Dolly Parton ‘Bathed Once a Week’ & Lived in Shack with Family of 14 — Now Donates Millions to Those in Need

Dolly Parton lived in a shack with 11 siblings and could hardly bathe regularly.

Her father couldn’t read but still supported her and her family.

She stays humble and annually donates millions of dollars.

Even though she has amassed massive fame and fortune, Dolly Parton has remained humble amid her stellar career as a musician, businesswoman, and philanthropist. It’s no surprise that success has followed her along the way.

As someone who grew up in a large family, Parton understands the struggles of poverty. She is now a highly-influential Hollywood star, and despite her accomplishments, she has never forgotten her humble beginnings.

Dolly Parton poses for a portrait in 1955 in Nashville, Tennessee. | Source: Getty Images
The music superstar, whose real name is Dolly Rebecca Parton, was welcomed by her parents on January 19, 1946, in Sevierville, Tennessee, on Locust Ridge. She was born in a one-bedroom cabin and had 11 siblings.

Robert Lee Parton, her father, was a sharecropper who couldn’t read or write due to a lack of access to education, and he supplemented his income by working in construction.

Growing up, the country legend, raised by a musically-oriented family, was constantly surrounded by music. Despite their difficult living circumstances, they found joy and connected through singing.

Dolly Parton poses for a portrait in 1955 in Nashville, Tennessee. | Source: Getty Images

Meanwhile, Parton’s grandfather, Jake Robert Owens, was a minister and the composer of the hymn “Singing His Praise.” Several of Parton’s siblings became interested in music, and some worked in her family band.

Parton also had an uncle named Sam Owens, a musician and singer-songwriter in his own right. Her uncle loved music and was the first person to notice that she had the potential to become a famous musician when she was a child.

Parton’s siblings include Stella Mae, Cassie Nan, twins Freida Estelle and Rachel Ann, Willadeene, David Wilburn, Coy Denver, Bobby Lee, Robert, and Larry. Robert died in 2021 after a battle with cancer, while Larry died as a newborn.

As the fourth among 12 siblings, Parton frequently helped her parents care for the younger children. She lived with her family under one little roof.

At the time, their log cabin only had one bedroom and one living room, and there was no running water or electricity. The property still stands to this day.

Parton has always been open about discussing her humble beginnings or how this influenced her views on life. She came from a large family with limited resources, so she is familiar with the challenges of being poor.

In an interview with The Guardian in 2016, Parton reminisced about her childhood in the mountains of rural Tennessee, focusing on the early memories that brought her the most joy. She said:

“Of course, not everything was perfect, but I prefer to remember the best of times.”

Parton shared how her brothers and sisters would constantly sing and she would always try to get them to be her backup singers when she tried to pretend to be the lead singer on stage, but they were completely disinterested.

Their little house, Parton recalled, was always packed with her siblings, leading to a lot of teasing and bickering. However, despite the chaos, they always stuck together as a family.

She added that they spent most of the time outside because the cabin was too small for them to hang out comfortably. The space outside served as an extension for sharing meals, entertainment, and playing games.

Parton said her family was always grateful to have food and a roof over their heads. It was not exactly what they wanted, but her parents always emphasized that there were other families who suffered more than they did. She recalled:

“We were poor but I never felt poor.”

Despite her family’s modest beginnings, Parton’s passion and musical talent would eventually lead her to become one of the most successful and beloved country music performers of all time.

Despite having fond memories of her childhood, Parton shared growing up in poverty meant living in tough conditions too. She practically lived in a shack with her family of 14 and had limited access to basic necessities.

In a Playboy magazine interview with journalist Lawrence Grobel in March 1978, she shared that she was only eight years old when she first saw a toilet and bathroom in her aunt’s home and was fascinated by them.

Laughing at how innocent and ignorant they were then, Parton shared that she and her siblings were afraid to use the toilet, thinking it would suck them in. “It was just really weird,” she recalled.

Bathing every day was not a luxury for Parton and her family. They would often make their own soap, and on occasion, they would pile into the truck and drive to the river to wash in its waters.

There was a creek nearby, but the river was their preferred bathing spot, as it was like a “big bath” for all of them. They would swim together and wash each other’s hair while their homemade soap flowed down the river.

Telling a joke about how dirty they were back then, Parton said it would have left a ring around the Little Pigeon River, likening their river bath to a “bathtub.” Bathing in the river was a summertime ritual for them.

During the winter, the entire family would have a pan of water to wash with as much as possible. When Grobel asked how many times she and her family would bathe in the winter season, Parton replied:

“Well, we bathed once a week whether we needed it or not, as the saying goes.”

Bathing became more important to Parton when she reached high school. She would take a bath every night due to the unhygienic behaviors of her younger siblings during bedtime. She revealed:

“The kids peed on me every night. We slept three and four in the bed. I would wash every night. And as soon as I go to bed, the kids would wet on me, and I’d have to get up in the morning and do the same thing.”

Dolly Parton attends the We Are Family Foundation event at Hammerstein Ballroom on November 5, 2019, in New York City. | Source: Getty Images

Dolly Parton attends the We Are Family Foundation event at Hammerstein Ballroom on November 5, 2019, in New York City. | Source: Getty Images
Unafraid to share her thoughts about it, Parton explained that even though getting peed on might sound unsanitary to some, the urine was a good source of warmth in the winter.

Living in the mountains, she recalled how cold it would get at home and even said it was almost a pleasure to be peed on because the room was as chilly as the outside. She said they would all bundle up in bed.

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