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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Miriam Bonner Camp, April 15, 1976. Interview G-0013. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The Southern Summer School and encouraging women workers to organize

Camp describes what it was like to teach for the Southern Summer School from 1928 to 1931. According to Camp, the Southern Summer School was a cooperative community and she recalls that interaction between the women teachers and the women workers who attended the school were quite positive. According to Camp, the primary goal of the Southern Summer School was to encourage women workers to recognize their power as a collective unit and they encouraged women workers to work together for common interests in order to get better working conditions.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Miriam Bonner Camp, April 15, 1976. Interview G-0013. 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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
I wanted to ask you what you remember most vividly about the Southern Summer School, about the faculty and the students and the interaction between them. What was the atmosphere like in the school?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Very friendly, very cooperative.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I've read in many places where Louise MacLaren would describe that it was a cooperative community. There wasn't a hierarchy.
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
No, there wasn't. They called us, I remember, by our first names, and we called them by their first names, and it was really just like one big happy family. It was very cooperative.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
If you described the students, could you describe them as a group? I mean, were most of them shy or were they . . . ?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
No, they were very different, very much individuals. Some were strong and outspoken, some were shy (you had to encourage them to get anything out of them at all, sort of draw it out and make them realize that you were a friend, interested in them. Then they'd talk.)
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did most of them seem very young?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
No, there were older ones and younger ones. It was quite a mixed group.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And what about married women vs. single women?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
There were some married women too.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were you ever involved in the recruiting process?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
No, never. I think Louise did that: raising the funds, getting students.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
If you had to say (in all of the discussion and debates that have gone on about whether working class people in the South have any kind of class consciousness), were these people class conscious, for lack of a better term?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
To a certain extent. They were conscious of the fact that they had to work for a living and that the conditions of their work were not very pleasing to most of them. And of course that was a period when there was a lot of what they called the "stretch-out" system, when they had to work a number of machines and it was really too difficult for them. And some of the strikes, I think, really had as a basis that so-called technology, or what the workers called the "stretch-out" system.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Right. Were they angry?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Yes, some of them were very angry. And a strange thing too-not strange, I guess-when they came together the girls from like Elizabethten seemed to think it was because the bosses were German. But then when the girls from Marion spoke they weren't German. And the Enka mills, we got very few from there, but that was a Dutch-owned. And then some of them, like speaking of the Cone mills, Jewish; and at Danville there was a man, again Nordic type like themselves; and southern, I think. So they came to realize it wasn't a matter of nationality, nor was it a matter of whether the man came from North or South, but that it was a profit motive of the factory to get as much out of them as possible and pay as little as possible.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Do you think the school gave them any way or any ideas about ways that they could channel their anger?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Well, the school did point to the fact that if they would stick together, if they would organize, cooperate with each other that they'd have much more bargaining power than if they were just individuals striking out in anger. Yes, in that sense.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was there any idea of people, of these women going back and starting workers' education classes, or trying to feed into the organized labor movement?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Well, I think there was a hope that they might participate. The United Textile Workers was organizing down there; and our group had nothing really to do with the Communist group, which also was organizing, the National Textile Workers' Union. So I think there was definitely the feeling that, you know, if they'd cooperate with the United Textile Workers Union that that was. . . . [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
. . . were not employed by any union. It was only to get them to see that if they could cooperate and organize themselves they'd get some sort of bargaining power, that then they would have more strength when it came to their conditions of labor and their wages and hours and so on.