Dolly Parton ‘Hated’ Going to School as a Kid in Tennessee

by Matthew Memrick
(Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Country icon Dolly Parton grew up hating to go to school in Tennessee, but the star went on to garner awards for promoting literacy.

The 75-year-old star grew up in a one-room cabin in Pittman Center with 12 siblings. Her parents were not supportive of her education back then, and the star said she hated it.

“My daddy didn’t particularly want me to go to school. My momma didn’t care,” Parton told Playboy back in 1978. “In the mountains, schoolin’ is not that important.”

But luckily, Parton persevered with music and a desire to keep learning. By age 7, she started to play the guitar and eventually performed on local television shows. By 13, she became a recording artist and even met Johnny Cash. He was among many to encourage her young career.

By 1964, she graduated from Sevier County High School, moved to Nashville the next day, and the rest is music history.

Parton Depressed By Sight Of A School Bus

The musician told Playboy that seeing a school bus would depress her. She admitted that “those poor little kids having to sit there in the summer days, staring out the window” wasn’t a pretty picture for her to remember.

Her memories of the schoolroom did not help either.

She said it was “hot and sweaty” and that memory often conjures up most schoolroom memories. Then, she told the magazine that she would have “hated to make her own kids go to school” and admitted that statement “sounded terrible.” 

But she did it and hated it, but admitted that school was better than staying home. Her mother, Avie, often battled sickness, and the family faced “some real hard times.”

While her mother stayed at home, her illiterate father worked as a sharecropper and tobacco farmer. He spent some time as a construction worker to help the family. However, Parton found strength in Robert Lee Parton’s work ethic and smarts when it came to business. 

Parton’s Father Inspired Her Literacy Efforts

Among her charitable efforts, Parton worked to create the Imagination Library through her Dollywood Foundation. The library is a free children’s book gifting program started in 1995. Children can get free books sent to them monthly through the mail up until the age of 5. 

In a 2018 interview, Dolly Parton said her father inspired her to found the charity. 

“The beginning of the Imagination Library was based on my own life. And my own dad who was unable to read or write but he was one of the smartest people that one would ever want to know,” Parton said. “And Daddy got to live long enough to see it take off and do well and hear kids call me ‘The Book Lady.’ He always got a kick out of that.”

Over the years, Parton’s charity has inspired and helped many nationwide. She’s gotten numerous awards from school administrators, teachers, parents and families for her work. In 2009, Parton got an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

According to The List, the school even teaches a history course about Parton.