Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Kennedy Goodwin, September 26, 1997. Interview R-0113. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Childhood aspirations and interest in science

Goodwin describes her childhood aspirations to make a difference in the world, citing her parents and her reverend as particularly influential figures. Goodwin's interests had always been scientific and she explains how despite limited opportunities for African American women in terms of career choice, she was encouraged to pursue her scientific interests. Although earlier, Goodwin indicates her preference would have been to stay home with her child, rather than to work, her comments here are indicative of childhood ambitions to pursue a career that was at odds with prevailing gender expectations.

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:
So, um, as a child then, what were your aspirations? What did you want to do with your life when you were a child?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
Grow up, be a grown person and, contribute something to, you know, the world. Make a reason for my having lived in the world, you know, given the privilege of living in the world. I wanted to be an asset to the community, whatever way, whatever road I took. I wanted to. [pause] Now they say, are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution? I was not conscious of that then but I always wanted to be a part of the solution.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
You mentioned, um, I know when we spoke before of some influential figures in your life. And of course your parents were a large part of that.
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
My parents, my pastor Rev. Miles Mark Fisher.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
Explain what his influence on you was, the Rev. Fisher.
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
The dependence on God mostly. He was a frail gentleman. Even before he had polio, he was frail and athletic, you know. Energetic, but not large of stature. But to see him out there with the boys at the, what we call the church house which was his community center. Now they call them community centers. Coaching a basketball team or a tennis team or a pingpoing team or a football team — we didn't have much of a football team then — but many young people in Durham, boys and girls, have gotten a foundation right there in that church house to go and do for somebody. I got it at home, I got it at church, I got it even working up at Lincoln. Mr. Rich, who was the director of Lincoln, was not a loud, he was a soft-spoken man. But he was always going around to different companies, foundations, to get the money to keep Lincoln going. Not only to provide help for sick people, but to provide educational and career opportunities for young black people because they weren't a whole lot. You were a teacher, a nurse or a secretary and that was about the limit, for, particularly women, black women, then.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
All the more interesting that you decided to uh, you had this great interest in chemistry.
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
Mmhmm, I don't know, yes, I do know where that came from. I had a wonderful chemistry teacher in high school and I always wanted to be like her. [pause] It, I guess that was just built into my growing up. When Christmas time came, I always got a chemistry set, to put together, to see what happened.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
Who gave you a chemistry set?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
Mom and Daddy. They knew my interest was, lay in the sciences and —
ANGELA HORNSBY:
And they nurtured that?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
Sure, Mmhmm. I did get dolls every now and then but I was much more interested in the chemistry set. And my child, I guess the influence spilled over on her because every doll she ever got she opened up to see what was inside of it. [Laughter] She operated on the dolls. I remember when talking dolls, walking and talking dolls were first invented. [Laughter] I saved my hard-earned money to buy my child a walking, talking doll. And she played with it for a few days, but 'bout three days later she came and said this is what makes it talk. She had operated on the doll. And I couldn't scold her or spank her because, that was my interest too. I wanted to know what made the doll work. I wouldn't have dared to open it up. [Laughter] But growing up introverted. As I say, and I read a lot. And the biological sciences, chemistry and physics and, and anatomy, biology —.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
These are all subjects you studied —
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
And mathematics. I had a keen interest in math, I guess, from the other side, from the Mutual side though, I never wanted to work at the Mutual. I worked up there for a week and I knew that was not for me.