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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, September 5, 1976. Interview G-0040-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role of gender in organization and leadership in the southern labor movement

In this excerpt, McGill discusses what it was like to be a young, single woman working on the road to organize workers in the 1930s. Although McGill previously stressed that she did not face gender discrimination as a labor organizer, here she notes that she did have to contend with preconceived notions of women's proper role when she was on the road in the South. McGill recalls that she had to keep to herself and be careful so as not to appear overly friendly with both the men and women she was trying to organize. At the same time, however, she notes that male organizers also had to be careful when trying to work with single female workers. Again, this demonstrates how gender operated as a factor in the labor movement and illustrates how McGill faced unique challenges as a woman who transgressed traditional gender roles by becoming a labor organizer.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, September 5, 1976. Interview G-0040-2. 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

When you first started out as an organizer, did you have any trouble with being hassled by men in or out of the union as a young woman traveling alonein an unusual, independent way?
Well not only that, when you're out. . . . I guess I was about the first woman organizer on the road in the thirties. You had to be very careful because a lot of women were suspicious of a woman who would get out and travel alone: "This must be a tough customer to get out and do that." You had to first win yourself. If I went to visit or talk to a man about joining the union I first tried to talk to his wife. And I used to have flack from a lot of the guys when we started organizing women's auxilliaries, before women went to work like they do now. I used to try to get women's auxilliaries to help us with the union label movement, consumer movement and the Women's Trade Union League to get the women active. They laughed at me--I think they meant it but they pretended they was kidding-that our place was in the home, you know. "You ought to get married and settle down," you know: they used to tell me that. And too, men, you know, you had to be very careful about hotels. Salesmen was always trying. . . . They figured if she was on the road traveling she was on the make, you know. You had to be careful how you handled. . . . You couldn't make friends. You can today; you can strike up relationships and talk with people on a friendly basis around places without being figured that you're an easy pickup. But that was not true when I started on the road. They just figured a woman out on the road like this was traveling for other reasons, you know. I think some of the young women today have to be very careful not to be misunderstood. So I wasn't too friendly with nobody.
Did the male organizers have a lot more freedom in that regard?
No. You know, a lot of women hassle men; men have trouble running from women. A lot of the men have that kind of trouble, that have to be very careful not to make a woman mad. I used to see it, you know, and I'd try to help the guys head it off, because it could cause trouble. I used to tell the men organizers, "Look, if you go with one the others'll get mad at you. And you can't go with them all, so it's best to leave them all alone and treat them all alike." Some of the women would join the union just, you know, if they liked the guy's looks or something like that. That's nothing unusual; it happens in everything.