Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Marguerite Tolbert, June 14, 1974. Interview G-0062. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Winthrop College incites two controversies over equal rights in the workplace

Tolbert remembers a controversy over the smaller salaries paid to female faculty members at Winthrop College. She had to offer a higher salary to a male camp leader even though she knew it would be unfair to her older female staff. Another Winthrop administrator fired two tenured female professors, which incited the American Association of University Women to stop recognizing the college.

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:
Would you say that the students at Winthrop leaned along in that direction toward women's suffrage or were they apathetic as a whole?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
I think they had to be stimulated.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
You think that they favored suffrage and . . .
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
But they had to be stimulated, I think. They were so engrossed in this and that, it required a good deal of stimulation. I think that's the reason that D.B. Johnson wanted Miss Rettinger to come.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Do you believe, then, that Dr. Johnson and the other administrators at Winthrop favored suffrage for women?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Oh, I think they did. I don't think all of them did, but I think most of them did.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Did you ever hear any anti-suffrage sentiment at Winthrop?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
I don't think so. I don't recall any. I really don't. But I can remember the feud about salaries for men and women. That also fell right in my lap when I had, during World War II, to set up a camp for underprivileged boys. I had to get the best. It was during war and you couldn't get men on your staff. Finally I interviewed Bill Dillard who was sophmore coach, at Clemson I challenged him to come and help me. I couldn't get him without paying him more than I was paying my women teachers and helpers. So, for the first time in my life, I was up against it as an administrator. So I came home worried. "You've been saying all along ‘equal pay for equal service’ backed by equal experience, but it has to be altered by the situation." The whole of South Carolina was overrun with dilinquent boys. The coaches and recreation leaders were abroad in the war. Citizens poured to Columbia to interview the state superintendent of education: "for heaven's sakes, help us with our lawless youth group."
CONSTANCE MYERS:
This was in the forties?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Yes. "Do something! They're breaking out the windows in the mills, in the churches, and running riot and filling up the penitentiary." We didn't have juvenile judges then. "Something has to be done!" Dr. J. H. Hope put the baby on my front doorstep.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
So it was a matter of need.
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
It was a matter of emergency. So I called my teachers together. I got the finest teachers in the state. Most of them came from Parker school district because they knew good progressive education; they knew how to inspire campers to study, they knew trees and birds and fishing and hiking and all those things that I wanted my boys to know, as well as good methods of teaching. I admitted, "I'm not paying you what I'm paying the head men at this camp. Why?—it's a matter of necessity." And I had to have men for boys. The boys came there drinking, chewing tobacca and stealing. Believe you me, we had a challenge. It was exciting. But right there, pinpoint that point, several women protested their salaries were lower than the men's.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Do you remember at Winthrop if there was much talk among the student body about that episode? Was the student body aware when Miss Nettie Wyson and Miss Hughes were fired?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
I don't think it percolated down too much, but we all were concerned that Miss Wyson and Miss Hughes dared to be leaders in demanding equal salaries with the men. Now when Phelps was there, he fired teachers without a hearing, and that's when they dropped us from the AAUW. That's what Winthrop became: notorious from coast to coast. We were not recognized by AAUW for years on end.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Why did Mr. Phelps fire teachers?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Because of tenure, something about tenure.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
And they must have been women teachers.
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Yes, two women teachers. He was urged to do it by others on the faculty, even by women on the faculty who ought to have nown better and known that you couldn't break tenure. See what I mean?
CONSTANCE MYERS:
I see.
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
AAUW and Dr. Johnson had struggled to get us approved by the American Association of University women and Miss Fraser too—they dropped us like a hotcake. I became state president of the AAUW and I became a champion to get Winthrop back on the accepted list. But there it was and Winthrop stayed off for years on end.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Back at the time of Miss Wyson's and Miss Hughes's firing do you remember the protest resignations of three other instructors? There were three protest resignations at that time.