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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Gender roles and their impact on women's lives

Durr asserts that while her sister and Hugo Black had a happy marriage, the relationship stifled something within her sister. Nevertheless, the other women in her family never questioned gender roles and even averred that women who fought for equal rights had immoral motivations.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. 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

Anyway, I was called back from the Cathedral School because Sister finally decided to marry Hugo.
Now, what year was this?
This was 1920, February of 1920, as I recall. I was the maid of honor. Well, when I got home, I found that things were all in a great state of excitement because Hugo had said to my mother that they either had to have 10,000 people to the wedding, because he was already then thinking about politicsor he could just have a very few, a home wedding. So, of course, Mother couldn't afford any 10,000 people at the wedding and so, they had a very quiet home wedding and had just the two families and a few friends. I suppose maybe twenty-five or fifty people. But a very small wedding. And another thing that Hugo was, he was a fierce prohibitionist in those days, absolutely fierce prohibitionist. Oh, my God, he was just adamant against liquor. He had a brother who was a doctor, as I recall and who sometimes drank and one night, he was coming home and he had a drink and he drowned, his brother fell over in a stream in the buggy or something. Now, whether he drowned on account of the liquor or on account of the buggy, I don't remember but anyway, Hugo had a terrible, he was a fierce prohibitionist. My sister was so nervous and I had an aunt from Memphis, my Aunt Louise, whom we called "Oo-Oo", she was kind of a gay old lady in those days. She always was, she smoked cigarettes and took a drink and was very amusing and told funny stories and we all adored her. So, Sister was so nervous and really just trembling and shaking all over, so she gave Sister a little drink of whiskey. Well, Hugo always said that here he was, this great prohibitionist and his bride came down and when he leaned over and kissed her, the first thing that he smelled was whiskey on her breath. (laughter) He just about fell over in a dead faint. But they were finally married and he was the happiest man that I have ever seen in my life. And I think that she was very happy, too.
And he was what, in his middle thirties by that time?
Yes. He absolutely worshipped her and I never saw a man love a woman more than he did or work harder to get her. He did everything he could in his power to make her happy, except give her her freedom. He gave her everything that he could think of to give her and there was not a wish of her heart that he didn't satisfy. But she never had one hour's freedom from that time on.
She was Mrs. Hugo Black.
She was Mrs. Hugo Black. And he expected her to subordinate herself to his life and his ambitions and it never occurred to him otherwise. I don't think that he ever realized that she would want to be free and do something that she wanted to occasionally. He was not only terribly kind to her but he was kind to her family. He helped us out a lot and assumed a great deal of obligation when my mother and father lost everything. But she was always in a state of dependence, total dependence. But you know, his daughter, who was entirely different from my sister, she had been to college and was much more independent, but you know where he wanted to send her? Sweet Briar College. He wanted her to be just like her mother. He wanted her to be a sweet southern lady and beuatiful and charming. And Sister was all of those things, she was beautiful and sweet and charming and everybody adored her and he above all. But I don't think that Sister ever was able, after she married, to have a free moment hardly. But that was the way that girls were supposed to be anyway, you see. There was no question about that. The suffrage movement was just starting about then and there was a lady who lived above us in the neighborhood named Mrs. Patty Jacobs who was a leader of the suffrage movement. She was a very handsome woman and I used to see her a lot and I knew her family and all and Mother and Daddy would say, "Oh, poor Mr. Jacobs, think of that wife he's got, running all over the country and the town and getting votes for women, getting votes for women." And Mother would say, "Well, you know, I think that Mrs. Jacobs likes men."