Early life and education
Oliver Hardy was born Norvell Hardy in Harlem, Georgia. His father Oliver was a Confederate veteran who had been wounded at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 and was a recruiting officer for Company K, 16th Georgia Regiment. The elder Oliver Hardy assisted his father in running the vestiges of the family cotton plantation following the Civil War. He then bought a share in a retail business and was elected full-time Tax Collector for Columbia County, Georgia. Hardy's mother Emily Norvell was the daughter of Thomas Benjamin Norvell and Mary Freeman, descended from Captain Hugh Norvell of Williamsburg, Virginia who arrived in Virginia before 1635. The elder Hardy and Norvell married March 12, 1890; it was her second marriage and his third.
The family moved to Madison, Georgia in 1891 before Norvell's birth. He was likely born in Harlem, though some sources say that his birth occurred in Covington, Georgia, his mother's hometown. His father died less than a year after his birth. Hardy was the youngest of five children. His older brother Sam drowned in the Oconee River; Hardy pulled him from the river but was unable to resuscitate him.
As a child, Hardy was sometimes difficult. He was sent to Georgia Military College in Milledgeville as a youngster. He was sent to Young Harris College in north Georgia in the 1905 fall semester when he was 13. He had little interest in formal education, although he acquired an early interest in music and theater. He joined a theatrical group and later ran away from a boarding school near Atlanta to sing with the group. His mother recognized his talent for singing and sent him to Atlanta to study music and voice with singing teacher Adolf Dahm-Petersen. He skipped some of his lessons to sing in the Alcazar Theater for $3.50 a week.
Hardy began styling himself "Oliver Norvell Hardy", adding the first name "Oliver" as a tribute to his father. He appeared as "Oliver N. Hardy" in the 1910 U.S. census,[N 1] and he used "Oliver" as his first name in all subsequent legal records, marriage announcements, etc. Hardy was initiated into Freemasonry at Solomon Lodge No. 20 in Jacksonville, Florida. He was inducted into the Grand Order of Water Rats along with Stan Laurel.