This collection of one hundred thirty-eight manuscripts consists of letters written by Martha Caroline Ramsay Hopkins (1864-1950) from her rural home in the Fairview community near Fountain Inn in southern Greenville County and addressed chiefly to her son Frederick Anderson Hopkins (1903-1970). While many of the letters bear no date other than the day of the week, most were written at the time Fred was a student at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va. They contain family and neighborhood news providing a wealth of information on social and economic conditions in this small upstate agricultural community, an area that had entered into a time of economic troubles several years before the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929.
Martha Caroline Ramsay married Robert J. Hopkins in 1886, and the couple made their home on a farm in the community centering upon old Fairview Presbyterian Church. In that home Mrs. Hopkins gave birth to four children, including son Frederick Anderson Hopkins. The other three children were William A. Hopkins, a banker; David Ramsay Hopkins, a Clemson graduate and agricultural agent; and Ethel Hopkins Stribling, a graduate of Winthrop and a school teacher in Gaffney.
Frederick Anderson Hopkins, a graduate of Davidson College (1925) and Union Theological Seminary (1928), was an ordained Presbyterian minister serving churches in Texas and South Carolina. In 1946 he became the first Executive Secretary of Bethel Presbytery; he served in this capacity until his death in 1970.
Many of Mrs. Hopkins’ earlier letters touch on a controversy at Fairview Presbyterian Church surrounding their pastor, Jesse Newton McCord (1879-1957), and the desires of some church members to have him removed from his pastorate. In an undated letter, written the day her husband had gone with the Fairview delegation to a meeting of Presbytery at Woodruff, Mrs. Hopkins suggested that “Things get worse instead of better at Fairview,” and offered her opinion that Mr. McCord would be better suited “down there where they have the Clew-Clucks to manage things.”
Another letter, this one bearing a “Sunday Night” dateline, notes that the Hopkinses had attended Fairview that morning. “It was communion day,” she wrote. “Conditions are no better there. But that didn’t bother me about communing. I have to examine nobody except myself.” “We went to Pisgah this p.m.,” Mrs. Hopkins went on to say, and “Mr. Kinard preached....He is an old man, has rheumatism, had to sit while preaching. Papa said he didn’t want to listen to another who sits, he was too comfortable, preaches too long. He spoke fast. Papa couldn’t understand him. I enjoyed it. He is on the evangelist style.”
Seemingly Fairview was not the only local church beset by trouble at the time. “They are having ‘their fuss’ in the Methodist church at Fountain Inn now,” another letter reports. “14 members got their letters last Sun. night. We haven’t heard where they are going to put them. It seems that they disagree about when Christ is coming. It seems to me that ought to make them get in a good humor instead of getting mad. But the Devil works in many different ways. He still has a good job at Fairview.”
Religion was an essential topic of discussion and frequently extended beyond the confines of Mrs. Hopkins’ immediate neighborhood. Writing on “Thursday,” she noted that she had been to Greenville to hear evangelist Mordecai Ham preach—“There was about 10,000 there so the ‘News’ stated. His subject was ‘The Last Judgment.’ It was fine. He sang a solo on the Judgment that was worth going up there to hear, he acted and made it so impressive. Night before last he preached on the unpardonable sin....He is right with [William Jennings] Bryan and me about all the scriptures being inspired and to reject any of it is to sin against the Holy Spirit.”
When in 1927 South Carolina governor John G. Richards provoked public outcry by his decision to strictly enforce the state’s Sunday blue laws, including infractions of leisure-time activities such as golf, Mrs. Hopkins was vocal in her support—“Our Presbyterian Gov. Richards is tr[y]ing to enforce the law on Sabbath observance. Had Bohnam and three other leading men arrested at Greenville for playing golf last Sun. The paper is full of it, some for and some against, I say ho-ra, for Richards. A lot of them went over into N.C. last Sun. to play golf. N.C. tells them to come on, they can knock their balls from one side of the state to the other on Sun. If that is not heathenism, what is?”
Not every letter was given over to the discussion of religion however. Among other news items there was talk of the agricultural depression. “Every body is so stir[r]ed up about the banks closing,” she reported in one. “We went to Fountain Inn this p.m. No trading going on, every body so blue. You can’t give a check or get one cashed. I carried a little butter and two doz. eggs and that was the money we had. This finishes us up. The fourteen shares in the bank was all we had ahead $1,400 we will loose that and may have to put up that much more to pay the depositors you know that is the law. We had a little on deposit. It is terrible on us and so many others. The sorry crop last year and this year both is the cause. We are in debt for making the crop and the hands won’t pay out.”
News of the Fairview area naturally included such community happenings as the Fairview Stock Show, a yearly event on the order of county fairs. A 1929 letter tells of a freak accident there in which two buggies to which mules were harnessed had collided. The buggies were wrecked, and one person was run over and sustained a broken leg—“‘Tis a wonder somebody hadn’t been killed. Two mules to each buggie. One man lost control of his and ran into the other buggy....Both buggies were torn up. It was scarey times for awhile. The mothers went to hunting their children. They soon restored order and went on with the Show.”
Many of the letters convey motherly advice. Her concern for Fred’s eyesight is often alluded to, but nowhere more humorously than in Mrs. Hopkins’ comments in a letter likely written during 1925—“So glad your eyes are holding out. Be just as good to them as you can, but find some way to rest them besides calling on girls.” “Don’t ruin your digestion by eating just anything,” she advised in another. “Don’t eat much supper. And don’t sleep so long in the morning, it is not good for you.”
“I am afraid you are eating too much cheese and meat, and cheese and eggs,” Mrs. Hopkins scolded in a 6 July 27 letter. “Do you get any fruit and vegetables? Don’t eat rich fried things for supper, you will ruin your digestion. When you get your stomach wrong you are wrong all over. Ask the people to cook you some beans, or you can cook them, you are there in the morning, they should boil slowly for three hours or more with a small piece of fat meat. Boil them down to almost no water. Eat with raw tomatoes and lettuce.” While advice from Fred’s mother was plentiful, the sole words of wisdom from his father were “Be carefull how you deal with strangers & Debt. I can furnish you with what you need.”