Mississippians remember renowned benefactor Oseola McCarty on 115th birthday

Published 6:15 am Thursday, March 9, 2023

March 7 will forever be recognized as a special day of remembrance and celebration for The University of Southern Mississippi (USM). Today marks the 115th birthday of the University’s most renowned benefactor, Ms. Oseola McCarty.

McCarty, a Hattiesburg, Miss., native, became a global sensation in the mid 1990’s with an unexpected, planned gift to USM. Her act of phenomenal generosity captured the hearts of all who heard her story.

In 1995, she designated USM as the beneficiary of a $150,000 gift, forever changing philanthropy at the University. As an 87-year-old laundress who lived frugally, this gift represented the majority of her life savings.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“On what would be Ms. Oseola McCarty’s 115th birthday, we celebrate her life, her giving spirit and her generosity,” said Stace Mercier, executive director of the USM Foundation. “If she could only see the life-changing impact her gift has made on the nearly 130 students from South Mississippi who have benefitted from the Oseola McCarty Scholarship Endowment. Her $150,000 gift coupled with the gifts of others who chose to honor her has awarded approximately $600,000 in scholarships.”

Starting at the age of 8, McCarty worked after school beside her mother Lucy, grandmother Julia and aunt Evelyn. She began stashing away money she earned for safekeeping in her doll buggy. Her childhood dream was to become a nurse, but she left school in the sixth grade to care for her ill aunt and never made it back to the classroom. For 75 years, McCarty took in laundry and ironing work until arthritis forced her to stop.

In 1998, McCarty 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 selfless 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’ Avicenna Medal for educational commitment. In June 1996, Harvard University awarded McCarty an honorary doctorate.

Mercier notes that because McCarty’s scholarship is an endowment, gifts made to the fund are invested and only the earnings are used to provide financial aid to promising USM students, ensuring Ms. McCarty’s legacy will live on forever.

“Our goal is to increase the corpus of the scholarship fund to $1,000,000, and we are less than $80,000 away from that goal,” said Mercier.

Anyone wishing to make a gift to support Oseola McCarty Scholars while honoring her legacy, can visit www.usmfoundation.com/McCarty.