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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Marguerite Tolbert, June 14, 1974. Interview G-0062. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Winthrop's president embraces women's suffrage

Tolbert remembers when women gained the right to vote because D.B. Johnson, the president of Winthrop College, immediately started programs to train female students in public affairs. He also worked with adult education programs to help them prepare women voters.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Marguerite Tolbert, June 14, 1974. Interview G-0062. 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

CONSTANCE MYERS:
Miss Tolbert, what were you doing during those electric years, 1914-1920, when the movement for suffrage for women reached its height? What were you doing in those years?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
I was teaching school in the public schools of South Carolina. In the meantime, I had been invited by Dr. McGinnis, head of the education department at Winthrop . . .
CONSTANCE MYERS:
What was his first name?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Willis D., Willis D. McGinnis . . . to come back and teach at Winthrop. And well do we remember, Woodrow Wilson was president, became the president, from Princeton. And the women all over the world, from Miss Pankhurst in England and go back to 1828 at the Seneca group demanding suffrage and all of that . . . It was just rolling on and on. Many states out west already had it.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Were you in Rock Hill in those six years?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Yes, no . . .
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Just part of those six years?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
. . . just part of them.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Which ones?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
The last . . .
CONSTANCE MYERS:
1918 through 1920?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Yes. I focused there because that's where the bill was passed through the Congress.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
It passed Congress and was also ratified in the 1920's.
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Right. Woodrow Wilson signed it into law. Now I want to tell you how dynamic and ahead of his times D.B. Johnson was. The minute it was signed into law, he wrote Columbia University, I want the most forward looking suffragist, most capable, most dynamic teacher of social sciences to come to Winthrop to prepare my girls to participate in the affairs of their state and community, to be more informed so they will vote intelligently. They hadn't ever cast a vote before. Of course every Negro man in South Carolina could vote under our constitution but not a white woman nor even Negro woman could vote, and there were thirty thousand more women than men in South Carolina. Dr. Johnson wrote: Send me your most dynamic teacher. I want her to instruct our girls in the field of politics. Miss Ruth Rettinger arrived with the distinct assignment: prepare Winthrop girls to participate in their community affairs. I was at Winthrop when all of that was taking place.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Who came with Miss Rettinger? Was she the sole visiter at that time or was there a committee of women? She became an instructor on the faculty. Later I think there were others, I can't recall, but Miss Retinger was very capable and the leader. Was there not a citizenship school held on the Winthrop campus at one time in 1920 with Julia Peterkin in attendance and Mrs. Eulalie Sally in attendance?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Yes, and that could have been the South Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs. Dr. Johnson, as I said, was way ahead of his time. He invited Wil Lou Gray to bring her teachers of adults for training. Wil Lou had just been called from Maryland to come back to South Carolina and head the adult education movement. Nobody knew what that was. That was a new idea in those days. They didn't know that Christ had initiated when he called twelve adults about him, had started the adult education movement 2000 years ago. All Right, Dr. Johnson called Wil Lou to say, Miss Gray, I hear you're head of a great movement in South Carolina adult education. We know nothing about it. Winthrop wants to back you, and we'll do anything to help you.