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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 >>

Two local women advocate suffrage ahead of their time

Tolbert remembers when almost everyone was against women's suffrage and those few young women who supported it seemed too ahead of their time. She describes Mary Yeargan, who learned about women's suffrage while studying at Cornell University, and Kate Wofford, who made speeches at Winthrop College on the topic. Wofford's activism was interrupted by the war and family obligations.

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

MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
But in the high school they elected three people to speak at commencement.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
And you were one.
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
And Rebecca Dial; her father was a United States senator; and Kate Wofford and I.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Did you speak on suffrage?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
The Brookfarm experiment was my subject.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Did you talk about Margaret Fuller.
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Oh, yes; all of that and I have often run into references to that experiment. I read it at Aunt Mary's and she suggested I write on it, and I followed her suggestion. And Kate Wofford wrote on Suffrage for Women.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
And what did she say?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Oh, she was dynamic; way ahead of her time. We thought she was plebian because she believed in votes for women. It wasn't approved in polite society, votes for women. And then this wonderful person from Laurens County, none other than Mary Yeargin, who was graduated from Columbia College in the early days, left Laurens and went to Cornell University and became so way out and so modern. When she came back, Wil Lou said she was a little tyke, her aunts and her neighbors would sit together and whisper, Mary came back believing in woman's suffrage! That was the worst thing you could have said about anybody.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Did she inspire Kate Wofford do you think?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
I don't know, but it was just the awakening of the times. It could have been in some way. I'm sure Kate knew the story of Mary Yeargen, who was drowned while boating at Cornell University.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Kate Wofford?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
No, Mary Yeargen. It's all in here; you'll have a good time reading this book. But Kate Wofford was a red-headed highlight a, dynamo from Winthrop College. She had a little twang in her speech. She came boldly on the stage with her arguments for Woman Suffrage. She eclipsed Rebecca Dial, my friend, and me, all to pieces of course. She won the prize (laughing) on woman's suffrage.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
What arguments did she use in favor of woman's suffrage? Do you remember?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Yes, to this day. A woman was made in the image of God just as a man was.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
She made this a point in her speech?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Yes, that was her point. And that she was entitled to all the privileges of citizens. She shouldn't be a chattel and be sold like a horse and a cow, and so on; that she was a human being, an individual worthy of her rights. And believe me, she knocked a home-run. And my red-headed Aunt Mary, who had coached me, didn't want to speak to the judges because they didn't give it to me. (laughing) I look back with mature appreciation. She earned it and she got it and I'm so glad because she was way ahead of her time, you see.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
You and she both went up to Winthrop, did you not?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Oh, yes and we kept up with each other. And by the way, when I stood that examination for the scholarship she stood it too. And I beat the brilliant red-headed Kate Wofford that time. I won the scholarship.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
So when you were at Winthrop your eyes had been opened to this new demand by women for the vote. Was there an organization for equal rights for women at Winthrop?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
No, not then. There might have been; as of now I know of no such organization.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Did not Kate Wofford attempt to put together a little group, a pro-suffrage group?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
She may have; I don't think so. Her years at Winthrop were interupted by the War and she went to Washington, served as yeoman in the navy, then came back and assumed responsibility;there may have been eight or nine children in her family, and each one would assist the next one through college. So, she and I did not graduate in 1914 together. She was a very wonderful person.