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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 17, 1974. Interview G-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Husband's support of career and efforts to balance work and family

Johnson discusses the role of men in the changing role of women, specifically in relationship to marriage. Johnson contends that one reason she was able to balance career and family was because she married a man who was supportive of her desire to work. She acknowledges one moment where he seemed to renege on his agreement that she would continue to work after they had children during the mid-1920s; however, she argues that the values her mother instilled in her made her determined to have both work and family in her life.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 17, 1974. Interview G-0029-2. 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

What about the role of the husband in all of this? How are men fitting into the changing role of women?
GUION JOHNSON:
You mean now, or back in 1924 and '25?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, both.
GUION JOHNSON:
I think that before Guy and I were married, we talked this out. I said that I insisted that I continue in my profession and that he must understand this. He was perfectly willing to accept the idea. He said that he approved. We both agreed that we would want two children at least, maybe even more, and that we would meet that problem when it arose. I insisted that I must have a doctor's degree before we had any children; he agreed to that too. After Benny was born, we had a very good maid-cook-nurse, whom we had employed, and she herself had a baby. And we were confronted with the necessity of getting someone else. This was a little traumatic for Benny, who was then about a year old. And he did not adjust well to the new maid-nurse. She, I think, did not really like children, although she had insisted at the time, and the recommendations were good. But it became very obvious to us that Benny was unhappy. When we would come home at hoon, he would not eat, but would throw his plate on the floor, which was his way of demanding attention. But in the beginning, both Guy and I were confused as to why he was so unhappy, and as to why he would refuse to eat when we came home. He would cling to me when I would leave for the office, and scream. And this is characteristic of many children, even when their mothers are at home all day.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And go to the grocery store.
GUION JOHNSON:
And go to the grocery store. They will scream and want to go along. So, this is what I thought it was for awhile. But in one episode, when Benny had thrown his food on the floor and had cried and screamed and refused to eat, Guy had said, "You must stay at home. This is your role. The baby needs you and you must stay at home." And I said nothing. I made no response, because I knew that I was going to keep on with my research and that I would stay at home for a few days and find out exactly what the difficulty was and then make an adjustment. This I did and got a new maid, who was very. Immediately Benny loved her and she had a son of her own about his age and was quite understanding and sympathetic. Then we lived in the Warren's backyard. We had not been able to find a house to rent after we received our doctorates and Ben Warren, the treasurer of the University, stopped me on the street one day and said, "Where are you going to live?" I said, "I don't know, Ben, Where can we live? We can't find a place in Chapel Hill." "I'll build you one," said he. And he did, overlooking this lovely brook and spring and hillside, which is now a showplace, because he has planted thousands of azaleas and wildflowers there. And his wife,Patty, did not work. She had a daughter just a year older than Benny. So Patty, on her own,more or less assumed a mothering role, too. And was able to help out,when we needed a new servant, by taking Benny home. And I in turn mothered Caroline, I felt that Caroline was my child, too.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, what kept you steadfast in being so determined to . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
To go on with my work? And knowing that I could solve the problem?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I mean, to have your child crying and clinging to you and to have your husband saying, "This is your role," even though that was probably his own way of reacting to the problem.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, exactly.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What made you not give in?
GUION JOHNSON:
Well, I think that there were perhaps two motivations, which I had. The first was my mother's teaching, I said that I learned from my mother that women are competent and should be self-supporting and should be recognized as intellectual human beings comparable to their husband in every way. That, perhaps, was probably the most profound influence which I had. And the second was that my family was opposed to my marrying because Guy was not very well. He had had a streptococcic infection and this terrible flu in the 1917-1918 epidemic. And almost died as a result and so he was still thin and frail and my parents felt that he would not live very long, and they investigated - sent my uncle to his doctor in Caddo Mills, a little town not far away, to find out just what the status of his health was, and his doctor had said that he would not live ten years. And, of course, they didn't want me to marry someone who would be dead in ten years. And they told me, as a way of trying to persuade me. So, I did not tell Guy. I did not want Guy to know that he was supposed to die in ten years. (laughter) And so, I felt that I wanted children, at least two, and I had to be prepared to support them and give them a college education. And I felt that if I neglected my work to take care of my child, then this would harm me professionally. I think that these were the two major motivations.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And then if you had to support the children, you wouldn't be able to.
GUION JOHNSON:
That's right.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And you had to be able to.
GUION JOHNSON:
I had to be able to support the children and give them an education, which I wanted them to have.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
That was a pretty fierce reason for continuing, that was . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes it was.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So, it was all related to economic status.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, indeed.