When Hattie Farrar ’95 was a child, she and her 11 siblings worked for neighbors picking blackberries, raking yards and doing domestic work in order to pay for basic school supplies like notebook paper.
“We had each other but we had absolutely no money,” recalled Farrar, who, as the first in her family to graduate from a four-year college, has so far inspired several other female relatives to graduate from Longwood, including her daughter, Shawnta Farrar ’00, and niece, Stacie Whisonant ’03. (Whisonant is founder and CEO of PYT Funds, an online lending platform that provides micro-loans to help low- to moderate-income college students meet gaps in paying for higher education.)
Raised in a two-room farmhouse with no electricity or running water in Kenbridge, Hattie Farrar was the child of African-American tobacco sharecroppers who grew vegetables and raised chickens and hogs for food. When Farrar graduated from high school in 1972, her guidance counselor never asked her about college. “It was pretty much assumed that you would go work in a factory perhaps or just get married and stay on the farm.”
However, her mother, Sarah Freeman Boswell, an ardent local civil rights activist with a third-grade education, and her father, Clyde Boswell, a hard-working sharecropper with no formal schooling, preached to their children about the transformative power of education. Their words sank in.
Farrar started out working at a textiles factory, but later, as a married mother of two, she worked full time at department stores and as a grocery store department manager to put herself through Southside Virginia Community College and Longwood, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in social work.
Farrar is especially happy that her parents, who died in the 2000s, lived long enough to see her graduate from college. Her mother was elated, Farrar said. “She never stopped believing this could happen.” Farrar went on to earn her master’s in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University and today works as the director of the Mecklenburg County Victim/Witness Assistance Program.
“Aunt Hattie is the pioneer of all of this,” said Farrar’s niece, Stacie Whisonant, whose business has been featured in Forbes magazine. PYT Funds, she said, was spun out “of this lineage of females who value education so much, and now I’ve gone on to try to help many more families do what we were able to accomplish.”
Whisonant’s cousin, Sierra Robertson Hurt ’10, said: “We are a close-knit family and Longwood embodies that. You aren’t just students there; even the professors make you feel as if you might be one of their own.” Hurt attended Longwood concurrently with five other cousins: Stacie Whisonant’s sister, Kimberlee Whisonant ’06; Wartena Crowder Somerville ’06; Tacarra Marchman ’08; Christy Falika Grigg ’09; and Sonya E. Ragsdale ’10.
Today, Farrar continues to encourage the younger generations coming up in her family to attend Longwood “because Longwood has been good to us. It was a place that wasn’t created for us but yet it is ours and that’s all that matters. We have to build a legacy. We encourage them to go take your place. It’s there for you, but nobody’s going to hand it to you. My parents created this small path but look at how wide the road is now.”