The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Bolian (Etta Dunn) Memoirs
Collection Number: M266
Dates: ca. 1870 - 1930
Volume: 1 Folder (53 pages)
Georgetta (Etta) Dunn Bolian was born in St. Helena Parish, Louisiana on September 22, 1866, the second daughter of George William and Sarah Elizabeth Dunn. Her father served as a private in the Louisiana Cavalry Battalion (9th Regiment) during the Civil War. He died of medical complications resulting from measles on August 12, 1866, one month before Etta was born. In 1868 Etta's mother married Albert Eugene Roberts of Centerville, Mississippi. Etta and her elder sister Mattie were raised by their stepfather whom they called "Papa." He was a stern and exacting man and the only father that they ever knew.
Etta and Mattie grew up on a farm, on land owned by their mother's family, the Taylors, in St. Helena Parish, five miles west of Amite City, Mississippi. Life was hard in the small rural community and the sisters had to help their father tend the crops. They were taught to read and write by their mother, formal schooling was sporadic. However, in 1888, at the age of twenty-one, Etta went to Gillsburg Collegiate Institute, in Amite County. At Gillsburg she met her future husband, Dan Bolian of Summit, Mississippi. After graduating in September 1889, she taught school for four months in Amite County.
Etta and Dan Bolian were married in February 1890. They moved to Magnolia (Pike County), Mississippi, where Dan worked for the Atkinson Lampton Mercantile Company. In 1893 the couple began to build a house and enjoyed a busy social life revolving around their church.
In February 1899 Etta's happiness was shattered by the death of her elder sister. Mattie had been married to John B. Zachery in 1881, at the age of sixteen, and died giving birth to her ninth child. After her death the Bolians' began to assume greater responsibility for the rearing and educating of the Zachery children, and there was always at least one child living with them.
In 1902 they moved to Bogue Chitto (Lincoln County), Mississippi, a small lumbering community that had grown up around the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railway. In that location Dan, in partnership with D.C. Coney, set up the Coney and Bolian Mercantile Company. The partnership failed and in 1905 Dan went into partnership with his brother, Sam Bolian, forming the Bolian Mercantile Company. The business prospered and was a contributing factor to the growth of the community as a whole.
On November 22, 1902, after twelve years of marriage, their first son, Daniel Leslie, was born. A second son, Eugene was born on December 20, 1905, but died two years later in May 1907, a victim of a whooping cough epidemic. Leslie did well at high school and after graduation he entered Mississippi College at Clinton, in 1920. Four years later he graduated and married Sallie Fisher of Yazoo County, Mississippi.
During the teens and early twenties the Bolians' were prosperous and active members of their community and church. For a number of years Dan Bolian was on the executive committee of the Lincoln County Baptist Association, becoming treasurer by its fiftieth anniversary in 1921. Etta Bolian was officer for the Bogue Chitto Woman's Missionary Union and in 1919 she attended the Southern Baptist Convention in Washington, D.C.
In the late twenties Dan Bolian developed a prolonged illness that left him a virtual invalid, and Etta nursed him devotedly for the remaining years of his life. During this period the business also declined.
This collection contains a typescript copy of Etta Bolian's memoirs. They were written in 1948 while Etta was living in the home of her niece Nettie Bolian Coleman, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The memoirs are anecdotal in nature, tracing Etta's life from her birth in 1866 to her husband's declining health in the twenties.
Her childhood experiences in St. Helena Parish, Louisiana focus on family, farm work, the church, schooling and illnesses. In adulthood Etta's primary concerns were still family and illnesses. She describes her own illnesses, caring for sick relatives and dealing with the death of loved ones. This collection highlights the inadequacies of medical care during this period, as well as the prevalence of diseases such as typhoid, tuberculosis, and measles which were virulent killers of young and old alike.
In her married life in Magnolia and Bogue Chitto she describes housekeeping and child rearing in a developing rural community. She enjoyed her role as housewife, and although the family was not wealthy she always had some form of paid help. Aside from her household duties Etta loved reading and poetry and her memoirs indicate that she missed the active cultural life in Magnolia once they moved to Bogue Chitto.
Another theme in the memoirs is Dan Bolian's work in the mercantile trade, and the role such businesses played in rural communities. Etta's writing also reveals the strength of her faith and the importance of the Baptist church in her life.