. Raised by her grandmother and aunt, who worked as domestic helpers, McCarty learned the value of resilience and self-reliance from an early age. Despite facing significant obstacles, including dropping out of school to care for her ailing aunt, McCarty embraced work as a source of pride and purpose.

McCarty’s dedication to her craft was unparalleled. As a washerwoman, she scrubbed laundry by hand on a rubboard, refusing to compromise on quality despite the physically demanding nature of her work. Her meticulous approach and commitment to excellence earned her the respect and admiration of her community. However, McCarty’s story transcends her extraordinary work ethic. Despite earning modest wages throughout her life, she possessed a great capacity for saving. From a young age, she diligently saved her earnings, demonstrating financial discipline beyond her years.

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She recalled in a 1996 Guideposts article, “I only went to the bank to put my change and dollar bills in, not to get them out. As long as I was able to keep working, I didn’t see any need to take out that money and buy things I didn’t have to have.”

In a display of generosity, McCarty donated the majority of her life savings to fund scholarships for deserving but needy students at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her selfless act of philanthropy, coupled with donations from the community, resulted in the establishment of the McCarty Scholarship, which provides educational opportunities to countless students.

“At the bank one day they asked me where I wanted my money to go when I passed on. Mr. Paul Laughlin—he’s one of the officers there—sat down with me and spread out ten dimes, and he told me that each dime represented ten percent of my money. So I took a dime for the church and a dime for each cousin. That left six dimes for a dream I had always had,” McCarty previously told reporters.

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“I want to help some child go to college,” she added. “I’m going to give the rest of my money to the University of Southern Mississippi, so deserving children can get a good education. I want to help African-American children who are eager for learning like I was, but whose families can’t afford to send them to school. Mr. Paul looked at me funny and said, ‘Miss Oseola, that means you’ll be giving the school a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.'”

Stephanie Bullock, accompanied by her family, visited Oseola McCarty’s home, instantly forming a bond. Stephanie’s desire to attend USM was challenged by financial constraints, with her twin brother starting college at a junior college. Despite facing scholarship rejections, Stephanie applied to USM with prayer, supported by her family’s unwavering faith. Miraculously, Stephanie received a phone call informing her that she was the inaugural recipient of the Oseola McCarty Scholarship, a moment that quickly became known throughout the neighborhood, bringing immense pride to Stephanie and her family.

Before her passing in 1999 at the age of 91, McCarty became known as an esteemed benefactor for her efforts. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we honor the legacy of Oseola McCarty and the countless other women who have made significant contributions to society. Their resilience, compassion, and generosity inspire us all and remind us of the impact that one individual can have on the world.

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Cover photo: Celebrating Oseola McCarty, the Woman Who Donated Her Life Savings to Black Scholarship / Credit: Guideposts Magazine

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W.Maye Armstrong
W.Maye Armstrong
3 months ago

I had never heard of Ms. Oseola until reading this article. She was one of the most generous African American women that I have ever read about. Thanks for sharing her life and desire to help others in their quest for a good education.

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