Susan Greer Ray Vance Brumit Journals, 1951 - 1989, PC.1923


Susan Greer Ray Vance Brumit Journals, 1951 - 1989, PC.1923


Susan Greer Ray Vance Brumit (1909-1990), wife, mother, and homemaker, was born in Elk Park, Avery County, North Carolina. She was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson Ray (1872-1941), owner of a chemical company in Elk Park, and Cordelia Green Morphew (1875-1934). At sixteen she married Thomas Beauregard Vance, Jr. of Plumtree, NC, and in 1928 she gave birth to their son Thomas Beauregard Vance, III. She left her first husband in or after 1931 and, sometime during the mid-1930s, she married her second husband, Captain Philip I. Brumit. The collection includes 31 volumes of journals (6 of which are unbound) and 31 manuscript/printed items. Mrs. Brumit's journals begin 1951 and end in 1989; she used them to express her opinions and musings on a number of topics, whether family members, relations with neighbors, social trends, economic conditions, political events, or religious matters.

Descriptive Summary

Susan Greer Ray Vance Brumit Journals
Call Number
Brumit, Susan Greer Ray Vance
1951 - 1989
31.00 items, 2.00 sheets, 31.00 volumes
State Archives of North Carolina

Restrictions on Access & Use

Access Restrictions

Available for research.

Use Restrictions

Some of the journals were kept on unbound sheets rather than in a bound volume. The unbound volumes have been put into order and tied with white string. Researchers are asked to use these unbound journals with the greatest caution, keeping the pages in strict order at all times.

Copyright is retained by the authors of these materials, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law (Title 17 US Code). Individual researchers are responsible for using these materials in conformance with copyright law as well as any donor restrictions accompanying the materials.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], PC.1923, Susan Greer Ray Vance Brumit Journals, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC, USA.

Collection Overview

The collection includes 31 volumes of journals (6 of which are unbound) and 31 manuscript/printed items. Mrs. Brumit's journals begin in 1951 and end in 1989. It is conceivable that she did not commence keeping a journal until after the election of her son as a member of the Tennessee General Assembly. Journals are lacking for the years 1952, 1958-1960, 1970, and 1975, and of the years 1978 and 1979 there are but two pages surviving. The journal for 1988 is written in a blank yearbook manufactured for use in 1931. Some of the journals were kept on unbound sheets rather than in a bound volume. The unbound volumes have been put into order and tied with white string. Researchers are asked to use these unbound journals with the greatest caution, keeping the pages in strict order at all times.

Mrs. Brumit used the journals to express her opinions and musings on a number of topics, whether family members, relations with neighbors, social trends, economic conditions, political events, or religious matters. Entries in the journals were written for her eyes only, and were not intended to be either fair or objective statements. They were made for the purpose of recording her personal reactions, expressing her hopes and fears, and, sometimes, simply for venting her spleen. In other words, the keeping of a journal was Mrs. Brumit's way of talking to herself.

One of the uses to which the journal was put was as a safe place in which to give voice to her complaints (too often petty ones) against both Captain Brumit and her son Tommy. The captain, she felt, did not help enough around the house, or she complained if he failed to bring back everything on the shopping list when she sent him for groceries. She not infrequently refers to him as "old vile Brumit". Yet at the close of his life, she made great effort to get him admitted to the Veteran's Hospital (formerly the National Sanatorium) and finally succeeded in 1957. Her journal reveals her feeling of loneliness after the captain was hospitalized, and her depression following his death in 1960. It is difficult to surmise just what day-to-day relations were actually like between wife and husband.

It is equally difficult to surmise the state of Mrs. Brumit's relation with her son Tommy. After the captain's death and after her son entered more fully into his own life apart from hers, there was frequent tension between mother and son. She felt he neglected her, and sometimes she viewed his conduct as slighting or insulting. Her journal makes her own feelings about any given happenstance or circumstance in their relationship quite clear. It does not, however, make clear how transitory or how lasting those feelings were. During the latter years of her life, Mrs. Brumit came to accept the fact that she was not the primary concern of her son's life. All the same, she continued to resent being obliged to live in a low-income apartment instead of having a "loved one" to live with her and take care of her.

