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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Gladys Avery Tillett, March 20, 1974. Interview G-0061. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Duties as the first president of the League of Women Voters in Charlotte, North Carolina

Tillett explains how she became the first president of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters in Charlotte, North Carolina. Having given birth to her two children already, Tillett argues that she had more freedom to become involved in public life. The support of her husband, as she outlines here, was also important. Having helped to form the League in Charlotte, Tillett describes how the League sought to provide women voters with information about the candidates for mayor so that they could make an informed decision at the polls. Her comments reveal the League's early work and its early strategies.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Gladys Avery Tillett, March 20, 1974. Interview G-0061. 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:
I'm thinking about after the war was… you came back… you had your first baby, then, before…
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
No, he got back before the baby was born. We lived near his parents until we could get settled and get started again. Then I had another baby. They were about sixteen months apart, which was a great asset when I got into politics because nobody could say that I didn't have a family. I had two…
JACQUELYN HALL:
Very important, that's right. So you had already had two children before you started getting involved in…
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Well, I guess you'd say so, although I was already interested in public affairs.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You went to the meeting in Baltimore and came back to work in the League of Women Voters.
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Yes. My training at college was a natural forerunner of interest in the League of Women Voters. And the League offered, of course, an opportunity and we began the League of Women Voters… I had the first candidates meeting in North Carolina, for example, where opposing candidates told what they stood for. More than one candidate—the mayor's race was non-partisan. But—the mayor's race. But I knew, I'd learned, you see, at the National League of Women Voters meeting about candidates meetings, which were planned for women coming and hearing them and having an opportunity to know and evaluate their stand on public issues and make a decision on whom to vote for. Which would seem normal now but which was new then. So the first candidates meeting that I put on, the first candidates meeting in North Carolina, was for the mayor of Charlotte—a race between two men for the office.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you the first state president or the first …
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
No, I was not the state president… I was the state president later, but I began as local president in Charlotte.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who was the first state president?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
It was Gertrude Weil. She gave financial support to the League and meant a great deal to its devlopment and was a wonderful leader in North Carolina. (It was a great privilege for a young woman to be associated with Gertrude Weil, Dr. Elliott and Mrs. Palmer German.)
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you knew Gertrude Weil. Did you work with her?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Yes. She was a wonderful woman, educated in one of the northern colleges, I think. And I've wondered where her papers are. Have you ever tried to get any from her sister? She…
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where is her sister?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Wilmington, and I can't at the moment think of her married name… she was Janet Weil. (interrupted by telephone call)
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, tell me some of the issues that the League of Women Voters worked on. What were some of the…
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
6 Well, the mayor's race was just two men running for public office and each campaigning on who was best qualified. * For the issue of the legal status of women, see the attached report of the state meeting of the League. And so I decided that we would try to have a candidates meeting, and after the women had heard them they would be better equipped to vote for them, and I decided that I would go to the various leaders of the community. (I talked it over with my husband.) And got them, the political men leaders, interested in it. And so I did. And I talked to the party leaders and I told them we would like to have this meeting to give the women an opportunity to see and hear the candidates and increase interest in registration. And they thought it was an excellent idea and all of them agreed to it. So we planned the meeting in a public meeting hall, had it reserved and got all set. And then the campaign got tense and feeling ran high. And the political leaders decided that we better not have the meeting. So… they didn't come to see me. They went to see my hus|band. He said, "Well, I'll take your message home. I'll talk to her. And I'll let you know what she says." So he came home and said… he mentioned the names of the political leaders… They went to your husband and he brought the message… And said that they had become concerned and that they had asked him to ask me if I would be willing not to have the meeting. And of course there was silence. He didn't say anything else. He just brought me the message. I thought about it a little while and I said, "Well, I am not willing, because I went to every one of them, talked it over with them and told them I wanted the women to have the opportunity to hear the people they were going to be called on to vote for. And I won't stop it." And he said, "Congratulations." [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well he was really supportive of you, then.
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Oh very, very.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why was he so willing to have you involved…
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Well, he… I think he was probably the most, one of the most public spirited people I've ever known.