1964 Bio. of May Burch (Lee) Wooten, a native of Union Parish, LA, and life long resident of Ouachita Parish, LA
Submitted for the Union Parish and Ouachita Parish Louisiana USGenWeb Archives, Dec 2006, by Hank Johns a great grandson of May B. (Lee) Wooten.
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THE WORLD for WOMEN
MONROE MORNING WORLD, Thursday April 2, 1964 - 1B
[a 4-1/2" by 6-1/2" photo of Mrs. Wooten sitting at her ancestral desk at the age of 83 begins this newspaper article. The caption below the photo reads as follows:]
MAY LEE WOOTEN is pictured in a familiar pose at the ancestral desk, where she spends much of her time, engrossed in her hobby of genealogical research. The volume she is studying is one which she has personally compiled for her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, tracing all the family lines back through many, many generations. The handsome desk was purchased in 1831 by her husband's grandfather and grandmother, when they went by stagecoach to New York City on their honeymoon. It is one of the marvelous antiques which furnish the restored Lower Parqoud Plantation house, at 2111 South Grand, which has been Mrs. Wooten's home since 1919.
THE Interesting World of Women By DOTTIE BURNS
World Society Editor
"Oh, my goodness! What are you writing there? Put that pencil down and let's talk. I want to know all about you."
And so it went during the delightfully refreshing but all too short morning hours spent in the very good company of Mrs. James R. Wooten, who at 83 is still so vitally interesting in everyone and everything about her.
May Burch Lee Wooten is a strong willed but ever gracious and captivating Southern lady and gentle woman whose own life loves and marvelous good humor have overflowed to enrichen the lives of her family, her friends and all who have had the good fortune to know her.
She is a legend in her own time, and it seems almost dishonest to attempt to capture her in anything less than the great American novel.
It isn't often that one is privileged to enter into those most private and hallowed halls of a family, who lives a daily dedication to its matriarch, so beloved is she by her children, her grand children and her great grandchildren. From the eldest to the very youngest, each has his own favorite tale, so filled with love, about "Mayna," the name by which this spirited and gallant woman is so fondly known. But the fun about these tales is that each is told as though speaking of a contemporary, so ageless is their "Mayna," whose own unselfish love has inspired this genuine devotion.
The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John M. Lee, who families came to Louisiana from Virginia, Mrs. Wooten was born in Farmerville in February, 1881. A few years later the family moved to Old Trenton, which was later taken in by West Monroe.
After finishing at the old Parish schools, she attended college, graduating from North Texas College at Sherman, Texas. When this school later became part of Southern Methodist University, she was presented with her diploma from that institution.
In February, 1902, she became the young bride of James R. Wooten of Cuthbert, Georgia and moved to his family home. It was here that she became entranced with a whole new vestige of family history, which inspired her still active hobby of genealogy. She was completely fascinated with the beautiful antiques and family treasures that furnished the Wooten home, many of which were brought back to Monroe.
In Georgia, the Wooten's first child, Anna Lee Wooten, now Mrs. Elmer Slagle, was born. But Louisiana was in Mrs. Wooten's heart; it was home and it beckoned her back. And back she came, eager to bring up her children in the rich tradition and heritage of two fine old families.
In this she has been most successful, as her family will testify. The Wooten children, in addition to Mrs. Slagle, are the late John Lee Wooten of Shreveport and Maria Brooking Wooten, now Mrs. Melville C. Vaughan of Aurora, Ohio. She has six grandchildren and thirteen great grandchildren.
You, don't have to look very far to see the influence Mrs. Wooten has had on Monroe. It is in evidence in every direction in the planting which she inspired to beautify her city. First president of the first garden club of Monroe, the Monroe Garden Club, Mrs. Wooten led her fellow members on a drive to make Monroe the garden spot of Northern Louisiana. Among their noteworthy undertakings was the planting of the Magnolia trees, which still grace either side of Riverside Drive along the river. Known then as Riverfront, Mrs. Wooten remembers the drive as a rough dirt road filled with roots, but she was determined to substitute with the beauty of planting that which was taken away by the building of the levee.
The seawall on S. Grand Street was a thorn in Mrs. Wooten's side. Even if she had to admit that the wall was perhaps a necessity, she didn't have to admit that it was anything other than an eyesore. So with volunteer hollyhocks from her own lovely gardens and an admonition from C. R. Tidwell, Commissioner of Streets and Parks at that time, not to plant any trees or dig any deep holes, Mrs. Wooten proceeded to plant hollyhocks all along the wall on South Grand. Everyone was delighted. An idea was born and Mr. Tidwell organized the City Beautification Board, of which Mrs. Wooten was chairman for eight years.
Among the many other areas in the city, which have benefited from this board were the public plantings on Lee Avenue, St. John Drive, the old Post Office, Bernstein Park and the pine trees along Marie Place.