While her journal entries do not give full reasons for her opinions, Mrs. Brumit held very strong opinions regarding politics and society. For example, her son Tommy was elected as the representative from Washington County to the 1951 Tennessee General Assembly, the youngest person ever elected to that body. In fact he was unable to take his seat until March of that year when he attained the qualifying age of 23. She was, naturally, proud of him and defensive of his political stances. Anyone who spoke against her son, whether newspaper editors or fellow legislators, she characterized as being either a "cob-toter" or merely jealous. With reference to politics at the national level, her journal demonstrates no early bias against President Richard Nixon. The first mention in her journal of "Watergate" was in connection with Nixon's speech on April 30, 1973. After that speech she denounced Nixon as a crook and a liar, and felt that those who went to jail were scapegoats for Nixon. Her anger increased after Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. Mrs. Brumit was opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment for women (1982). During her later years, Mrs. Brumit paid less attention to the ordinary course of political life, and focused her anger and frustrations on the funding and management of the Social Security program. After 1985 she made fewer and fewer entries in the journal other than to record the temperature and the weather.

Mrs. Brumit often mentions current events, but not always with commentary. She mentions Harry S. Truman and Gen. MacArthur (1951), Stalin's death (1953), Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and their trial and conviction for illegally passing nuclear secrets to the Russians (1953), the truce signing in Korea (1953), and several space launches and landings. She blamed the Watts race riots of 1965 in Los Angeles on Lyndon B. Johnson, whom she thought to be courting the African-American vote. She believed Johnson to be involved in John F. Kennedy's assassination. After the Kennedy assassinations, she believed all presidents were then targets of assassins (1963, 1968). With an increase in the number of airplane hijackings her fear of flying grew. She saw a television program for the first time August 9, 1953 and got her own television set on January 16, 1957. She mentioned watching "60 Minutes", the "Ed Sullivan Show", "Sonny and Cher", "I Love Lucy", and "Hee Haw", the latter of which included Susan Ray, her niece.

Some of Mrs. Brumit's journal entries evince racist tendencies. Her attitude appears to have been that African Americans were all right as humans, but that they had "their place". She often used racial slurs when referring to African Americans. However, she did not like the KKK. She did not support integration of schools or the civil rights movement. She subsequently wrote that she had predicted the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. "since his beginning of stirring up otherwise contented people of his race" (April 5, 1965). After the mayoral election in Cleveland Ohio, she wrote the country would learn from the "gross Mistake that great City Made by allowing the election of a Negro as Mayor..." (July 28, 1968). She did not have particularly good relations with African Americans. She rented a house in an African American neighborhood for several years and wrote of neighbors stealing vegetables from her garden and throwing rocks at her dogs.

Mrs. Brumit lived for the mail, newspapers, and other sources of news. She wrote and received letters, ordered from catalogs, and entered contests through the mail. If a newspaper did not arrive, she made a note of it. She cut and kept clippings about her son during his term as a legislator and anything else of interest to her such as recipes, articles, and ads. She listened to the radio and when she got a television used it for news. When her television broke, she borrowed someone else's or went back to the radio. She was wife, mother, and housekeeper, an avid gardener, and sewed and knitted clothing for her family and friends. When Captain Brumit died, she took classes at a community college and took the civil service exam hoping to get a job. She worried about her appearance, owned several wigs, and throughout her life tried various remedies for hair loss. She called electrolysis "treatments". She also expected help to come to her. After Capt. Brumit's death, people helped her get the mail and groceries, and did other errands and chores for her. After a while, she would complain of their lack of help or their insults.

