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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, August 4, 1974. Interview G-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role of race and class in YWCA leadership in the 1920s

Lumpkin discusses the backgrounds of the women involved in the YWCA. After outlining some of the young women Lumpkin knew from college who were involved, Lumpkin describes a woman named Adele Ruffin. Ruffin was an African American woman who worked to get more noticeable roles for African American women in the YWCA. Lumpkin describes reactions to Ruffin's work and contrasts it to that of another African American woman whose name she cannot recall.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, August 4, 1974. Interview G-0034. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
What it made me wonder was what was the class background of the young women who became involved in the YWCA with you, and went on to become the student that…
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
Let's make a distinction here. There was first, as I remember it, and now you bring it back a little, the group of girls in college that I felt most intellectually congenial with who were also interested, we'll say in History as I was, several of whom who went on to teach; most of them taught in the public school system, not so many, maybe seven, eight, nine - good friends, splendid minds. There was another young woman who was really a girl from - and I guess this is maybe what you are thinking of - I may have spoken of her, she comes back to me now, and she was probably from the country, and had more or less a rural education and made her own way and I suspect may have been working her way along in college; we had various ways of doing that then. A good many of us were doing it. And, she was a very bright person, extremely bright. And later did have a career; I cannot think what was the nature of it, but I think it was in the field, that I went into, Sociology. And she became a very excellent scholar. I cannot even recall her name, but there was this group, within college. Now, they did not go along with me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You were the only one?
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
Now I'm not going to say I was the only one because I can't remember. There were numbers of us in the last year or two when I was there kind of acting as secretary. I used to take a fairly… maybe eight or ten people if I recall rightly, from Brenau. We'd go to the YWCA summer student conferences. This was some measure of interest. And to save me, I can't remember out of these groups whether there were others who had begun to develop my types of interests in these racial matters and so on. What I do know was that at this period the national staff, that would come around visiting us… Actually, the country was split into regions then and they were the south Atlantic staff, but that doesn't matter. They were on the national staff. They were beginning to build up a student leadership in the colleges so that they would, more or less, pick out people that they thought had potential interests in the work of the YW and the problems that it was dealing with and have us go to more or less regional conferences and other groups. And it was really in such a regional conference that a group of us—8 or 10 or 15, I don't recall how many we were there—had to sit down and thrash through how we were going to behave and deal with ourselves when we were to listen to Miss Ruffin—which was her real name. This Negro woman leader in the Y. And it was at one of those that we confronted that. Now we were from various colleges and I was the only one from my college at that meeting. So that the number was not… I'll go back. I'm trying to say that there were those with whom I had intellectual interests at college, or one group [of them] These others (in the YWCA) were much more touching people out in other colleges and the national staff people.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I came across some interesting things about Adele Ruffin as I was doing my research because Mrs John Hope—did you know her?
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
The name rings a bell.
JACQUELYN HALL:
She was John Hope's wife, who was president of Atlanta University. But she was involved in Atlanta with other black women. Charlotte Hawkins Brown and women like that—
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
—in trying to get more autonomy and recognition for black women within the YWCA on the national level.
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And one of the major grievances of the women in Atlanta—this was in about 1918 to 1920. Before World War I. The controversy went on then up… right after the war.
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
That preceded my time on the national staff, see.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Right. These were the older women. They did not want Adele Ruffin to be the—
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
The black woman on, Negro woman on the national staff. There was a real thing over that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Could you tell me more about that whole…
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
It's very vague, because I came in at the end of the line, when this was being ironed out. There was one woman, whose name I do not recall, who was also a Negro on the national staff, a black woman, who was the opposite of Miss Ruffin. And who could not agree with Miss Ruffin for her catering to white sensibilities. She would not, for anything, have done what Miss Ruffin did at the home of this city board member a wealthy woman in Richmond. When we were meeting… I guess it was our staff meeting of the region. But all branches of the Y were in this staff. The city people, the industrial staff people, our student staff people. At that time I think we had five student staff people on just the South Atlantic area. This was right at the beginning of my career on the staff. Around 1920, 1921. And we met out at this woman's house. And that was the occasion when Miss Ruffin sat in, what amounted to the kitchen, I guess, while we had our tea. She had some out there. And then came and joined us. Right now this makes me shiver. And the woman in whose home this was was a magnificent person. She was a woman I admired down to the ground. She saw no other way. And Miss Ruffin let herself do that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you become aware of the criticism of Adele Ruffin?
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
I became aware of it right at such times as that. These occasions. I knew this controversy was going on. I knew it was going on in the cities. And I knew from our staff, our Negro staff members that they wouldn't tolerate, for themselves, the things that Miss Ruffin would accept. Of course when I first saw her none of that arose because we just had her in a meeting and this dire problem of ingesting food didn't arise.
JACQUELYN HALL:
She was finally…
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
I don't know what happened to her. She may have retired. She was not too young then. They may have kept her. I just honestly don't know what… This just fades now into oblivion because I was by that time just deeply involved in our own group on the student staff.