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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 >>

The YWCA and its role in the First International Conference of Working Women

In this excerpt, Howorth explains her involvement in a YWCA sponsored event during the late 1910s. Using funds left over from their war work, the YWCA held the First International Conference of Working Women in Washington, D.C. Bringing together women involved in the labor movements from the Allied countries, the Conference, as Howorth explains it, demonstrated class tensions and was eye-opening for the kind of women who typically occupied the ranks of the YWCA to the kinds of issues working women addressed.

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 want to put in now a little more about the YWCA, because you really seem to want to know what made me tick. As I mentioned, I went to the YWCA in December, 1918 as a research clerk. I found that. . . .
CONSTANCE MYERS:
But on a professional basis?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Yes, which was anomalous. I found that I had to bone up and study on economics and industrial society and the history of the labor movement and what not. So, Miss Florence Simms was the head of that department. She wasn't there when I was employed and she stayed out in the field a good deal and she blew in around the 1st of January or something and saw me and asked who I was and what I was doing. Then she was off again and then she came back. Now, she was a remarkable person and fascinating to me. She was resourceful. The YWCA, like the Salvation Army and all of the organization that were in this council of agencies to do war work, they had money left over because the Armistice had come and they weren't doing things in France. So, they were told that they could use the money that they had on hand from this last drive, but they couldn't use it for regular routine YWCA work. So, she, with the Women's Trade Union League . . . wasn't it?
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Yes. WTUL.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Well, they cooked up to have what they called the First International Conference of Working Women in Washington, D.C. and they were going to get women from the labor movement of all the allied countries and any others that they could scrape up. To help make that a go, not only was Miss Simms getting some of this money to fund it, but she also was going to call into Washington all of her staff, the field staff and the industrial secretaries in Cleveland and Baltimore and here, there, and wherever they were. That would make the meeting look bigger and then after, immediately following, she would have this conference of her staff in Washington. [END OF TAPE 7, SIDE A] [TAPE 7, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 7, SIDE B]
CONSTANCE MYERS:
This is Constance Myers with Lucy Somerville Howorth on June 23, 1975.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
. . . working women. So, she sent three of us on her staff in New York to go to Washington to help with the preliminaries and I was put on that, which gave me quite a nice vacation.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
You were so young. You were just a college graduate.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
It was good that she had sent for us, because these trade union people were good scrappers and all that, but you know, limited education, limited experience. One of them, I remember, was so excited to see a folder, a filing folder, she had always clutched the papers in her hand or a paper bag or something, just little things like that. So, one of our problems was how to seat these delegates. So, we naively decided that alphabetical was the easy way and we got all the standards up and the conference met and we had these speeches and we could feel something rising. After the welcome speeches, they went to fighting; boy, it was something, over the fact that the seating arrangements were all wrong. The British all wanted to be on the front seat and the French wanted to be on the front seat and some of them didn't want to sit next to the others. So finally, some of the people with experience got in there and told them that they had better sit wherever they could and get to working together. Miss Margaret Bonfield, one of the first women in Parliament and the British Cabinet was there, there were some Scandinavian people there, at least one of them who went into the Parliament of Norway and there were some fascinating people.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Were they truly representative working women, though?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Oh, yes. Everyone of them from the other countries, not this one. And you know, I have never seen such passion as displayed by these people. They had all been in jail, they had all been beaten up by the police, but the way that they could flame . . . you could feel the tension.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Was that an eyeopener for you?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Well, it would have been for anybody if they had had any eyes. Because we didn't have anything like that, or if we did, I didn't know anything about it.