Mrs. Brumit lived what she considered a pious life, yet she held many superstitions and folk beliefs. She rarely worked on Sundays and felt guilty if she did. She attended church and went to revivals, faith healing services, and traveling preachers' services. In a general sociology class at a community college, she got into a small debate with her professor over evolution vs. creationism (1966). She seemed amused at the exchange, and years later expressed interest in The Missing Link (1974). In her later years especially, she called on Providence for help and strength. However, she also wished on the first star she saw at night, believed the number of fogs in August foretold the number of snowfalls in winter, was wary of the thirteenth day of the month, went to tarot card readings and fortune tellings, and had "Foo Chu" bamboo sticks (an ancient Chinese fortune telling device). She also consulted the almanac when planting or tending her garden in the hope of taking advantage of the influence of the sign of the zodiac through which the moon was passing at the time. While she did use modern medicine, she still relied on folk medicine. She bought ocean water for thinning hair, made her own arthritis medicine of mainly whiskey and sulfur, and rubbed kerosene on aches and pains.
Mrs. Brumit was diligent in trying to better her financial situation, yet not always able to distinguish a sound business venture from a fanciful one. She bought moneymaking books, guidebooks, and other instructional pamphlets in hopes of raising money. Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful. She thought of numerous creative and ambitious ideas to raise money. Some of her ideas were carried into execution, others abandoned. Some ventures she entered upon included making and selling candy to local stores, acquiring hundreds of chickens and selling the eggs they laid, making and selling arthritis medicine-all of which were short-lived. She entered contests, gambled on boxing and football matches, and tried to start a "Quilt of the Month Club" that became more of a quilt kits for sale. She made all the kits but found few interested in buying them, so she wanted a Texas millionaire to auction the kits but this idea was unsuccessful.

In addition, she tried selling tomatoes, a project that resulted in little profit. Until the early 1960s she signed her diary entries with, "hope for better luck tomorrow". After the death of Captain Brumit she took in boarders to help offset expenses. As time passed, Mrs. Brumit had to entrench. She discontinued electrolysis treatments and hair cuts at a salon. She husbanded her coal for heat. Her economic situation was such that she qualified for some assistance programs, such as low-income housing and food stamps, but not others.

Even more numerous than the projects she started are the ideas she never followed through with. For instance, writing an advice, and later humor, column, interpreting dreams, making birch bark pictures, painting the heraldry of interested families, writing a book or stories inspired by local people, or a book on genealogies or on Abraham Lincoln; selling seeds, growing tobacco, sugar cane, and buck wheat flour; making dress kits, or blankets for dogs/cats, bed covers, or school colors; operating a tea room with a friend, opening a bakery, a liquor store, discount, or other chain store, or a wholesale beer club; hat-making, leasing a parking lot and renting the spaces, making cigarettes, selling insurance, encyclopedias, or books by mail, leasing a laundromat or service station, buying and selling quilts or guns, and buying and selling uncut diamonds.

Some of her ideas involved buying collectibles, antiques, and buildings thinking to sell them at higher prices. She wanted to buy and sell coffee, and green produce, and, after learning of his death, thought of asking Pablo Picasso's wife for a painting of his. Other ideas revolved around land she owned in Florida. She wanted to sell the timber off the land but she also had the ideas of stores buying from her and giving out portions of land in special promotions, or developing a trailer court or camp ground, and finally, selling the land to the federal government or to Saudi Arabians. Other ideas included buying a house and renting it out, buying a building for a store downstairs and living upstairs, buying a house with a big lot to build a four to five room building to house twenty college boys.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Brumit dreamed of owning her own home for herself and her family. Even when her financial situation made it appear that hers was an impossible dream, she continued to hope. However, lack of money may not have been the only reason she never realized her dream of a house. While she never wrote down how much money she had, she was able to pay off her son's $12,000 mortgage, and still drew interest from $12,500 in the bank (1984). Perhaps one reason she never bought a house was that she thought sellers should, and would, come down in price. However, they rarely did and never to her satisfaction. Conversely, while she expected sellers to sell cheaply, she expected buyers to purchase her land or collectibles for high prices. In 1980 she wrote that she expected the federal government to buy her Florida land for five million dollars for refugees; the next day she expected ten million. Four years later, she figured she could sell her land for $500,000 an acre.

