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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 as a feminist organization

Here, Howorth describes the YWCA as a feminist organization. Howorth explains how when she lived in New York City during the late 1910s and worked for the YWCA she began to form a feminist consciousness. Howorth determined during these years that she would enjoy the same social and networking activities that young professional men had in order to further her own interests. She concludes her remarks by commenting on how Frances Perkins also emphasized the importance of networking, although she laments Perkins' reluctance to embrace the term "feminist."

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:
To what degree was the YWCA a feminist organization?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
It was always a very strong one. Now, here is a point for young women. When I was in New York, I began looking around. The young men were getting ahead and the young women, except in the YWCA which was solely women, were staying where they started. I wondered about that. I didn't intend to stay where I started. I didn't put it that way, but that was in my mind. I decided that one thing was that young men, when the job was over, they went out with some other young men, went to the show and had a date or something. They dedicated their evenings if they weren't going to school, which many were with extension courses, they dedicated their so-called leisure time to widening their acquaintances and to learning more about life; and the girls, the women, they went back to their room or their apartment and washed their clothes. Oh, I despised that.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
But women didn't have the freedom of movement in the evening.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Oh, they did in New York then. We weren't scared ofanything. I would go with a friend to the theatre, get on the subway and get off at 72nd Street and walk to 76th Street and never bat an eye. It wasn't like now. So, I did like the men. I joined the Civic Club. It seems to me that that was started as an answer to the City Club, which would not admit women. So, some of the free spirits among the men and women organized the Civic Club. I joined it and went to the meetings and met these smart people.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Became active in Democratic Ward politics.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
I joined the Ward Club and went to that. You didn't find me sitting up there at 151 West 76th washing my clothes at night. I figured that as long as I could earn more than the washer woman, I would pay her to do my clothes and I would be out doing something better. Time and again, I see women putting all their minds on what dress to wear and sewing the buttons on and all that stuff instead of putting their minds on other things. You get ahead with acquaintances. Somebody knowing about you.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Is getting ahead with acquaintances just as important politically and to personal advancement as knowing how to perform a job?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Sure. Frances Perkins with all of her brilliance, you know, at the end when she was about to leave Washington, do you know what she said?
CONSTANCE MYERS:
What?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
She said, "I have learned that in public office, you have to put in 50% doing a good job and 50% selling the public that you do." She didn't have that idea at all, you see, and 90% of her troubles . . . well, I'll reduce that 90% because I guess that 60% was because she was a woman and the men, especially the men in labor movement, considered it their job.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
She was scared to call herself a feminist, was she not?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Yes, she always said that she wasn't and that just irritated me, too. I don't have any patience with denying it.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
People are scared away from that term generally.
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
They still do. It is always a pain in the neck to me.