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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 "nunnery feeling" and communal spirit of single-sex education

Camp discusses the Southern Summer School for women workers as an organization, of sorts, for women. According to Camp, the Southern Summer School was reminiscent of single sex education of the era. Describing the "nunnery feeling" that had characterized her experiences teaching at North Carolina College for Women, Camp explains that all-women's educational experiences were comfortable and allowed women to enjoy a communal spirit that they might not have found in coeducational settings.

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:
What about the school as an organization for women? Was there a feeling of mutual concern for each other as women?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
I think so. And don't forget that was a period in which coeducation, maybe especially in the South, was not so common (North Carolina College for Women, and St. Mary's women's and so on) and women tended to go to women's colleges.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, nationally too.
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Nationally Vassar, Smith, Bryn Mawr and so on, really up until perhaps your generation when things began, everything became coeducational all of a sudden, almost everything coeducational opening up. Of course I didn't have that, because as I said, in the first place I was brought up with three brothers and three sisters, a mother and a father. I always went to coeducational schools: the University of California was coeducational. At Columbia there were very few men, as I remember, in the graduate department of English. [laughter] I can hardly remember any of them; they were almost all women. There were a few. Then why I went to a women's college and stayed five years and loved it I'll never know. And then these women's summer schools. But it was a marvelous experience; I'm glad I did it. But I think it was just because it was the custom more than anything else. People hadn't broken through to this coeducational idea.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, do you think that perhaps in the custom, within the custom, women gained some kind of, I don't know, sense of security or strength or something?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
I think so. I think there was almost a nunnery feeling about it. You get so. . . . I was so happy with these women. When I was at NCCW I remember a number of the women lived together; they kept house together, had apartments together. When I first went there I lived in a boarding house;4the woman had lost her husband. 4 Not really "boarding." The owner rented rooms: one to Irby, one to Camp. And Louise Irby in the history department had a room there and I had a room there, and we ate in the college dining room. And then two years I was in college dormitories as a house mother, saving money that I later used in Europe. And my last year (or maybe it was my last two years) I lived in a house in which Harriet Elliott had the lower floor except for the living room. And upstairs there were (let me see, one, two, three), I think four bedrooms, and different teachers lived in these rooms. One of my very closest friends lived in the bedroom next to me, Elva Barrow in the chemistry department. Well, it was a wonderful arrangement; these were marvelous women; I enjoyed them thoroughly, and you just get used to that kind of life, I guess. In fact, I thought it was really . . .I suppose it was very comfortable.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
[laughter] Did men play a part?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Very little.