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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Kennedy Goodwin, September 26, 1997. Interview R-0113. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Career as a medical attention and issue of "choice" for working women

Goodwin describes how she came to work at Lincoln Hospital in 1938 as coincidental and fortuitous. Having initially hoped to pursue a degree in medicine, Goodwin took a temporary job at Lincoln Hospital, which eventually became permanent. Goodwin explains that her subsequent career was not necessarily a choice. Indeed, she argues that she would have preferred to stay at home, as did her mother and her sister, to take care of her family; however, the untimely demise of her husband necessitated that she work to provide for her child. Throughout the passage, Goodwin addresses the kinds of career opportunities available to African American women in Durham, North Carolina, and the challenges of being a single mother.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Margaret Kennedy Goodwin, September 26, 1997. Interview R-0113. 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

ANGELA HORNSBY:
Okay, Mrs. Goodwin, again we're on the subject of your husband and you mentioned how your work at Lincoln and the church and your family held you together during that time. And I was curious that you mentioned that you worked at Lincoln before you got married. Did you plan on, um, leaving your career at Lincoln if the events in World War II hadn't happened? Would you have been a working mom?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
I had no plans. This was all happenstance, the whole, that whole part of my life. I had not planned to work at Lincoln. The lady that was there left to get married and just left. No—
ANGELA HORNSBY:
When was that?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
In 1938.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
So, you just, did you just come out of?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
Talladega. And I was going to be a research chemist. I had my trunk, everything at Woodsole, Massachusetts ready to go and do [pause] research chemistry. And it just happened that — it just didn't happen — God directed it, that Olivia Clover left and they said come hold the department together until we can find somebody. And it was just like a rabbit in the briar patch. It was just what I wanted. I just loved it. I loved the work, I loved working with people. And, it was just what I needed at that time.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
Um, did you, let's see, growing up, did you get a sense that it was okay for women to work outside the home, or was there an understanding that once you got married you were supposed to stay home?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
I don't think I had any conscious thoughts about that at all. It was not the, you know, the norm for women to work outside the home, but it was during the period that it was beginning to change. And you see, I had the North Carolina Mutual as an example. Most of their employees were women.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
What did they do?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
Secretarial work, statisticians. One lady was a business manager. Women were sort of coming into their own, not, not entirely, but breaking out of the shell of home, and the kitchen, and raising the kids. You did both. And most trained, most college trained women did both well. You budgeted your time, you made sure that, you know, life was not all just work. If you had a home and a husband you made time to make both work. I know after Lewis died and I was working, I had to constantly make time to be with my child, to let her know that she was loved and that certain things were acceptable and certain things were not. You know, training her in the way that I would like her to, to be raised with consideration for other people. 'Cause she was an only child too for a long time. And my mother and father and her aunts and uncles tried their best to spoil her, [Laughter] which was good because she had no father figure in the house. And, as I look back on it, everything that has happened to me has been fortuitous. It's enriched my life in ways I might not have chosen, but it has made my outlook on life good.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
So there was no conflict in your mind of sort of what role you were to play as a woman. Either as a career woman or either as strictly a housewife?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
I wasn't considering it as a career. It was just something I had to do to put food on my child's table. It was not something I would have chosen.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
What would you have chosen?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
I would have chosen to stay at home, and cook and clean and, uh, and work outside the home as an avocation, but home would have been my choice simply because I was raised in that atmosphere. My mother worked at the Mutual until the day she got married and never set foot in there again. My sister worked there, again, at the Mutual and the day she got married was the last day—both of them happened to have married wonderful men who took care of them, who brought their money home, who invested and left them comfortable enough not to ever have to work again. I was not quite in that position, but as I say, everything that happened— I came back here to live with my parents, I had no house rent to pay, I took care of my needs and Marsha's needs and I was comfortable in that my mother was here to take care of her [Marsha], to spoil her all she wanted to during the day and then turn her over to me in the evening. And it worked out well for me. I do believe there is a master plan and, that was my part of it. I never had aspirations to, [pause] to be as you say, a career woman. Even though I was trained in chemistry, work would always have been avocation, not vocation for me.