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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 28, 1974. Interview G-0029-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Husband-wife academic teams and difficulties in maintaining equal footing

Johnson discusses the difficulties she and her husband faced as scholars who were married to one another. Describing them as one of the "husband and wife teams" that were characteristic of academe in the 1920s and 1930s, Johnson expresses her frustration that sometimes people assumed her husband was responsible for work she had done herself. Despite such frustrations, Johnson explains how they did manage to achieve some success in negotiating jobs, despite institutional policies that made it difficult for academic women to be on equal footing with their husbands. In part, Johnson focuses specifically on their experiences at Yale during the mid-1930s, although one gets the impression that they faced similar challenges for the duration of their careers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 28, 1974. Interview G-0029-3. 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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
The whole idea of studying sociology over time is one of the most, in fact the very most, interesting thing that I think can be done. Well, then you have collaborated on a few of the . . . the one that I noticed was "Patterns of Race Conflict" where he drew from AnteBellum North Carolina and used North Carolina as a base.
GUION JOHNSON:
And then all my . . . you see we had an office together and all my documents were here in my files and in lecturing he would want to see if I had something in this area to spice his lecture and he would go to my files. I would come to write this area and I would say "You have taken something from my files. I remember distinctly that I had something on such and such. Where is it?" And he would say "Oh, I must have used that in my lecture. Oh, I'm sorry, here it is." (laughter) And then I remember I was furious . . . several years ago when I gave a lecture to the Historical Society of North Carolina, that exclusive little group composed of 60 or 70 persons. As some persons have said, its harder to get into the Historical Society than it is into heaven. We were going in to the dinner after the afternoon session . . . we were meeting at Davidson. The afternoon session was just over and we were going into the dinner. And Noblett [of N.C. S$ came up. Noblett had been one of Guy's students. And he said "Well, I see that your wife is going to give the paper tonight and that it's going to be on southern paternalism toward the Negro since 1870." He said to Guy "I guess you are very much interested in that topic." Guy said "Yes" and he said "I guess you helped her write it." (laugher) I was furious with Noblett. Just furious with him to assume that I would turn to Guy, ask Guy to write my paper that I was going . . . but this again . . . I think this is the attitude of historians toward women in the field of history. He just assumed that I would be incompetent to write history even though I had done Antebellum North Carolina. Nevertheless, he thought that it would be impossible for me write on the [philosophical field of] southern paternalism toward the Negro since 1870.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now was the attitude pretty much the same as far as sociologists went or do you . . . Were husband and wife teams . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
No . . . yes, I think of Dr W. I. Thomas and Dorothy Thomas. They were accepted. They taught together at the University of Chicago. And later, he had retired, he was much older than Dorothy, but the, at the University of California at Berkeley he did some lecturing. I think that in the field of sociology the attitude was much more liberal toward husband and wife teams than. Of course, there were not very many, there have not been very many husband and wife teams in sociology. I think of Kluckholm, the Kluckholms at Yale. Florence's work was in anthropology as well as her husband's but she felt that she had to go into sociology in order to be able to get a job at Yale. So she was on a lowly basis, lecturer's basis, I think, perhaps assistant professor, at Yale while her husband was head of the Department of Anthropology. This is true throughout the United States and most departments.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now was the rule in effect here when you were . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
Oh yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
. . . that husband and wife teams could not work in the same department?
GUION JOHNSON:
Well, on the staff you could have a lowly job, the wife could, but not a creditable status position if your husband was employed on campus. The Institute was held for a long time not really to be a part of the University and we were to go to the University of Texas on the same basis. 1. 1 In the Autumn of 1927. It was while Dr. Spawn was on this trip that the Ferguson clique in the Texas Democratic Party, which opposed Dr. Spawn's liberalism took advantage of his absence and developed a situation which caused him to resign soon after he returned home The University of Texas had a very rigid anti-nepotism law and Dr. Splawn who was president of the University of Texas (and was a long-standing friend of ours, my family, and had taught at Baylor College and I had known him there, and he wanted to set up an Institute for Research similar to the one here) came to talk over possibilities on his way to going to New York to get funds and saw Guy and me and asked us if we would come to help set up an Institute and of course we were eager to get back to Texas at that time and said yes, and Dr. Splawn said, "Now of course, in the Institute I think it can be worked out for both of you to be on the staff. If not, we will pay Guion the same salary as an associate professor, but we might not be able to give her that rank because of anti-nepotism but I think we can get around it just as it's being debated here."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So you could never really have held a position in the History Department. A teaching position.
GUION JOHNSON:
No, not really. That's the reason Mr. Connor wanted me to be his assistant and was not willing to put any status to the title because it actually could not have been done, although I do not think that there was (I have not been through all the laws) but I do not think that any specific law had been passed such as in Texas.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I was just trying to think if I had heard of one being appealed or erased and I don't remember hearing that.
GUION JOHNSON:
I don't think there was any law, it was just an unwritten law. Perhaps a trustee's policy.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I think there is now one, though, that you can't work in the same department.
GUION JOHNSON:
Maybe, would it be a law, a state law?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
That I don't know. I know that Donald Mathews and his wife could not be hired in the same department. At Duke you must be able to because the Scotts . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
I don't know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
It must be a little bit different. You mentioned that you were at Yale between 1937, I think, what were you . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
We went, '36 and '37, to University of Chicago and to Yale. Guy was given a grant, the National Research Council, for post-doctoral study at Chicago, six months at Chicago and six months at Yale, and we went. And I was planning, and did, attend some seminars in the Department of History, but had to stop all of this when suddenly I had a letter from Bill Couch, director of the Press, saying, "We have begun publication of Antebellum North Carolina and you will soon be receiving galley proof which we would like to have promptly returned because we hope to get the book out by September, '37.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So that's what you were doing.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, yes. I was reading galley proof and page proof both at Chicago and at Yale, and I had to give up the seminars that I had started.