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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern women and church groups

Young explains the role of women in the Southern Methodist Church and the importance of women's church organizations. According to Young, white middle-class southerners strove to distinguish themselves through their social work with the church. In addition, she argues that because of their gender, they had more freedom than did men in terms of taking a more liberal stance on such issues as race. She describes briefly how one effort around 1910 to rein in the women's organizations posed a threat to women's freedom within the church. She goes on to describe how women's church groups continued to flourish during her years working for the Department of Home Missions. Per her recollections, southern women's church groups emerge as an arena for women's leadership and activism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. 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

ROBERT HALL:
Why was there that difference do you think, between the women's department and the church as a whole? Why were the women more sensitive to those kinds of needs?
LOUISE YOUNG:
Well I think that it's quite a natural, a southern woman, middle-class, we used to not want to be middle-class. We thought we were upper-class. But the . . . she was very much protected and her contacts were personal relationships. So that she was naturally sensitive. And she saw life personally and was sensitive to personal needs. Now the man on the other hand had to bring in the money and so forth, so he was exposed to much rougher tougher world. And when I asked an older woman one time why it was southern men let their wives do these things that were so outrage ous you know, like various race relations things. They said, "Let them child, why they're so proud of them they don't know what to do." She said, they're so glad that they can do things, the women can do things their husbands couldn't get away with.
ROBERT HALL:
And in your experience do you think women could get away with things men couldn't?
LOUISE YOUNG:
Yes. Here's a lawyer for instance. Now if he's too liberal, I expect he, or a businessman, or a banker, he's not safe.
ROBERT HALL:
He'll lose his business.
LOUISE YOUNG:
Yes, but here's his wife whose husband is going to support her and she is just a little odd maybe or something like that. And she is sensitive to these things and goes out for them. And, of course in our church and in other churches the independence of the women's organization varied from time to time. Sometimes it was completely independent. And then the church would get kind of excited about it and would pull them in a little bit.
ROBERT HALL:
Can you remember when that . . . the periods when that happened?
LOUISE YOUNG:
It was in 1910 in the Southern Methodist Church at the General Conference of 1910 that the Woman's Missionary Council, the Woman's Missionary Society was brought under the general Board of Missions. Before that they had been quite independent. And they thought it was going to be terrible. And it might have been . . .
ROBERT HALL:
The women were upset?
LOUISE YOUNG:
The women were very much against it because they thought it would lessen their freedom to do these different things. But after a little while, and maybe right away I don't know how long, it became purely a nominal thing. And the men never tried to stop them. The women would do all their business and put down all their monies they wanted to use for this and so on, and then bring it to the general board of missions and it was always confirmed without a penny difference made so that it was just a matter of form when I knew the church best. But I know there have been these upsets and there is one now in the Methodist church in general. The women's division has been counted too free and there has been a tousle over that and Thelma Stevens could tell you much more than I could. That's where it is now, I don't know.
ROBERT HALL:
Can you remember any time in the past when there were the conflicts between the women's division and the general conference?
LOUISE YOUNG:
Between the general . . .
ROBERT HALL:
Between the Board of Missions and the Women's Council?
LOUISE YOUNG:
Well I think you saw it on the foreign field a little bit. The women managed their money very well, were good at raising money. And the women never, in the days that I knew, never went into debt. They always had a reserve. And the men were not as . . . didn't, weren't careful, weren't as careful with their finances. For example, they would want to build a hospital in the Congo. And the men and women were to bring, were to build it together. And the men were to put up $50,000 and the women were to put up $50,000.00. Well the time would come and the women would have their $50,000.00 and the men wouldn't. So they wanted the women to put up the whole $100,000.00 when they had this money in the bank. So you'd have trouble like that. And also, the women always supplied their workers in the Congo with their, what they call their, I don't remember, their little expense fund.
ROBERT HALL:
Stipend.
LOUISE YOUNG:
No, their salaries, the money they would run the business with. Well, I don't know, run their automobiles with. They furnished them cars for instance, gas, and all those sort of incidental expenses. And the men didn't have such things. And the men's wives wouldn't have anything to go on like that don't you see? So, in the Congo anyway, and I knew that very well because I had a friend who was secretary for that, it was a matter of money and the greater freedom that the women missionaries had over the missionary wives. And when the men came home on furlough, when the women came home on furlough, why they did what seemed best. Studied or talked and so on. The men had to raise enough specials to support them don't you see. And of course it goes back to the fact that the women had a very good educational program going all the time among the women who had leisure time, who came to missionary meetings and learned about it and paid for it you see. Whereas the rest of the church, the men we'll say, didn't really know what was going on and didn't have much chance to study, and there weren't many materials ready for them to study, so that their support varied greatly with inflation and depression, prosperity. So that I think that was a source of conflict in the church, both the old southern church and the United Methodist church. And just where it is now I don't know.