She is one of the most amazing women in the world who is inspired by millions of people around the world for her donation of $150,000 for the scholarship of the University of Southern Mississippi. While this may not have been the largest single donation the school ever received,what was unique was that she had saved the money over the course of her life time from her modest earnings washing other people’s clothes.
Oseola McCarty was born, reared and started her education in Mississippi. When she was in the sixth grade, McCarty left school to care for her ailing aunt and never returned to school. For more than 75 years, she earned her living as a laundress. She did laundry for three generations of some Hattiesburg, Miss., families.
McCarty never owned a car; she walked everywhere she went, pushing a shopping cart nearly a mile to get groceries. She rode with friends to attend services at the Friendship Baptist Church. She did not subscribe to any newspaper, considering the expense an extravagance. Similarly, although she owned a black and white television, she only received transmissions via the airways. In 1947, her uncle gave her the house in which she lived until her death. She also received some money from her aunt and mother when they died, which she also placed into savings.
« I want to help somebody’s child go to college, » she said after announcing the donation. Her gift endowed the Oseola McCarty Scholarship. « I’m too old to get an education, but they can. » When asked about her ability to save so much money she says simply, « I didn’t buy things I didn’t need, The Lord helped me, and he’ll help you, too. It’s an honor to be blessed like that. »
In 1998, she was awarded an honorary degree from USM, the first such degree awarded by the university. She received scores of awards and other honors recognizing her unselfish spirit, and President Bill Clinton presented her with a Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second highest civilian award, during a special White House Ceremony. She also won the United Nations’ coveted Avicenna Medal for educational commitment. In June 1996, Harvard University awarded McCarty an honorary doctorate alongside Maya Lin, Walter Annenberg, and Judith Jameson.
She passed away Sept. 26, 1999 from a cancer leaving a golden lesson of simplicity for all of us. A collection of McCarty’s views on life, work, faith, saving, and relationships can be found in her book, Simple Wisdom for Rich Living, published by Longstreet Press in 1996.