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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Gladys Avery Tillett, March 20, 1974. Interview G-0061. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Social life for women students and student government advocacy for greater freedom

Tillett talks about her role in student government at Women's College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Elected as the president of the newly formed student government, Tillett explains that the women on campus wanted to have more freedom and responsibility. In describing their goals, Tillett offers a portrait of social life for female students at this single-sex institution during the 1910s, paying particular attention to restrictions on their interaction with young men.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Gladys Avery Tillett, March 20, 1974. Interview G-0061. 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:
You were president of the student government?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Yes. I was elected by the student body, the first president of student government; I organized it. It came just before my senior year, and so my senior year was the organization of it. And of course student government during its development took all the blame everytime somebody walked on the grass. The conservative faculty would say, "Well, I knew this would happen when we got student government." But many, many of the faculty did praise our progress and responsibility and encouraged us.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was student government an unusual thing in colleges in general at that time?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Not at Chapel Hill. Not at boys' colleges. I suppose they were expected to be good at it. I think it was unusual at southern girls' colleges. Some of our leaders went north later on to see developments in student government. And again we had Dr. Jackson, Miss Elliot and many other able members of the faculty cooperating in the organization of it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But some of the faculty opposed it.
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Well, a few of the older members were dubious. I don't know to what extent. I didn't go to the faculty. I don't know the extent to which they wondered if we could succeed. But it was a help to have many of the faculty expressing confidence. There were a number who were very enthusiastic about it. There were many who very much wished to see us succeed. But you always have a few conservatives, you know, in any progressive movement.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there issues within the college that the … that the student government was in opposition to the faculty or to the administration about?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Well, I think we tried to bring about more freedom for the girls, but I don't think any faculty thought us in opposition to the faculty itself.
JACQUELYN HALL:
In social …
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
In that day social life of girls was more carefully guarded at home and college… I recall that going to the city, I guess Greensboro wasn't a city then… going to town, I guess you might say… But at that time we went under certain rules and regulations. I think one of the most amusing, as I look back, was that we could … the girls could "speak to a young man" but not "engage in conversation." And I never quite understood how we could speak to them but not [Laughter] engage in conversation. I think long conversations raised objections. (It was an age of chaperoning girls.)
JACQUELYN HALL:
No conversations with any young men? Or only on certain occasions?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Well, young men could come and call. And we always had a chaperone near the reception room where the callers came … I don't know what you'd call it, maybe parlor in that day … Miss Kirkland was in charge of that part of our lives, or social lives. She was sympathetic. I was very fond of her. But I guess to a certain extent old school, and quite proper, and with great dignity. But we, we could have callers. And then we had, we had special occasions and then some, maybe … But you could invite a young man to these special occasions and the atmosphere was friendly to social life and, of course, chaperoned.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What changes did you want to make?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Well, we really had as our aim … to give the girls more responsibility. We thought students would understand better than elderly faculty the problems and discipline of students. We thought it would help to visit northern colleges. The next year the college sent the girl who followed me north to see how girls conducted student government where it had existed a longer period. Later, girls got copies of the rulings at northern colleges and other colleges, and they tried to follow their progress and study their rules and move forward as rapidly as the faculty agreed. Take a broader view and assume responsibility …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there specific changes that you … ?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Well, the… see we had a committee of officers from the student government who considered whatever was done by girls. And they began to be the legal body. Some things were discussed with the faculty, but the elected officers of student government were considered the legislative body. And it began right off with that and then it gradually was strengthened. I recall that the girl who went north to visit women's colleges said that when she went up and read the rules … of course we would have been expelled if we had smoked a cigarette. Very rigid in behavior of that kind. And she said she read the rules and when she read the rules about drinking … I don't know exactly what they were, but she was astonished that anybody would have to have a rule about taking a drink. [Laughter] But the students and many faculty had deep interest and pride in self government for the students.