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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Olive Stone, August 13, 1975. Interview G-0059-4. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Professional life of a single academic woman in the South

Stone addresses the issue of what it was like to be a single woman with a career in the South during the 1930s. Stone explains how a friend of hers conducted a study about how women were typically paid less than men in academe; however, Stone asserts that from her own personal experience she did not face any obstacles or setbacks because of her gender. She offers a number of examples from her time spent teaching at Huntingdon College in Montgomery and as a graduate student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Olive Stone, August 13, 1975. Interview G-0059-4. 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

Well, Olive, did you have any problems as a single professional woman?
I'm trying to recall that I might have, because recently one of my young colleagues at UCLA, a person I admire and respect very much, wrote a paper which she asked me to criticize, in which she was showing that in social work, most of the prestigeous offices and the higher-salaried jobs went to men. I said, "Jean (Giovannoni), this CAN'T be true, because look at all those wonderful women, the Abbotts and the Breckinridges, the Jane Addamses and the Florence Kellys who started social work in this country, and who studied in England with the Webbs and so on. They were women; there were a few men." I did go back through my old proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction, which later became the National Conference of Social Work and of late the National Conference of Social Welfare, and I said, "I do remember that when Jane Addams was offered the presidency of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in 1909 many of the men came forward and said, ‘Of course we'll be glad to read your presidential address.’ " (And this had been necessary, incidentally, when Dorothea Dix wanted to appear before Congress; some man had to present her research on the mental hospitals. You will recall that that was way back in the eighteen forties or 50's, wasn't it?) So when the men crowded round and offered to read Jane Addams' presidential address she said, "I think inasmuch as it has taken you this long to invite me, it cannot be said that you acted in haste. I will deliver my own presidential address." The men were a little shocked. I was aware of that point with Jean so I challenged her, and I had to read her paper to see that she was completely right.
So professionally you didn't actually feel it? Not personally?
Professionally single women were in the majority but I had other social contacts. Hence, I don't think I felt it personally. Despite Jeanne's findings I didn't sense as much rivalry in my professional career as I might have if I had not had so many leadership roles—e.g. asked to make talks or to hold offices. I was chairman of many work groups, committees, and associations—was offered the presidency of the large Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Association of Social Workers; declined it because of the health of my third and last fiance, the one who died just before I came out here. But I was very often acting the "woman's role" when I didn't need to—pushing some man forward and letting the man have the job or get the credit for things, such as I did at Chapel Hill … unwittingly, as you have pointed out. I mean, I wasn't conscious of that. But part of that, when we get to Chapel Hill, was that I did not want to offend the U of NC group by being "forward" or anything of that kind.
In Montgomery as the Dean, did you have any problem socially as being a single woman? Or were so many of the faculty single also?
Ah ha. No, I never felt self-conscious as a single person— I either had an escort (sometimes a confirmed bachelor!) or went in a small group to evening affairs. I have become aware of my single status when I have been asked, as happens occasionally, to break into a couples group and I did not want to be a fifth wheel. But with the university people here and at William and Mary and at Chapel Hill and elsewhere I was frequently invited as a person to go to these mixed male and female affairs and always—almost always—felt at ease. For instance, at Chapel Hill (I don't want to get too far ahead of my story) Guy Johnson, who was a great authority on Negro problems and history (taught anthropology as well as sociology) belonged to a writers' group to which Paul Green, Phillips Russell and a mixture of writers belonged. Guy was going to present a paper on the Negro and he told the group he'd like to invite me as a critic. The meeting was held at the Vances' home. Now Mrs. Vance had her Masters in sociology and she should have sat in as a participant, as a sociologist, but for some reason when I got there I was sitting by Mrs. Vance and she started talking to me about the children's measles and about housekeeping problems, and things that just sent me to the roof. And I moved my position. Well, pretty soon Guy asked for my comments after he had read the paper and Rheba got busy with social affairs—she had to serve the refreshments—so that let me off. But I have been made aware from time to time that because so many women have chosen not to have careers they don't always recognize… [laughter] and it never occurred to me not to have a career, and wouldn't have if I had married any of those … At least, I think not. Another example of contrasting preceptions of women's role occurred also in Chapel Hill. One day, the maid in Dr. Mangum's home where I had a room, brought calling cards up to me. The wives of two professors, Mrs. Crittenden whose husband was in History and another, awaited me down-stairs in hat and gloves. They wanted to welcome me to Chapel Hill. It was a gracious gesture but I was neither a professor's wife nor a professor—in fact, had become so absorbed in my student role that I was taken aback. This variation in role definition happens constantly. At UCLA the wives organized first and called their association "UCLA Faculty Women". When the women professors became numerous enough they had to differentiate their organization through the title, "Association of Academic Women". Actually many spouses have careers and if not employed by the same institution hold equally stimulating positions. The point I'm making (none too well) is that men do not face the same problem. Perhaps the parallel for professors who are bachelors, as a certain one close to me sometimes hints, is being called on constantly to squire the visiting singles no matter what the age or to make up a fourth at bridge. It turns out that that little study group in Montgomery was largely women because they were unmarried, but there were a few husbands present in the group. We didn't usually have more than eight or ten in all and we met Saturday afternoons. I was not a regular attendant. Later some younger men joined the group for example, George Stoney who came from Henry Street Settlement in New York and had had journalistic experience on the staff of Survey Graphic.