Museum of History News

Our “Pretty Woman”

The museum’s own Betty Bailey, better known as “Miss Betty,” is a true gem, ever present at the front desk to greet all who enter the building with one of her radiant smiles. If you have any doubts about her being special, you should know that the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce gave her their “seal of approval” in 2003: a distinguished “Meet & Greet Award”!

The Good Housekeeping Seal
The Good Housekeeping Seal, popularly known as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, was introduced in December 1909 when the New York–based magazine tested 21 consumer products, including a washing machine and an electric iron! The Good Housekeeping Seal has become synonymous with quality. Just like the museum’s “Miss Betty,” who represents the VERY BEST!

Miss Betty is not defined by her age

Miss Betty has been our “Meet & Greet” person since the new Museum of History building opened its doors in 1994. She still enjoys coming to work—even though she is over 80! I asked her the question, Why do you like working after all these years? Her reply: “It’s just my nature. I enjoy people and like helping them.” Betty will help you locate exhibits, special museum events, and area restaurants, and she can give directions to and from the museum that you can understand and follow. But just in case you can’t wait to meet with Miss Betty, check out the Museum of History website at—you’ll find the information, but not Miss Betty’s personal touch!

Everyone has a story

The last of nine children, Miss Betty was born April 7, 1931, at home in Cumberland County. Life during the Great Depression was not always easy for her family, but they never did without. The family lived in a one-room schoolhouse, in close harmony, until her father converted it into a delightful home with several additions.

Calling all farmers
Opportunities Poster
During the Great Depression, North Carolina welcomed “prospective settlers.” One such invitation was extended in 1934 by the North Carolina Department of Conservation and Development. The agency published this pamphlet introducing numerous opportunities “for specializing in the production of certain crops . . . easily grown in the state.” The state was considered an agricultural leader in the South because of its existing opportunities.

The family had its own milk and butter, eggs, and vegetables—from a large garden—as well as cows, chickens, and an ox. Their prized possession, Joe (the ox) provided strength to pull heavy loads and plow the fields. And, while oxen are known for their slow, steady gate, they can be scared into a full run. During one such fright, Joe trampled little Betty. A toddler at the time, she couldn’t get out of his way and still bears the scars!

While other Americans were having trouble putting two nickels together and while the country was experiencing a 25 percent unemployment rate, Betty’s father was a master at all he did, and he always had a job. He was an industrious man, a carpenter by trade, who made and sold wood shingles. In addition, he grew sugarcane and produced sugarcane syrup. His syrup was famous in their community—and a favorite with his children, who loved spreading it on their warm biscuits.

In 1936 the family moved to Raleigh, where young Betty attended Mt. Vernon Goodwin School. She enjoyed and excelled in math and spelling. While growing up, her girlhood dream was to travel and become an airline stewardess . . . alas, she was too short!

American stewardess must-haves in the 1950s
Unmarried, white, age 20–26, 5’3″–5’8″, 135 lbs, good physical condition, 20/50 vision without glasses. Nurses or college graduates preferred. Requirements for stewardesses were very strict in the 1950s and early ’60s. The Grace Downs Air Career School, for example, offered classes in “Daintiness from Tub to Plane,” “Charm Secrets,” “Figure Analysis,” and “Muscle Concentration.”

Family first

1950s families
In the United States, approximately 79 million infants were born during the postwar “baby boom” (1946–1956). Most mothers stayed home to raise children, while fathers were the family’s breadwinners.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

In 1951 the American dream for postwar women was to get married and raise a family. Miss Betty did this and more. She raised five children, three girls and two boys, before setting out in 1981 to work in a dress shop. Do you remember what her favorite subjects were in school? These two subjects, math and spelling, helped facilitate her successful career as a businesswoman who owned a popular Raleigh dress shop called 9 to 5 from 1983 to 1990.

The onslaught of outlet stores was the downfall of many small independent retailers, including Miss Betty’s shop. Never a victim to unexpected turns in life, Betty retooled, taking her positive attitude and skill sets to the North Carolina Museum of History in 1993.

So, the next time you come through our doors, feel free to introduce yourself to our “Pretty Woman,” Miss Betty Bailey!


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