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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Martha C. McKay, June 13, 1989. Interview C-0076. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Women's involvement in campus politics at UNC-CH

McKay describes her involvement in campus politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1939 to 1941. McKay was the first woman to serve on the steering committee for the University Party and she recalls that there were women running for campus-wide offices during those years. It was during these years that McKay first formed a friendship and political alliance with Terry Sanford.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Martha C. McKay, June 13, 1989. Interview C-0076. 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

KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Would you describe the kinds of positions you held and the work you did?
MARTHA MCKAY:
For one thing, there were two parties, and I suppose there still are, I really don't know, on campus: the University Party and the Student Party. That's what they were called in those days. Terry Sanford was active in politics then and we were allies. Most of the sororities and fraternities were in the University Party and I was elected or chosen to represent my sorority in the University Party. When I talked to some of the people, most of them were men. Let's see, back then there were about three sororities.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Actually, would you say which years it was that you were at Chapel Hill? I should get those dates down.
MARTHA MCKAY:
I went there in '39, I graduated in '41. There was a steering committee, a University Party steering committee, which was composed of one representative from each fraternity and there were several other allies. Terry was an ally, although he did not belong to a fraternity. There were a number of people who were independents, more or less, who belonged to the University Party. Back then the people who were student help people were not allowed to join the fraternities and sororities, and Terry worked in Lenoir Hall and various other places as a student and so he was precluded. Whether or not he had any desire to belong, I don't know, but he was precluded from belonging as were all students who got student help. But anyway, I was told by the University Party steering committee that I could not go to their meetings and I asked why and they said, oh, well, we meet various places, various fraternity houses, and sometimes bad language is used and so on and so forth. And I said, well, too bad, no representation, then no falling in of our sorority with this party. So they let me go on the steering committee. And I guess I'm the first woman that had served on that committee. The Student Legislature was formed when I was in school at Carolina and Terry and I were both active in that. I guess Terry was Speaker or whatever the head person is called, and I was elected to be chairman of some committee. There were committees, structured something like Congress, I think it was the Election Committee, but I'm not positive. And then Terry put me on the Ways and Means Committee which was an important committee. As you probably know the students of Carolina have always had say-so over student funds, and they did then, so that wasn't just game-playing. So I served in that legislature with him and numbers of others. As a matter of fact Bert Bennett was in school then and he later ran, managed, Terry's campaign 1 and was chair of the party. 1 Sanford campaign for governor, 1960. John Bennett here at this firm [Terry Sanford Committee Office, Raleigh] is Bert's son. And a number of others who were later allies in the larger political world. I managed the campaigns of a couple of people that ran for office. One in particular I think I remember was, I can't remember exactly what this man was running for, but I think it was Vice President of the Student Body or something. I managed that campaign. Then I worked for Lou Harris, the pollster, as editor of the Tar Heel.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
So, he went to Chapel Hill?
MARTHA MCKAY:
And we were good friends. We happened to be both majoring in economics. You know, if you're in the same school, or the same kind of classes, you see people more. Of course, there were a lot fewer students then than there are now. So I worked as a part of his campaign. He lost that by about, I don't know, he says about three votes or something. [Laughter] It was very, very close. The other man I worked for was one whose campaign I managed. There were some women running then. Women were running for Secretary of the Student Body, as usual, back then. But there were women who ran and won for campus-wide offices. But anyway, yes, I was involved and knew all the people that later became supporters of Terry when he ran for governor. Or, how can I say all, many of the people were active then and supported him later on.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
And continued on.
MARTHA MCKAY:
And continued on.