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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Kathrine Robinson Everett, April 30, 1985. Interview C-0005. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A pioneer for women in higher education: law school at UNC-CH in 1920

Everett describes her experiences in finishing law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. According to Everett, UNC-CH was one of the only top law schools willing to admit women at that time and she describes what it was like to be one of the few women students there. Everett lived in a boarding house with other female students—who represented a broad range of academic interests—and she says that they tended to stick together. Being one of the few women students, however, involved a degree of pressure to do well for "the sake of women." When she graduated in 1920, Everett was at the top of her class. She offers an interesting anecdote here in which she partially attributes her success to luck because Judge Walter Clarke, who determined class ranking, "believed in women doing things."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Kathrine Robinson Everett, April 30, 1985. Interview C-0005. 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

Well, after the war ended I went to the University of North Carolina, after the University of Virginia turned me down. They wrote me they were "still ungracious enough not to take women."
PAMELA DEAN:
That was their wording?
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
Yes.
PAMELA DEAN:
They admitted to being ungracious.
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
They admitted it. And someone told me they did open the doors to women not too long after that. But Harvard of course had no women, and Yale, and I don't think Princeton. So then I wrote to the University of North Carolina and they couldn't have been nicer. They not only took me, but tried to adjust their schedule enough for me so that I could get in the courses I needed to graduate in one year there. And I found excellent teachers. I think they rate fairly well with Columbia, the way I judge it, and with Washington College of Law, where I'd had those courses. And so I was able to graduate that year in Chapel Hill, but stayed on to take the summer course to get ready for the Bar exam and then went direct from Chapel Hill to take the examination in August, I believe it was, that year.
PAMELA DEAN:
Tell me a little bit about that year at Chapel Hill. You lived in a rooming house, I believe.
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
Yes, I lived at Mrs. Daniel's. Mrs. Daniel was a widow with one daughter and she had this rooming house where several of the women had rooms, and a lot of the people-the women and the boys-ate. And I was there and roomed with a girl from Dobson: Rachel Freeman. Elizabeth Taylor was there from Morganton. By the way I think Rachel Freeman was interested in math; I think she was going to be a math teacher. And Elizabeth Taylor was interested in dramatics, acting. And there was Annie Smith from Durham there. She became a doctor, a very good doctor located in Durham. And there was another woman-Annie Twitty I believe was her name-who was going to be a pharmacist. So there were women doing all kinds of things. And we found it very pleasant there. Coming in for meals there was George Denny. And his mother visited him. George Denny started the Town Hall in New York. He had these talks and everything on the air and made quite a reputation with them. They were very successful. We did have an opportunity to meet Tom Wolfe, he would come occasionally for a meal. And then we knew Paul Green. It was an interesting year. The war had ended and a lot of the old students had come back. I remember at the law school, it was rather funny, I'd look down and see these boys' names on the outside of their shoes. They had fixed them evidently that way at camp so they wouldn't lose their shoes! [laughter] And it was an interesting time.
PAMELA DEAN:
I'm sure your studies kept you very busy, but did you have other extracurricular activities you were involved with?
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
Well the women kind of banned together. I remember at Halloween one time, the women put on a fair which was quite a success and it was fun. And we were fairly active in church. Parson Mose was there and I'm a Presbyterian, and of course he was. So we were very active there. Went to a lot of things. But as I said the women were pretty good workers; they did right well. You felt like you had to do as well as you can for the sake of the women.
PAMELA DEAN:
You thought of yourself as being something of a pioneer, an example?
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
Well, you realized that if you didn't do it maybe the next woman would have a harder time getting in. So you did feel a sense of responsibility.
PAMELA DEAN:
But you've said that you really didn't have a "hard time" as a woman. That your fellow students and professors . . .
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
They were real nice. The students would kid you a lot, that you were going to ruin the law school, with the women coming. But they were nice to you, they really were very considerate.
PAMELA DEAN:
They weren't serious about it.
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
No, I think you felt like they were doing it with their tongue in their cheek. When I took my license, I happened to be lucky enough that year to lead the class. Judge Walter Clarke wrote me a letter that I'd led the class.
PAMELA DEAN:
I suspect it was more than luck.
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
Well, Fred Borman who is a lawyer and who was in the law class from Chapel Hill, said that it was because I wrote in a feminine handwriting. Judge Clarke could tell that it was a woman and he believed in women doing things. So that was why! That was the only reason I got it! [laughter] Our examination papers were signed by numbers, not name. But I did get the award from the University-the Callaghan Law Prize, a senior law prize. So I did get that.