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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 >>

Views of the AAUW and the BPW on social welfare and the ERA in the 1940s and 1950s

Winston discusses her involvement with the American Association of University Women and with the Business and Professional Women's Organization during the 1940s and 1950s. According to Winston, these kinds of organizations were typically concerned with opportunities for women and as a result there efforts coalesced around issues of social welfare more so than around political issues, like the Equal Rights Amendment. Winston indicates her own ambiguous feelings about the ERA during these years, noting that because her own opportunities in education and career had been open that she did not necessarily find the amendment necessary. Instead, she believed that improving social conditions for women via welfare reform was the more appropriate avenue for helping women.

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

ANNETTE SMITH:
You worked a great deal with the AAUW in the 1940's and 1950's, here in North Carolina, and on national committees on the status of women?
ELLEN WINSTON:
Yes.
ANNETTE SMITH:
What were the reasons behind those committees in the 40's and 50's? What was the AAUW concerned about then concerning women?
ELLEN WINSTON:
The AAUW was early concerned with regard to opportunities for women. After all, it focused on educated women and whether or not they had job opportunities, professional opportunities, commensurate with their training. It was headed by well qualified women. I think that the Committee on the Status of Women was a very useful committee in those days because we had the Social Security Act with which many women in other fields were not familiar, but which had all the potentials of course, for economic security for women. We had quite an active Women's Bureau at that period in time, which led later to the various state Commissions on the Status of Women, and the national meeting in that general area. So the AAUW was laying the groundwork. Those were very interesting meetings to attend. We met in the old AAUW building. During the period that I was active in the AAUW, they built their new building in Washington. They had some very good women on the staff. One excellent woman, a histori an by the way, was the staff person for our committee. And then they had another excellent woman who was in charge of their legislative program. I don't remember too many other women who came to those meetings. But they were all well trained. They were all active in their own communities and professions. We had one charming woman, I remember, from Oregon. It was really quite interesting, and since I was the only one professionally in social welfare, I really had the opportunity to make a good deal of input. in that general field.
ANNETTE SMITH:
The AAUW wasn't interested in things like the Equal Rights Amendment in the 50's, it was more concerned with social welfare kinds of issues?
ELLEN WINSTON:
Well you were having the debate being joined back in the 50's and you had a number of women's organizations, if you will remember, in those days which were not particularly supportive of the Equal Rights Amendment. They thought that the ways to approach the situation was through getting specific laws changed, that sort of thing. And of course, AAUW was, I think, one of the later organizations to give active support to ERA. Actually, I found myself in that period of time, because I was also in that period a member of the Business and Professional Women's Organization, attending some meetings where they were very pro and some where they were really con; perhaps not quite as actively con as they were pro at the others. But there was a long period of debate and wide differences of opinion with regard to ERA on the part of national women's organizations.
ANNETTE SMITH:
What were your views during those years?
ELLEN WINSTON:
I think that at that period in time I didn't think it was necessary, that I was really so concerned with specific pieces of legislation that affected the welfare of women and children, of families, that this didn't seem to me to be as major a goal as many felt. I wanted to see specific changes which would bring about immediate improvements in situations for people. I think that I did try to keep an open mind in regard to both sides of the question, but certainly I was not an ardent supporter of ERA. Of course, the other thing is that the doors were always open for me; I think that besides one's philosophical approach, one's own experience does have some effect upon one's point of view.