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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 >>

Description of women workers and obstacles to labor organization

Camp discusses the special problems that women workers faced because of their gender. Arguing that obligations of family and work made it difficult for many women workers to find time for involvement in the labor movement, Camp suggests the chance to attend the Southern Summer School for these women offered them respite and a brief moment of "freedom and security."

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:
Do you remember ever discussing with students problems that they had had becoming members of unions? Every southern worker at that time was having trouble [laughter] becoming a member of a union, but I mean as women particularly.
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
No, I don't.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you get any sense from the autobiographies and from talking with them about their experiences of the way in which they fit into their community? I mean, within their own families they were workers. I mean, there was nothing about sort of saving women from work except when they were having a child, nothing about keeping them from working?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
No, no.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was that reflected in the sense that they had of themselves as being . . . workers who had responsibilities and who were needed by other people, and who had a place in the community?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Yes, definitely they felt. . . . I mean, they worked hard, and there wasn't much extra time. And so many of them would have dependents, either children, husbands, mothers, fathers, some older relative. And I think there was very little time for anything except just work.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
We talked a few minutes ago about the school as a vacation experience for some of these women. What about it as a. . . . Do you think it served as sort of a space where they could come and maybe for the first time have time to contemplate what had happened to them?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Yes, I do, definitely: the first time that they'd had a chance to rest, to relax, to re-create, to "rap" as they say now with other women, and to read some-some of them did read; we had a library there. And they talked a lot among themselves, talked with us. It was a wonderful experience of freedom and security: three meals a day, a place to sleep and nothing to do except just go to classes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What do you think most of them, or some of them, got out of their contact with the faculty, with you and with other faculty members?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
I don't know. I guess they felt we were much luckier than they were. [laughter] Teaching was much easier than working in a textile mill. [laughter] No wonder Bessie wanted her children to be educated [laughter] and not have them work in the mill.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Do you think there was a feeling that possibly they could either stem the tide against the stretch-out, or that they could do something by going on strike or speaking out in some way to improve conditions and improve wages? Was there any optimism about being able to do that?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Well, I think there was in the beginning. These strikes, I think, were spontaneous really. There was no planning. The conditions just got bad and they called a strike; it was a spontaneous sort of thing. And then, of course, they learned so much that they were black-listed, some of them never probably rehired again. And in a town where you have probably the mill as the only way you can earn a living it's pretty tough to be black-listed, especially if you have others dependent on you. And so many of these girls did. So they learned. They'd be arrested; they'd be jailed; there were all kinds of things happening to them. And how much they gained I really don't know.