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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Miriam Bonner Camp, April 15, 1976. Interview G-0013. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Sex as a "taboo" subject

Camp explains that sex was a "taboo" subject when she was growing up in North Carolina. She explains how her first awareness of the subject was linked to one of her mother's pregnancies, but that children did not have open discussions with their parents about it. Instead, she recalls having the impression that it was a shameful thing, especially when people talked about children born out of wedlock. Her comments demonstrate how sex figured into ideas about family and social values in a southern community around the turn of the twentieth century.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Miriam Bonner Camp, April 15, 1976. Interview G-0013. 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 other things that were sort of that children were not supposed to be aware of or to know about? What about being told about sex or being told about . . . ?
Oh, very strict, and my mother too. She never talked about that. She gave me when I was getting to the point that I should "What Every Girl Should Know" or some such thing as that to read [laughter]. That was about it. But I remember when I was quite little once one of the girls told me that "Your mother's going to have a baby." Well, I think I was kind of fed up on babies by that time, and I said, "Well how do you know?" And she said, "Look at her stomach; she has a big stomach." Well, that really intrigued me. And I remember we went over to my great-aunt's (this was an aunt of my mother who was very strict) and we were whispering, you know. Aunt Lizzie said, "Well, what are you children whispering about?" And I said, "About where babies come from." And she sent me home, as if it was. . . . [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
So my mother told me yes, she was going to have another baby. And then she showed me some things she was making (she was a very good seamstress and she could make just beautiful things: you know, in those days embroider and feather-stitch and all these things). So I was never domestic and I never cared a thing about sewing. But I remember she gave me a little piece of cloth and (I never cared about dolls either) I made [laughter] (probably the only thing I ever made for a doll in all my life) a little sacque to look like the one that she was making. But sex was taboo, yes. But every now and then you'd hear something, the children would hear something and then they'd talk with each other. Not so much brothers and sisters-I don't remember ever talking to them about any of this-but with others your own age.
But always sort of in complete ignorance and always curious.
Oh yes. And always the feeling that there was something really shameful about it. I remember there was a case of a girl that I knew and cared a great deal about whose mother had become pregnant before she was married. Then later she had married the man, but people would still talk about things, you know, in sort of whispers. And somebody said one day about "that baby," "It was a good thing that baby died." I remember asking, "How would that baby be different from any of the other [laughter] babies these two people have had?"-as if it were the baby's fault, you know, or something wicked. But their attitude was not the attitude we have today of free and open discussion.