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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 >>

Goals of the American Association of University Women

In this excerpt, Howorth explains her role in the American Association of University Women during the 1940s and 1950s (specifically during her chairmanship from 1947 to 1951). According to Howorth, the goal of the AAUW was to advance the higher education of women and open up possibilities for women in academics. In addition, she describes how initially the AAUW did not openly support the Equal Rights Amendment, although they had joined coalitions in support of the amendment by the 1970s.

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

I became chairman in '47. Sarah's term was out and she was putting her mind more on the Business and Professional Women. She was getting ready to go in as president in a couple of years. So, she wanted to retire as chairman and she recommended me and I was told later that they had a knockdown, dragout fight over having me as chairman because I favored the Equal Rights Amendment and most of the Board did not. They didn't trust me and they didn't really trust Sarah, because she did too (favored the ERA) and they had kind of had enough of her. They wantéd a different type and of course, they were getting a worse one with me, in some respects. Now, Sarah would stack up as high as I do in many respects, but I was more technically knowledgeable, you see. In Washington, I had my hands on what was happening and being in Dallas there, she couldn't. But as far as backbone goes, she probably has a stronger one.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
But you did get this chairmanship?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Yes.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
And how long did you have it?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
I served until 1951, when I was elected second vice-president. So, I served about a four year term.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Overall, how much do you think the AAUW has advanced its purposes and has accomplished its purposes, has advanced the cause of women's rights?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Well, the American Association of University Women has a much broader purpose in a way, which encompasses the status of women and that is that its original and continuing purpose has been to advance the higher education of women and until it stopped its process of examining and passing approval on institutions for membership, it did quite a lot in making them scramble around and get at least one woman full professor and improve the facilities for physical education and much of what is going on now on a lesser degree, because it couldn't compete with HEW in enforcing its ideas. But I know that Delta State, University they skirmished around and promoted a woman or two and changed the title of a woman who was something like Counselor to Women Students and they changed it to Dean and a good many things. A great many institutions did, they wanted that accolade and it did get very difficult, very burdensome with the increase of institutions and now they accept the accreditation of the regional committees. Regional Councils on Accreditation, whatever they are called, and of course, that doesn't emphasize the women's aspect. Also, while I was chairman, we sent letters to any institution tht we found was barring women from classes. . . .
CONSTANCE MYERS:
What do you mean, "barring women from classes?"
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
I mean, there would be a course, Philosophy 6, or something like that, open only to men students.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Oh, I see.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Take . . . it was, I think, '38, that a friend of ours in Washington was going up into the Aleutians for the Smithsonian and his wife wanted to learn whatever it is that they speak so that she could help with translating papers. She wasn't going, but she found out that Harvard had a course in that. Now, she was a graduate of one of the Five Sisters, you know, up there in New England. So, they fussed and fumed around at Harvard and finally said that she could attend if she would sit behind a curtain in an alcove. 1937.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
'37!
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Yes. That was the kind of thing that we were yelling about.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
No wonder.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Then, we did some things. You take the United Nations. There came up a question of whether there should be a status of women committee or commission in it. There was quite a set-to among the women, some took the position that the separate commission wasn't needed and I fought the battle in the AAUW that it was needed, that we had to think not only of where we were, and we weren't so far as to be so proud, that all these other countries, what it might mean. So, we got it, but there was quite a struggle, a conflict of opinion.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
The thought being that as men advance, women will too. A social advancement matter. I know the rationale today.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
I was very regretful when that committee was abolished. (The AAUW Status of Women Committee.) They are going back to it now, the branches. They also felt that the association wasn't picking up where it ought to.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
The AAUW has come out for the ERA.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Oh, yes.