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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Kathrine Robinson Everett, January 21, 1986. Interview C-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Durham voters resist the idea of a female city council member

Everett remembers the hotly contested campaign that made her the first woman to serve on the Durham City Council. Plenty of Durham residents did not mind telling Everett that they thought that politics was no place for a woman.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Kathrine Robinson Everett, January 21, 1986. Interview C-0006. 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

PAMELA DEAN:
That first campaign, particularly, was very hotly contested, very close.
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
Yes, it was very close. My husband was very anxious for Mary Semans to be elected, too. At that time there was a little feeling about the Dukes because some people felt they hadn't gotten as much salaries as they wanted. As you know, you always have a little bit of feeling about whether a rich person ought to have done a little more. Well, anyway, he determined that if there were anything he could do for Mary, he would do it. He worked for her so hard I told him, "I think you are going to get me beaten." [laughter] But, I came in, I ran against my next door neighbor, who I didn't feel was representing women very well, or some employees of the city. I thought he was rather biased. He had been on the council for twenty-odd years and was vice-chairman at the time. So I had a hard person to beat. When the election came around, I thought I had been beaten, probably. I won by 68 votes, which is much too close for comfort. So I didn't know whether he would appeal the entire election or not and thinking that maybe there might be some error because at those times you did not have the electric counting machines like you do today. It was very easy to make mistakes at four o'clock in the morning when you are counting ballots. But he didn't ask for the election to be thrown out.
PAMELA DEAN:
But he did ask for a recount.
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
I don't think he pushed it though he said he was going to challenge certain precincts. No, he did not. I thought maybe he'd asked for a recount for the whole thing. Well, he didn't.
PAMELA DEAN:
I was going through some newspapers and they mentioned that it was one of the "bitterest campaigns that Durham had seen for quite a while." Do you recall it being bitter?
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
Well, I'll tell you it wasn't pleasant. A lot of people did not want women on the council. And even after we got elected, at our first meeting, I remember one of the councilmembers who liked the man that I defeated very much, made a speech. He showed that he didn't really want either Mary or me. He had false teeth and he got kind of mixed up as he was talking, so he reached in his mouth and he took his teeth out and put them in his pocket and went on with his speech. So I wondered what we had gotten into. [laughter] I never will forget this occurrence, though his own wife had run and been defeated for a County Commissioner, I believe. Some of the Council members at first showed they were not too happy to have women on the council.
PAMELA DEAN:
Oh, really. Well, that's interesting. Did anybody ever say to your face that they didn't think that you ought to be running; that it wasn't the proper thing for a woman to be doing?
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
Oh, yes, they didn't mind telling you that they thought women ought to be home.
PAMELA DEAN:
What did you say to that?
KATHRINE ROBINSON EVERETT:
You wouldn't say much of anything. You'd just smile and [laughter] go on. Most of them later changed their mind.