By Tiffany Powell
Graduate Student, Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University
Oseola McCarty was born in Marion County, Mississippi. She lived in Mississippi all of her life. As a young girl, McCarty dreamed of becoming a nurse. However, family duty stood as an obstacle to occupational goals, as her aunt and grandmother became ill when she was a young schoolgirl. McCarty left school after completing the sixth grade to care for them. Since her family was one of washerwomen, McCarty followed in their footsteps. She cleaned other people's clothes for over seventy years.
Oseola McCarty, a washerwoman, made a gift of $150,000 (a large portion of her life savings) to the University of Southern Mississippi to help needy students. Many were surprised by this gesture from a woman who appeared to have so little. She was 88 years old and had never married. She did not have any children. She did not own a car. Even with the extreme warmth of the Mississippi climate, McCarty did not possess an air-conditioner until her later years, convinced by the urging of her concerned banker. From this simple and frugal life, she was able to impress the world with an outstanding and significant charitable act.
McCarty asserts that she began saving money when she was very young. Her habit of saving and investing a portion of her earnings continued throughout her career. It was always important to measure her spending habits carefully. She lived simply and never wastefully. She worked hard and bought only what she needed. McCarty believes that a hard worker feels good about herself. Due to good work and saving habits McCarty accumulated a great deal of money.
Matching Grant and Accolades
McCarty's efforts have instigated support from business, political, and community leaders from across the country. They have followed her initiative with monetary contributions that match her gift. They have been able to double the amount of support for the Oseola McCarty Endowed Scholarship. Now more needy students will have an opportunity to go to college.
Many have taken notice of McCarty's special generosity. Although she had not previously ventured far from her Mississippi home, before her death, McCarty traveled around the country. Many people wanted to meet the woman who expressed such kindness and wisdom. She met famous people and received numerous awards, including a Presidential Medal and honorary degrees from The University of Southern Mississippi and Harvard University. McCarty became an author. One of her books, Simple Wisdom for Rich Living, shares her ideas for success.
McCarty's donation of $150,000 to The University of Southern Mississippi is the largest gift given by an African-American to this university. Though she was unable to complete her own education, it was her intention that her gift would make it possible for many others in financial need to do so. Years ago, African-Americans student were not allowed to attend this Mississippi University. Now, with McCarty's support, specifically African American students have an opportunity to fulfill their dreams of a college education.
McCarty's efforts complement a long history of African-American philanthropy. Her gift also defies the notion that philanthropic giving is an exercise designated exclusively for the very wealthy. Everyone can participate in philanthropic activity. And as Oseola McCarty discovered, philanthropic activity can result in rich rewards.
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