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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Broadus Mitchell, August 14 and 15, 1977. Interview B-0024. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Comparing the Bryn Mawr School for Women Workers and the Southern Summer School for Women Workers

Mitchell contrasts his experiences as an instructor at the Summer School for Women Workers at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania during the early 1920s with those at the Southern Summer School for Women Workers at Sweet Briar College in Virginia during the late 1920s. Mitchell recalls that at Bryn Mawr, the students came from a more diverse labor pool. In addition, many of the women workers who came already had experience in unionization. In general, they were more oriented around labor activism and the focus tended to be national in scope. In contrast, the women at the Southern School were almost entirely from factory backgrounds. Few had experience with organized labor and, as a result, curriculum was different in scope. In addition, the Southern Summer School focused more on regional labor issues.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Broadus Mitchell, August 14 and 15, 1977. Interview B-0024. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Since you had been at Bryn Mawr and then came down to the Southern School, how would you compare the two?
At Bryn Mawr the workers came from a greater variety of employments, and there were more of them, and it was better financed, though we were certainly very well off at Sweet Briar. But it was hard to raise money for it, and Louise Leonard spent her whole winter going around trying to get contributions and to encourage unions to encourage their members or working women to come on these scholarships to the college. But when they went to Burnsville in particular, I think it had shrunk a good deal. I believe it continued for some time after that. You know; I don't. But I remember at Burnsville there was a deficit, we were wondering how we could recruit some funds to make up for it. And one of our tutors at Bryn Mawr had been Evelyn Preston, who became Mrs. Roger Baldwin afterwards. And Evelyn was a woman of means, and I had worked with her at Bryn Mawr so I volunteered to write her and ask if she would contribute $750.00 or whatever it was to wipe out our little deficit, and Evelyn did. Right away she sent a check, and that was very kind and that helped. But that is my recollection of the Burnsville undertaking.
They were working in those early years at a time when nothing was organized, practically, in the South. The unions were just beginning to come in.
That's right. There was more flavor of unionism at Bryn Mawr than in the Southern Summer School, as I recall. At Bryn Mawr the women in charge of the Summer School were [laughter] taken aback, I think, because hardly had the students come before they made a demand on Hilda Smith that the black maids be moved from the attic of the dormitory, where there were dormer windows and it was hot, to better quarters. It was one of those things that hadn't occurred even to the most farsighted and devoted planners, that as they were inviting union women to come, they were going to ask for union conditions or something approaching it for the help. Hilda Smith responded right away, and they were able to meet the requests of these people, and so everything was all right. But in the South there wasn't that, and there was much more sameness of personnel and of environment and experience of the workers. At Bryn Mawr they had come from considerable distances, and I remember there was, for instance, a woman whose work was washing the windows of trains at Chicago or someplace like that in the yards. And there were people who had been in every kind of industry, the shoe industry and clothing and . . . Whereas in the South, my recollection is that they were mostly factory workers. I think the teaching was much the same in both, the conduct of the classes and so on. One of the tutors at Sweet Briar was Amber Arthun Mrs. Clark Warburton she became afterwards. Amber died recently. She was a very fine woman who had come from the State of Washington and spent her life trying to promote education and unionism among southern women. She lived outside of Washington in later years, after she married Clark who was connected with Brookings. Lois was a principal engine of the Southern Summer School. After that I had the pleasure of being on the Board for a couple of years, but I never afterwards had close contact with the Summer School.
How were these people oriented politically?
I can't say. They had had less experience in community participation of any sort. It was an indigenous thing in the Southern Summer School. It was kind of a family thing. I mean we were all of the same background, really, or identification, and it was apt to be geared to southern problems, southern history, southern needs, whereas at Bryn Mawr it had been more national, and the whole outlook was . . . I don't know whether I should say the outlook was different; I think that as far as the faculty went, their hopes were the same. But in the Southern Summer School we had a certain sameness and primary grade atmosphere that we didn't have at Bryn Mawr. They had many more women at Bryn Mawr who had been active in their unions or plants or whatever; they were on the whole older; and there were individuals who stood out more, as I recall, at Bryn Mawr than in the southern one. Though afterwards - and not very long after that, either - some instances occurred in which southern workers took the initiative and were extremely pertinacious.