In 1982, when Mrs. Brumit moved into the John Sevier Center, a Johnson City hotel that had been converted into low-income apartments, she was not happy. Throughout her life, she had been forced from one rented home to another, but being forced into an apartment was too much. When she first arrived, she noticed the first floor apartments were larger than her "Cubby Hole" and wanted to get one, maybe two, in order to cut a door between the apartments so someone could live with her and take care of her. Additionally, she considered the center to be a "sham shelter" for low income and "skid-row" people. Mrs. Brumit had often complained of the lack of heat in her last house. At the center, she looked back fondly at that house. She complained of the center's thin floors that resulted from the work of converting the hotel. She even tried to get someone to buy the building and renovate it. Of course, she refused to turn on the heat until November and then only in the afternoon, but that was to save money on electricity. As she progressed into old age, Mrs. Brumit's journal entries expressed growing bitterness toward her family, insinuating that she had been abandoned when she should have been taken care of by them. While she admitted she could no longer care for herself, and had to get others to do her errands, she expected her family and friends, not a facility designed for needy people, to do things for her.

Arrangement Note

Arranged chronologically.

Biographical Note

Susan Greer Ray Vance Brumit (1909-1990), wife, mother, andhomemaker, was born in Elk Park, Avery County, North Carolina. She was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson Ray (1872-1941), owner of a chemical company in Elk Park, and Cordelia Green Morphew (1875-1934). At sixteen she married Thomas Beauregard Vance, Jr. of Plumtree, NC, and in 1928 she gave birth to their son Thomas Beauregard Vance, III. They also had a daughter who died about the time Mrs. Vance left her husband in or after 1931. Sometime about the mid-1930s she married as her second husband a widower who was 35 years her senior, Captain Philip I. Brumit. Captain Brumit, who had served in World War I as captain in the headquarters of the 2nd Battalion, 59th Brigade, 117th Infantry, had children and grandchildren of his own at the time he and Susan Vance were married. He had followed various occupations farmer, lumber mill employee, and, more recently, quartermaster to the federal military hospital at Johnson City, Tennessee--the National Sanatorium. Following the marriage Mrs. Brumit retrieved her son from her paternal grandmother in North Carolina about 1936, moved him to Johnson City, and changed his name to Thomas Samuel Vance.

Contents of the Collection

1. Journals,1951-1981

1951, 1951
Box PC.1923.1
1953, 1953
1954, 1954
1955, 1955
1956, 1956
1957, 1957
1961, 1961
Box PC.1923.2
1962, 1962
1963, 1963
Box PC.1923.3
1964, 1964
1965, 1965
1966, 1966
1967, 1967
Box PC.1923.4
1968, 1968
1969, 1969
1971, 1971
1972, 1972
Box PC.1923.5
1973, 1973
1974, 1974
1976, 1976
1977-1979, 1977-1979
1980, June 12-Dec. 28, 1980, June 12-Dec. 28
1981, 1981
1982, 1982
1983, 1983
Box PC.1923.6
1984, 1984
1985, 1985
1986, 1986
1987, 1987
1988, 1988
1989, 1989

2. Miscellaneous Papers, n.d.

Class Notes
Box PC.1923.7
Religious materials

Subject Headings

  • Brumit, Philip I., 1874-1960.
  • King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968.
  • Vance, Thomas Samuel, 1928-2002.
  • John Sevier Center (Johnson City, Tenn.)
  • Elderly poor.
  • Folklore.
  • Gardening.
  • Interpersonal relations.
  • Mass media.
  • Older women.
  • Parent and adult child.
  • Quilting
  • Race relations.
  • Superstition.
  • Traditional medicine.
  • Women--Social life and customs--20th century.
  • Women
  • Social life and customs
  • Johnson City (Tenn.)
  • Diaries.
  • Acquisitions Information

    Gift of Mrs. Patricia Douglas Vance, Hermitage, TN, Oct. 31, 2002

    Processing Information

  • Processed by Abigail J. Rovner, May 29, 2003. Description revised by George Stevenson, July 21, 2005. Encoded by Dietra Stanley, December 2006. Edited and revised for publication in DOC by Fran Tracy-Walls, April 2020.