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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, February 3, 1976. Interview G-0040-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Special challenge of organizing domestic workers

In this excerpt, McGill explains how the Women's Trade Union League tried to help domestic workers in the 1930s. As part of their activities, the WTUL organized to offer aid to other workers who were engaged in various forms of labor activism. According to McGill, however, domestic workers were typically unable to participate in unionization because their jobs were necessarily precarious based on their positioning within private homes. Domestic workers, especially black women, were subject to sexual harassment and risked being blackballed from other employment opportunities if they chose to speak out about abuses against them. As a result, the WTUL did what it could to help them without their knowledge so as to not jeopardize their already tenuous position. McGill's remarks here demonstrate how factors such as race and gender could intersect in order to make the quest for social justice all the more challenging for certain groups of workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, February 3, 1976. Interview G-0040-1. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
And what kind of things did you try to do?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, I remember there was a lot of dissension among domestic workers in homes, and women and young girls who worked in restaurants. A lot of it was just practically unpleasantness they had to take from men in order to hold their jobs. And then too, we participated (when the ore miners struck) and helped to get up food and clothing. We'd collect food and clothing from everywhere we could. And we'd help groups that were trying to organize if they needed anything.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were the domestic workers themselves trying to do something about their conditions?
EULA MCGILL:
No, no; really they weren't.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you become aware of the problems of domestic workers?
EULA MCGILL:
We were trying to talk with these women who did hire. And I remember we got one woman to kind of act-she finally didn't stay. Her husband owned a big dairy there, and we tried to work through her clubs to try to make it a little easier on these domestic workers. It might be hard for you and somebody to understand, but it was a hangover from the old days. Mostly black women, if they quit a job (didn't like it somewhere), well then word would get out that they were thieves, and they couldn't get a job nowhere else. Or if the man of the house or the son wanted to abuse them, if the wife caught them then naturally she got the blame-sordid and unpleasant things like that, mainly. We were trying to work through this other group of women to make them understand, to stop doing this. We were trying to help them without their knowledge.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Trying to help the domestic workers without their knowledge?
EULA MCGILL:
Because we knew what was going on among them. We wanted to make it a little easier on them, because they didn't dare. Certainly a black woman in those days didn't dare try; if she was going to be blacklisted for quitting a job she didn't like, she certainly wasn't going to come to somebody and ask for help.