Oseola McCarty was a washerwoman who saved up enough of her earnings to become the University of Southern Mississippi’s most famous financial supporter. Despite earning low wages during her back-breaking career, McCarty gave Southern Miss a $150,000 gift in order to aid incoming students.
McCarty was born March 7, 1908 in Wayne County, Mississippi. She moved to the town of Hattiesburg, where Southern Miss is based, when she was a child. McCarty was primarily raised by her mother and aunt, and she became the caretaker after her aunt became ill. McCarty dropped out of the sixth grade and then became a washerwoman in town. She worked as a washerwoman until 1944, after arthritis robbed her of the ability to move easily. McCarty never married nor had children, never owned a car and walked everywhere.
Due to her simple lifestyle, over the years, McCarty saved over $250,000. She learned from her mother and had several bank accounts. A local banker helped McCarty manage her money by finding a simple way to help her understand how much she’d saved over time, considering she only had a fifth-grade education.
The banker, Paul Laughlin, used 10 dimes, each representing 10 percent of McCarty’s wealth. Laughlin then had McCarty to write down names of the people she wanted to leave her money to after she passed. She indicated one dime for her church, and three dimes for her three cousins with the remainder to go to Southern Miss. It was the largest contribution made by an African-American to the school.