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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lucy Somerville Howorth, June 20, 22, and 23, 1975. Interview G-0028. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Working for the YWCA

In this excerpt, Howorth explains how she juggled graduate course work in psychology and economics at Columbia University with two jobs—one for the Allied Bureau of Aircraft Production and the other with the YWCA during the late 1910s. According to Howorth, her work with the YWCA was especially formative for her during these years. Initially reluctant to work with the YWCA because she was not "a missionary type," Howorth became increasingly interested in issues of industrialization because of her work with the YWCA and began to shift her studies away from psychology and more towards law. Later in the interview, she mentions several times how her work with the YWCA shaped her perception of women's issues and influenced her decisions as a lawyer and politician.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lucy Somerville Howorth, June 20, 22, and 23, 1975. Interview G-0028. 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

CONSTANCE MYERS:
Did you have some distractions in New York? I noticed that on your report, you dropped out of some classes?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
I did two things. One, you see, I got this job at the end of the summer session and then I enrolled in the extension evening classes. Well, as long as this Allied Bureau of Aircraft Production continued, my work was that of a gauge inspector, which you probably don't know what is. It is measuring the angles of screws and bolts.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
So different from the study of psychology and philosophy.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
That's right. But as long as I was working with that, which didn't take one ten-thousandth of a brain cell, I could study at Columbia and I enrolled to take a master's degree in psychology. I had this course in abnormal psychology, which was wonderful for me because we made trips out to all these institutions and so on. Well, then after the end of the war, this mechanical work lost interest for me and I began scouting for something else and my mother was worrying about me up there in New York. She had volunteered in Mississippi to help the YWCA get money for its war work activities and they had set a goal for Mississippi for ten thousand dollars and it never crossed their minds that they would get more than five hundred. So, she got out and beat the bushes and got ten thousand dollars for them. So, they wanted her to come as an exhibit number one to a big reception they had in St. Louis. So, she went up there and she met some of the higher ups and she told them that they were missing a great opportunity, that the brightest thing that had ever hit New York was there and when they got back to New York, they should get in touch with me and give me a job. (interruption by Joe Howorth.) So, you see, while this does exhaust you, it is pleasant to be dishing up about your adventures, and flattering. Well, so they did when they got to New York. They wrote to me and invited me to come by for a conference and the Armistice had come and my interest in being a mechanic had passed, waned and so, I dropped into the YWCA more out of politeness. They had written me a nice letter and I had been brought up to be polite. But the YWCA had no real appeal to me because I wasn't a missionary type. There is a difference between the humanitarian, which maybe is a classification that I would fall in, and the missionary.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
I know the difference.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Then, I hadn't been a big YWCA member at college. I liked the secretary all right and once or twice, they roped me into doing something, but that wasn't a major interest of mine. So, I got there and chatted with whoever was delegated to speak to somebody of my classification at that time and then somebody in the office spoke up, said, "We just had a call from the Industrial Department that they want a research clerk." I, of course, didn't have any notion of what that was. They said, "Call . . . " and I've forgotten her name, but they said, "Tell her that we have someone who might be interested." She came and she was one of these people who fascinate me when I first meet them. She later left in about a year and went back to Colorado and she was the first woman ever elected superintendentof Education in Colorado. So, you can see she was a real person with basic keen intelligence and so on. So, she talked to me and she asked me what I majored in in college and I said, "Political science." Now, here is another point. Political science was just barely beginning to be called political science as a separate study. Randolph-Macon was one of the first to have separated political science from either sociology or history. So, I said that I majored in political science and she said, "Oh, political economy, wonderful!" I said, "No, political science." "Oh," she said, "Political economy is just fine." "No," I said, "Political science." "Oh," she said, "it's all the same." Well again, I was polite. Why should I be arguing a question like that with someone obviously my elder. So, she said, "We'll take you. We don't pay much." It was settled that I would come in the next Monday. Well then, I guess that they had second thoughts or something. They said, "Well, nobody is supposed to be employed until Miss Eliza Butler meets them." Well, I didn't know who Miss Eliza Butler was then, but of course, eventually I learned that she was the sister of Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University whose reputation I of course knew. Miss Eliza looked very much like Mr. Nicholas Murray Butler and she was like a steamship under full steam. So, she came and we chatted along and they were just beginning this psychological business of trying to find aptitude. So, she said, "What do you do most? What interests you most?" Well, you know, you can't answer that kind of question, really. So, I hesitated a little and I said, "Well, anything that I belong to, after awhile, they ask me to rewrite the by-laws." "Well," she says, "that won't affect us." Well, all right, she had asked a question and I tried to answer it honestly. But then she turned to the others and said, "She'll do." And do you know, that is almost the only time that the particular office and the people that I was talking with had "processed", in the current terminology, a clerical position. A clerical position was supposed to go through the business office and the business personnel. If that woman or someone of similar distinction hadn't interviewed me, I wouldn't have taken that position there.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
How do you think that came about? I mean, how was it that. . . .
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
It came about . . . you see, I learned all this later. Of course, I didn't know anything about that procedure then and I learned about this later, that when the vacancy occurred, this woman said, "I don't want a file clerk. I want somebody who can come in here and help plan programs, make up reading lists and so on." Well about the second day I was there, I realized that they needed not a political scientist, but they needed an economist and a student of things like the labor movement. Randolph-Macon, which was a wonderful institution in my opinion, had the very poorest sociology professor that, in my opinion, ever lived. I scarcely knew what the Industrial Revolution was and I wouldn't have known at all if I hadn't read the novels of Charles Reade as a child. I had read the novels of Charles Reade and I had read the novels of Charles Dickens and I had a little notion of what they were going on about when they were talking about the Industrial Revolution. So, I did two things. I went over to the New York Public Library and got a stack of books on the industrial conditions and the history of the Industrial Revolution and economics and then I went out to Columbia and switched my courses.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
I noticed that switch. International law. . . .
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Yes. I got that, you see, it was post-war and I was interested, that was an interest of mine and also with the YWCA, I had observed enough, that they had an international interest from college days. So, that was the explanation for that switch and I really studied that. I was becoming an industrial expert. It was the Industrial Department of the YWCA and they had classes for industrial workers and they were sending out industrial groups and having training conferences and all this kind of thing.