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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harriet Herring, February 5, 1976. Interview G-0027. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Textile mills resist sociological study

Herring discusses a project she proposed during her tenure under Howard Odum at the University of North Carolina. David Clark, the influential editor of the Southern Textile Bulletin, resisted her efforts and encouraged other mill owners to resist as well.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harriet Herring, February 5, 1976. Interview G-0027. 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

NEWIN BROWN:
Of course you were working in the industrial side. One thing that both of us are interested in is: what happened at UNC about studying the mills? I mean, Odum had Johnson and Woofter doing studies of blacks; he had Arthur Raper doing studies of farm tenancy and the like: lots of rural and racial kinds of studies. And yet when, I guess, you tried to do studies of the mills then there was lots of opposition from mill owners and all kinds of problems.
HARRIET HERRING:
Yes. David Clark called me "several women," he encountered my trail so often.
NEWIN BROWN:
[laughter]
MARY FREDERICKSON:
[laughter] I wanted to ask you: as I understand it, even before you came to UNC you tried to persuade Dr. Odum to present a research proposal to the Southern Manufacturers Association and he refused to do that.
HARRIET HERRING:
Well, he didn't actually refuse, but he didn't think he was the one to do it, because he was labeled as a sociologist, you see. And what I did was get a man in the Economics Department who taught personnel, and we went down.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Who was that?
HARRIET HERRING:
I can't remember his name. He left the university a few years after that.
NEWIN BROWN:
Was it Holland Thompson?
HARRIET HERRING:
No no, Holland Thompson never was there; he taught there in summer school once or twice, and a son of his taught there. Got his degree there, I think, his doctorate degree.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was it Harry Cassidy?
HARRIET HERRING:
Well anyway, he was over in Economics and he taught personnel. If Dr. Odum said absolutely to me that he wouldn't want to be the one to ask about it, he said it so gently that he must have said, "Get somebody in economics that was doing personnel," because I didn't even realize I'd been rebuffed. At that time labor turnover was really a problem in mills: they just came and went, you know. I knew of a study, a cooperative between a university (I've forgotten what school it was now; some friends of mine were there) and the mills. The mills would report to them the people employed and the people that had left and everything (the total turnover), and then they would compare theirs with each other, you know. So this man and I (maybe his name will come to me when I keep saying things around him), we talked it over and decided that we would suggest a similar thing in the Institute, if we could get a dozen (we didn't want all the mills, but just some representative ones) mills to cooperate on that. Of course it would be an awful nuisance to them to report to us both of those all the time, but we could set it up so that it would be very simple for them to. He and I went down, and I talked to Mr. Clark at Spray, who had been my boss and seemed to like me all right and didn't think that I had turned rabid or something or other just because I'd gone to a university. Well Luther Hodges, you see, was a product of the university too, and by that time he was counting on him quite heavily as his assistant. So I talked to him about it, and suggested that at the meeting that we were going down there and tell the Association, the North Carolina Textile Association about it and see if we could get some volunteers to cooperate with us on it. And he agreed that he would. Of course this professor and I weren't allowed to go to the meeting at all; we asked if we could. I knew the president, the current president, and talked to him. But he thought it wouldn't be a good thing; it would be better for me to tell him about it and let him present it. And Mr. Clark did speak up in the meeting and said that he knew what kind of work I did, and he felt sure that this professor and I together could work it out and it might be useful to them. But Dave Clark just put the unknown on that, you know. He just was the lord of the textile industry along then through his magazine, so they refused to cooperate. And that's when I changed in study. I was going to study labor turnover and so on, you know (try to get at the basic reasons of why so they could do something about that) when I went to the welfare study, and I went on that. Not long after that he finished his. . . . The magazine came out every week then. In the first place he was mad with Frank Graham: thought he was a radical and they were about to make him president; and they did make him president, and he thought the university had gone to the pigs.
NEWIN BROWN:
Why was he so upset with Frank Graham?
HARRIET HERRING:
Oh, he was too liberal. What's the next word after liberal?
NEWIN BROWN:
Radical?
HARRIET HERRING:
Radical. He was radical; yes, they applied that word to him. He did make acknowledgement in an editorial after that meeting at Charlotte that the university, some of the people at the university had suggested making a study, but we think we don't want anything mixed up with anything as radical as the university, you see. So he warned the faithful against giving any information at all. Then when I started going around getting information I changed subject on him, you know. I think that sort of puzzled him; he didn't say anything for a while. But finally he had an editorial saying that there was a woman from the university going around getting information, and he sort of thought it would be a good idea if they didn't give her information. I kept on going. And it happened that year he was touring the mills and writing up some of the outstanding ones and some of the oldest ones, and they had a feature each week on some mill. And he kept running into my tracks, you know. So he had another editorial saying that the university had several women out trying to get information from the mills and he thoroughly advised them to have nothing to do with me. [laughter] Then that got into the papers, and I had to go home and lock the door so I wouldn't be interviewed by newspersons. Anything that was put in would just itch him worse, you know.