In her campaign to make Monroe a garden spot, Mrs. Wooten also arranged to have fourteen carloads of shrubbery shipped to her from the McIlhenny Jungle Gardens near New Iberia. Some of the most beautiful camellias, azaleas and evergreens in the city today came from those shipments, the first commercial shipment of its kind to Monroe.
Mrs. Wooten's favorite inside hobby, the perfect antithesis for her own lovely gardens, has been her work with genealogy. What started as a simple but avid curiosity about the many branches which made up her own family tree, became a hobby shared by the many people whose genealogy she undertook to trace. Many women in Monroe today are members of the D.A.R. or Colonial Dames because of Mrs. Wooten's untiring efforts in tracing their family lineage. "I'm a record hound," said Mrs. Wooten, who still spends a great deal of her time at her desk pouring over genealogical records. Recognized as an expert in this field and a member of the Institute of American Genealogy, Mrs. Wooten was often urged by her family to do this work as a business but she only scoffed at the idea. It was a hobby, something she had to give to those she loved, those whom she wanted to help.
Mrs. Wooten's interest in family traditions and history brought her to notice the old home on South Grand that had been built sometime in the very early 1800's by Hippolite Pargoud as one of two plantation homes for his sons, Jean Francois and Joseph Pargoud. The South Grand place, known as Lower Pargoud plantation, was built on property that was part of a Spanish land grant, received by Jacques Chole and John F. Girod and stretched from Apple to Thomas Streets. The property had passed to the Pargouds through their uncle Monsieur Girod.
When Mrs. Wooten first became interested in the home, it was in a bad state of repair, but the place fascinated her and she dreamed of restoring it in all its original beauty. Because, as she says, she had a most understanding as well as an intelligent and charming husband, her dream came true in 1919, and Lower Pargoud plantation house was hers. Its former beauty has been restored with very few changes. The walls and most of the wide planked floors, the windows and the shutters are those which Hippolite Pargoud put into the house 160 years ago. Constructed of hand-hewn cypress with a 50-foot gallery across the front looking towards the river, the home was originally built with the kitchen separate, as was the custom in most antebellum homes. The bringing of the kitchen to be part of the main structure is the only major change of the plan of the plantation home.
Here Mrs. Wooten lives today, sharing it with her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Slagle. Here the Slagle children were privileged to know this great lady during all their growing up years, for the family moved in with "Mayna" when they were small.
Here Mrs. Wooten planned and built her lovely formal gardens, so fitting for this home, steeped in historical significance gardens filled with azaleas, camellias, magnolia fuscatas, sweet olives, huge trees and southern shrubs that thrive at her touch and give the true profusive beauty of age.
Mrs. Wooten declares she's a homebody now, not really caring to go forth from her beloved homestead. But that doesn't mean her mind is always at home where she is liable to be found at her desk, pushing genealogical books aside to write to her congressman or senator about issues of today, with which she keeps in daily contact.
Urged by her father who was a great believer in women's suffrage, Mrs. Wooten was Vice President of the Louisiana Suffrage Association and personally brought the late Senator Robert LaFollette Sr. of Wisconsin and Dr. Anna Shaw to Monroe to speak on behalf of votes for women.
Always vitally interested in politics with certain ideals and beliefs which she still feels it her duty to fight for and against by getting out to the polls, Mrs. Wooten took an almost violent interest of the late Miss Julia Wossman when she ran, unsuccessfully, for the state legislature and again, when former President Eisenhower made his first successful bid for the presidency.
Among Mrs. Wooten's other great interests during her active years in Monroe, was the organizing of the Fifth District Federation of Women's Clubs of which she was president.
She helped organize the first Cotillion Club, which was the predecessor of the Country Club here in Monroe, helping to put on the gala balls that marked the social seasons.
In the thirties, she accompanied her husband, who was then on the state highway commission when he went to Washington to get the franchise for the Louisville Avenue bridge. Wasn't it exciting? "You mean about the bridge?" she asked, "Oh, I don't know: I was too delighted to get to the Library of Congress to think about bridges across the Ouachita." Mr. Wooten was also postmaster of Monroe for many years.
In the early twenties, Mrs. Wooten even took a turn as a realtor, a business into which she more or less fell by chance, and she was most successful. But she gave up real estate and auction bridge, she declared, upon the birth of her first grandchild, so sure was she that something catastrophic was going to happen to this most precious of all jewels. Finally she wore herself out on the club work too and found that she was happy to stay at home with her gardens in good weather, her genealogical books in bad.
It was her life, and it had been and is a good life, filled with love for others and spiced with a generous helping of fun and foolishness that has always been part and parcel of this remarkable woman.
Note: Mrs. Wooten died June 30, 1968 in Monroe, Louisiana and is buried in Old City Cemetery, Monroe, Ouachita Parish, Louisiana.
(C) December 2006