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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 >>

Southern female leadership in the labor movement

Here, McGill discusses why she thought so few women adopted leadership roles within the southern labor movement. According to McGill, she was one of the first female leaders to be taken seriously. For the most part, she believed that most women workers were content to look up to men as potential leaders without taking into consideration their own potential to work in that capacity. Women who did lead, she argues, often had to conceal their level of intelligence in order to garner the support of male union members. Despite these conditions, McGill believes that she was not discriminated against nor was she passed up for various opportunities solely because she was a woman. This demonstrates one way in which gender operated in working communities and union activities and reveals the uniqueness of McGill's experience as a southern woman leader in the labor movement.

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

JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, most of the officers of the union have been men, in spite of the fact that it was a predominantly female industry.
EULA MCGILL:
I think that was because the women allowed it to happen and never considered themselves able to lead. I think they felt pretty well content to play the soldier role. I know that most of them that I knew of, most of our business agents (a lot of our business agents) were women. A lot of the leaders on the local and district level were women-well, for the very reason that I tell you, that a lot of the women, they look up to a man.
JACQUELYN HALL:
They do look up to a man?
EULA MCGILL:
I think they certainly have, and I think they'll do it to a big degree. They'll feel that a man can deal with another man better-and, too, a lot of the bosses. I guess I was about the first woman business agent in the South. I believe it's safer to say that I was the first one to be taken serious, was able to be treated on an equal basis in dealing with them. I had very few men that I dealt with when I was a business agent that ever tried to belittle me or to think of me as unable to do the job, or felt that they were superior to me, or had any qualms about dealing with me. And certainly Gladys Dickason had the respect of everybody, whether they liked her or not. She was respected for her brains and her ability to do the job by industry.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about by other people in the union?
EULA MCGILL:
Oh, the other people in the union definitely. Sometimes there was a little even in the union. Men are men [laughter] and they're going to be a little jealous about a woman. You have to be careful how you handle these men; if you're smarter, sometimes you've got to let them think it's their idea [laughter].
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you do that?
EULA MCGILL:
Yes, yes. I've always sensed. I had one guy one time. I called Gladys and I said, "I can get a settlement but he ain't going to agree with me. You're going to have to send somebody with pants on." And he came in and he said yes. He wasn't going to say yes to me. So I called Gladys and I told her, "He ain't going to say yes to me. Send anybody." A guy come in for thirty minutes, and I introduced him and gave him some kind of a title. And the agreement was signed [laughter].
JACQUELYN HALL:
How could you tell that that was going to be the case?
EULA MCGILL:
I just had a feeling. I knew I was winning the arguments. And the plant manager there, I'd known him for a pretty good while, and I'd always gotten along with him. Before his superior came in the picture I pretty well figured that the plant manager thought I wasright. It was just a hunch I had that the guy wasn't going to give in to me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you think that you would be, hypothetically, if you had been a man, in a different position in the union today?
EULA MCGILL:
No. No, I don't think so, I don't really think so. I don't think I've ever been discriminated against because I was a woman in the union. No, I don't think so, because there were just other women that had more seniority and were certainly more capable of being on the board than I was. I feel that way. I certainly felt that those people had been in the union longer than me. And certainly Gladys Dickason was far more able. She was a professor of economics; and I'd certainly rather have seen her sitting on the board than me, although I did have more seniority than her.I felt they deserved the recognition.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You haven't seen men be promoted over you or receive more recognition than you received?
EULA MCGILL:
No, no. No sir, I've always been equal to anybody that's been in the South, with the exception of southern directors.
JACQUELYN HALL:
This is an impossible question, but you say (and I think this is true) that most women are content to play the soldier role and content to work behind the scenes to make their contribution.
EULA MCGILL:
Oh, I've never worked behind the scenes [laughter].
JACQUELYN HALL:
I know. How do you account for the fact that you have not followed that kind of traditional role at all?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, I've always had my say. I never stood back. I always opened my mouth, whether it was right or wrong; I had my say. Luckily I've been right more than I've been wrong. And I've never hesitated to speak my mind, and to anybody in this union from Hillman on down. I wasn't fearful of them. And if I had have been I'd have still said it, because I felt it needed to be said. And I have never had anything but cooperation from everybody in the union that I've worked with and talked about.