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Oral History Interview with Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, November 5, 1974. Interview G-0005. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson was born into a mountaineer family in Marion, Virginia. Her collegiate studies in social work benefited her later work with the YWCA. After graduate school, she immediately joined the YWCA as an industrial secretary, where she remained for over forty years. She helped to organize conferences and worked with Louise McLaren in establishing the Southern Summer School for Women Workers. She later became involved with the student YWCA. Anderson recalls the difference in class background between industrial secretaries and women workers. The most powerful tensions, however, emerged over the religious nature of the YWCA. Religion influenced workers' liberal ideas about race and labor conditions, which often led to the accusation that the workers were communists. Regardless of the communists' effective organizing strategies, southern textile mill workers rejected their atheist beliefs and liberal racial views. As a result, association with communist ideas frequently undermined efforts to organize labor unions in the South. Moreover, the YWCA's active involvement with labor unions caused a division among the wealthy pro-labor members and the working-class women. Anderson expresses her frustration with organizers who would instigate a strike and then leave, often creating difficulties for the workers. Anderson's neighbor and fellow YWCA coworker, Sue Stille, joins the interview and shares her positive experiences with the YWCA. Stille describes the YWCA as a place where strong female leaders developed; however, because of the Ford Foundation's acquisition of the YWCA, she believes men will gain firmer control over the organization. Finally, Anderson discusses her marriage to the writer Sherwood Anderson. Their married life incorporated labor activism; they helped with the strikes in Danville, Virginia, Gastonia, North Carolina, and Marion, South Carolina strikes. She reveals her protection of her husband's private papers. The interview ends with a discussion about the future of her family's ownership of Copenhaver Industries.

    NOTE: Audio for this interview is not available.

    Excerpts
  • Abby Aldrich Rockefeller's attention to working-class women
  • The impact of religious beliefs on interracial cooperative efforts
  • A surprising example of how business leadership connected interracial cooperation with Communism
  • Class and religious background of YWCA workers
  • The appeal of YWCA for women workers; difference between YMCA and YWCA
  • Absorption of the YWCA under the banner of the YMCA
  • Racial integration of the YWCA caused a ripple effect in intergroup class relations
  • Importance of industrial working women as the YWCA splintered along class lines
  • Labor unions influenced elite and working-class women differently
  • Communists' racial and religious beliefs hampered their success in organizing
  • Communism served a powerful role in harming organized worker activity
  • Anderson describes her family business and the changes in labor
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • Trade-unions--Officials and employees--Southern States--Education
  • Anderson, Sherwood, 1876-1941
  • Women in trade-unions
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.