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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 >>

Southern woman's decision to become a lawyer

In this excerpt, Howorth describes how she came to the decision to pursue law as a career. After pursuing other options in graduate school at Columbia University and working for the YWCA, Howorth determined that a career in law was what she truly desired, despite the obstacles she might face as a woman. According to Howorth, Columbia University would have been her first choice for law school; however, women were still barred from law school at the time, so she decided to return to Mississippi and attend the University of Mississippi. Her comments are revealing of both sociocultural and educational obstacles women faced in pursuing higher education in the early twentieth century.

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:
The YWCA involvement and changing your course work to international law, I guess. . . .
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
And economics. You see, I had one of the fine economics professors there.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
These stimulated you and inspired you to go to law school, I suppose?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Well, that came to me . . . I do not know when it was formulated in my mind, but the first time that I knew that it was in my mind was when a dentist in Lynchburg . . . now, I've always gotten along famously with men, really. We've been good friends and I resent very much all this stuff going around that women and men can't be friends, that they just have to have a sex relationship. So, this dentist, I had a good deal of work my senior year and he and I settledworld issues in between his grinding on my teeth. So, the last time I was there, just before commencement, he said to me, "You aren't going to be a lawyer as they say you are." I said, "No, I think not." He said, "I'm glad, I don't think much of women being lawyers." So, when I left his office, I walked down onto the street and on to the college and. . . . [END OF TAPE 3, SIDE A] [TAPE 3, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 3, SIDE B]
CONSTANCE MYERS:
So, after this encounter with the dentist in Lynchburg. . . .
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Then, I began thinking, "If I do want to be a lawyer, why, there is no reason why I can't do it like anybody else." So, it was in my head and then as I thought along, I decided that, well, there would be a lot of quarreling and fussing about this and I had better see if something else would appeal to me. So, you see, I tried the year as an assistant on the faculty, more or less trying out if that was the field for me. Then, the war came along and so any permanent decisions were pushed aside in the effort to win the war. Nobody today can understand how in World War I everybody pitched in to do something to help win the war and every person like me wanted to do a great deal more than they did. So then, this YWCA job came along and I thought, "That's a practice something like social work and I'll see how that sits." Then, I had a friend in New York and she and I figured out something about starting a business in New York with something different and eventually, she made quite a success of it. But I finally decided somehow that I wanted to study law. Then I announced that decision and resigned at the YWCA and believe it or not, they tried to keep me and the general secretary sent for me and she said, "I understand that you are leaving. We would like to keep you and if you haven't seen the position that you want, if you will describe it, we will create it."
CONSTANCE MYERS:
But before you resigned, didn't you make application to law schools? There was no competition in your mind that law school was. . . .
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Well, there was a competition in my mind in that I wished I could go to Columbia University and I was just irritated beyond words that I could study international law in a room and then when I left, they took up a course in evidence and I was not permitted to stay in that room and take that course. That just made no sense to me.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Women were not permitted to go to Columbia Law School?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Oh no, not until about . . . when was Harlan Stone Chief Justice? He was Dean of the Law School and a friend of mine, Judge Mary Donlon later she was a judge on the Court of Customs Appeals, she went to him along with some others, you know, trying to get Columbia University Law School open and he said, "It will be over my dead body." So, when it was opened and he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mary Donlon sent him a telegram that said, "I congratulate you on not having your dead body lying on the steps of the hall at Columbia. Women are now there." So, you couldn't get in and I couldn't get in and New York University Law School didn't really appeal to me, yet women were admitted there. So, I decided that maybe the South was the place for me after all and I could go to the University of Mississippi. So, that's what happened.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
I am surprised that southern universities didn't have their law schools closed to women.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Some of them did, but the University of Mississippi was a state institution and it had admitted women back in 1880 and no school of the University was closed to them and as I have said earlier, Bessie Young went there, I think, around 1910. So, there had been a number of women graduates there, not a great number, but some.