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Olin D. Johnston Papers [Addition], 1914-1927An important addition to the papers of Olin D. Johnston consists chiefly of letters, 1922-1927, between Johnston and his wife, Gladys. Mrs. Johnston played a pivotal role in her husband's political career. These letters, heartwarming and revealing, provide a unique insight into the evolution of a political couple.
Olin DeWitt Johnston and Gladys Elizabeth Atkinson met on 17 June 1922 at a YMCA youth conference in Blue Ridge, N.C. Olin had returned from his service in France in World War I determined to better himself through education and set his sights on a political career. He was twenty-six years old, had completed his undergraduate work, and was working his way through the University of South Carolina Law School as a full-time law librarian. Under the auspices of the Baptist Young People's Union (BYPU), in which he remained active throughout his life, Olin took time from his studies to attend the Blue Ridge conference, "10 days which marked a mile-stone in my life's history" (12 July 1922). A day the previous month—17 June 1922—proved to be an important one: Olin met the woman he was to marry and he was put forward, for the first time, as a candidate for the South Carolina legislature.
Gladys Elizabeth Atkinson was the youngest child of Everett C. ("Buck") Buchanan and Minnie Atkinson of Macon, Ga. When she and Olin met, she was twenty-one years old and a senior at Anderson College majoring in physical education.
After spending the ten days together in North Carolina, where Olin gave Gladys the nickname "Happy," a wordplay on her name, they went to their respective homes in Georgia and South Carolina and began their correspondence. Between their initial meeting and their eventual marriage in December 1924, they saw each other very rarely and then only for long weekends at her home in Georgia. In fact, during the year they met, they saw each other on only two occasions. Their courtship is well documented by their almost daily correspondence.
Through her letters, Gladys emerges as an intelligent, funny, devoted, and devout woman. In them one can follow her growth from college co-ed, whose greatest joy was being allowed to drive her brother Lot's car, to first-year school teacher in Cordele, Ga., to young wife, whose second year of marriage was spent nursing her critically ill mother hundreds of miles from her husband. What also emerges from the hundreds of letters in the collection is her understated but obvious role in Olin's burgeoning political career.
The addition consists of two linear feet of papers, 1922-1958. In addition to the correspondence between the Johnstons, there are letters from Mrs. Johnston's mother, Minnie Weaver Atkinson, 1922-1927, and Tommye Leigh Atkinson Moss, Gladys' sister. The correspondence covers Olin's early campaigns and "stumping" for himself and his political allies; reunions with Olin's World War I unit, the "Rainbow Veterans"; Gladys' first year teaching "regular cannibals" in rural Cordele, Ga.; life in South Carolina and Georgia in the 1920s, including the length of travel time, the heat and what people did to avoid it in those pre-air conditioned times, and their real commitment to religion and good works; the opening of Olin's law office and his early years in the legislature; and the couple's decision to marry. The letters would have ended there except for the death of Gladys' mother after a long and painful illness.
Gladys spent much of 1925 and almost all of 1926 in Macon, Ga., caring for her mother while Olin spent the first years of his marriage alone but able to concentrate more fully on his political career: "Please do not get sick of politics, but you must realize that I am filled-up to the brim with politics at the present. I do not forget my ole lady, for I love her better than I do any politics" (21 July 1926).
It is clear from even the earliest letters that the two young people shared similar values and ambitions and were quite openly smitten with each other. Their shared commitment is expressed quite early in a letter from Gladys: "A true friend and a pure, good, beautiful love is the best thing in the world to ensure success. I feel now that I can succeed in all the tasks I undertake—from the smallest to the greatest. And, if I can be of service to you in this way, if my friendship can help you, then Olin, you will some day realize all your dreams. You will be even more than just governor of South Carolina" (31 October 1922).
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