How Dolly Parton Was Disciplined as a Child: ‘He Whipped Us With His Belt’

Dolly Parton grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee. She was one of 12 kids in a one-bedroom cabin without electricity or running water. In an interview the “9 to 5” singer did in 1978, she spoke about the relationship she had with her parents as a child, including how they disciplined her.

Young Dolly Parton poses for a portrait.
Young Dolly Parton circa 1955 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Dolly Parton’s father was stricter than her mother

Parton told Playboy Magazine in 1978 that her father was the disciplinarian of her parents. Her mother was easy-going.

“Momma was so lenient, she just practically grew up with us,” she said, according to Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “He was strict, he kept us in line.”

When it came to punishment, Parton says her father whipped her and her siblings.

“If he was mad, he whipped us with his belt,” she said. “He didn’t beat us, but he’d whip us hard. We’d have to go get a switch and they were pretty good-sized ones. I don’t remember ever getting whupped with a board; I remember getting whupped with a stick of stove wood once.”

Dolly wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, but she did anyway

Parton has been “fascinated with makeup” for as long as she can remember.

“We didn’t have any when I grew up,” she said. “We weren’t allowed to wear it. But we used to have this medicine, what you call Merthiolate, that’s what I would put on my lips as a little kid.”

It was Parton’s father who forbade her and her sisters from wearing makeup. But that didn’t stop the “Jolene” singer from working with what she had.

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“I’d paint my lips and there was nothin’ Daddy could do,” she said. “He couldn’t rub it off. He would say, ‘Get that lipstick off you!’ And I’d say, ‘It won’t come off, it’s my natural coloring, Daddy.’ Then he’d say, ‘Bull.’”

Parton’s mother helped her and her siblings get away with a lot. She was the daughter of a preacher and wasn’t allowed to style herself the way she wanted growing up.

“When she was a child, they wouldn’t let her wear any make-up,” said Parton of her mother. “They all had long hair then and she wanted her hair cut. The very day that her and Daddy got married, she cut her hair off and she kept it short ever since. She said, ‘I swore then that when I had kids, I would not make ’em do things that they were uneasy with.’”

How Dolly Parton is like her parents

Parton is who she is today, partially, thanks to her parents. The Queen of Country thinks she’s a nice mix of both her mother and father.

“I look like [my mother] and my daddy, too,” she said. “Daddy’s people are fair and blond and blue-eyed. My momma’s people have a lot of Indian blood, so they’re dark, with high cheekbones and real dark hair. I have Momma’s features: Momma’s smile, dimples; but I have Daddy’s nose. I got Daddy’s pride and determination and I got Momma’s personality.”

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Parton also got her musical talent from her parents.

“All of my momma’s people were singers, writers, musicians,” she said. “And a lot of my daddy’s people were really involved in music.”

The “Rockin’ Years” singer went on to say that though she’s the first one in her family to become famous for her music, “there’s a lot of ’em a lot more talented than me.”

“I just had this grit and all these dreams and plans,” she said.