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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ellen Black Winston, December 2, 1974. Interview G-0064. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Gender expectations and education in a southern women's college

Winston describes what it was like to attend Converse College, a woman's institution of higher education in Spartanburg, South Carolina, during the 1920s. At the behest of her mother, who hoped Winston would become "a traditional southern girl," Winston attended Converse College where she pursued a degree in education. Despite her exceptionally high grades, Winston did not recall encouragement from her professors to pursue graduate work. Instead, she explains that she sought to become a school teacher because that was the expected trajectory for educated southern women such as herself. Her comments are especially revealing of the relationship between gender expectations and education in the South during the early twentieth century.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ellen Black Winston, December 2, 1974. Interview G-0064. 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 Converse College? You went there from around 1920 to 1924.
ELLEN WINSTON:
The reason that I went to Converse College was because my mother selected it. This was in the day when that still happened. And I think that Mother had high hopes of Converse making me into a traditional southern girl. I know that she hoped I would pick up a southern accent, which I never did very successfully. (laughter) But of course Converse had good academic standards, no question about that. It was an A-grade college, which was very important in Mother's eyes, and increasingly so in mine. We had interesting faculty. I never felt, as some people do, that my college years were the high point of my life. Other things have far surpassed it as time went on. But, I have in general a very friendly feeling in regard to Converse. I majored in English and minored in French. I had originally planned to major in mathematics, but I found that it was not sufficiently challenging once you had learned the basic formulas and so on. So, I changed over to English, which was somewhat more challenging.
ANNETTE SMITH:
Did you always want to be a school teacher?
ELLEN WINSTON:
I don't think that there was ever any question. Young ladies from the setting I came out of became school teachers. We had a couple of courses in education when I went to Converse. I thought they were rather stupid and from the days that I took them until the present time, the only thing that I ever felt I learned from those courses, was somebody's statement, "Let knowledge come from a smiling face." I know that in one of the classes, we always had to quote something at the opening of the class when the role was called, and I used that. And it really stood me in good stead later on.
ANNETTE SMITH:
Was there much interest in woman's suffrage at Converse? You were there right after all the . . .
ELLEN WINSTON:
Yes, I had a couple of courses in sociology, but they were, I think, pretty run of the mill. I had a little work in history with Dr. Penelope McDuffey. And she really was interested in what was happening to women and she did try to expand the ambitions and ideas, I would say, of the students. But other than that, I really don't remember any real efforts. At least they didn't draw me in. And I think that I was the kind of student who would have been attracted by such movements. I was active in student organizations, the YWCA and some other little clubs of one sort or another that make no difference now. The one thing that I have always been concerned about, I think I had . . . I know I had the highest grade average of anyone in my class.
ANNETTE SMITH:
I remember your report card, it was always very good.
ELLEN WINSTON:
I know that I had a letter some years later when I was applying for credit at the University of North Carolina with regard to my academic record. To my knowledge, no one at Converse ever suggested to me that I go on for graduate work. That just seems almost impossible in this day and time. But if anybody suggested it to me, it made no impression whatsoever. My concern about graduate work all came after my Converse days.