Title: Oral History Interview with Grace Jemison Rohrer, March 16, 1989. Interview C-0069.
Interviewer: Nasstrom, Kathryn
Interviewee: Rohrer, Grace Jemison
Subjects: Republican Party (N.C.) Women political activists--North Carolina Women's rights--North Carolina Women in politics--North Carolina North Carolina--Biography
Abstract: Grace Jemison Rohrer was born in Chicago in 1924. Eventually she moved with her family to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 1942, Rohrer entered Western Maryland College. Rohrer studied to become a teacher, but taught for only a few years before she and her husband decided to have children. When she was only 40, Rohrer's husband died and she decided to go back to school so she could better support her family. After earning her master's degree in history, Rohrer experienced her first overt case of gender discrimination when she was not hired to teach at Guilford College in 1969 because she was a woman. Following this setback, Rohrer accepted a job heading up the Learning Foundations through the Centenary Methodist Church and with the Mac Wood School for children who were "perceptually disabled." In the early 1960s, Rohrer had become involved with the local Republican Party, serving as her precinct chair in Forsyth County. During the 1960s, Rohrer helped to establish the Republican Party in Forsyth County as North Carolina politics shifted to re-embrace the two-party system. Rohrer describes in this interview what she perceived as the prominent role women played in the reestablishment of the Republican Party in the state. During these years, Rohrer was actively involved in advocating for women to have a more prominent role in politics, and in 1971 she helped to form the bipartisan North Carolina Women's Political Caucus (NCWPC). Increasingly intent on campaigning for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, Rohrer threw her support behind James Holshouser and his gubernatorial campaign in 1972 because of his public support for the ERA. Because of Rohrer's work in local politics and with the NCWPC, Holshouser appointed her as the Secretary of Cultural Resources in 1973 after his election, making her the first woman to serve in a cabinet-level position in North Carolina. Rohrer discusses her dedication to women's issues and the Equal Rights Amendment. Although loyal to the Republican Party, Rohrer argues that her first loyalty was to women; she thus worked amicably with Democratic women in order to promote women's rights.