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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jane Squires, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0192. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A woman finds work as a tobacco auctioneer

Squires describes the tobacco auctioneer's chant, an important tool in the auctioneer's repertoire. As she does so, she recalls the challenge of finding work. When she began looking for work in the late 1980s, the USDA had only recently begun hiring to meet minority quotas, and Squires was able to take advantage of the climate this change fostered. She did not indulge in the profession's masculine camaraderie, though, preferring to keep her relationship with buyers and sellers strictly professional. Squires also briefly notes the decline in volume of tobacco sales.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jane Squires, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0192. 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

WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Tell, me about the chant. That's what everybody knows the auctioneer for.
JANE SQUIRES:
The chant is important, I think. But it's not the most important thing at all. I've worked on my chant. It came a little bit easier for me than some, because I sing in a band and have a musical background. As well as Paige [Roberts] that trained me, was musical. You'll find that most of the auctioneers that have a rhythmic chant are musical. They carry the buyers better. The sale runs more smoothly. It's just much more pleasing to listen to. So I didn't have any problem with that. I didn't really have any problem with any of it. It all came fairly naturally to me. My obstacles were getting people to hire a woman.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I can only imagine what a challenge that was.
JANE SQUIRES:
I've been told that had I tried two years before that I never would have gotten a job. But I hit it just at the right time. The USDA were hiring blacks, to meet minority quotas. Hiring women, black women, which was very unheard of in the tobacco market. And then there had never been a woman auctioneer. There were several women ticket markers and by then there were some women [tobacco] graders. I think - - The people told me that told me had I tried it two or three years earlier I just never would have made it. The business wasn't really ready for a woman auctioneer. But I think I started at just the right time. Late for me. I wished I'd done it right out of school. But I met the right . . . . . .. I met some people who helped me and gave me some good advice. And I listened a lot. I didn't comment a lot. I just watched and observed, a year before I started before I started work.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
What kind of advice did they give you?
JANE SQUIRES:
Stand my ground. The camaraderie with the tobacco companies and the auctioneers and the ticket markers is wonderful. But I wanted to be able to leave the sale and go to my room, because I traveled. I was never at home on the market, until last year, and leave it behind me. It's hard for a lot of auctioneers to do [that]. It was't that hard for me to do, because I was the only woman. Unless there was a woman grader or ticket marker on my market, I was in a motel, unless a man brought his wife. A lot of times men did take their . . . . . . there was usually another woman there. I wouldn't have any trouble leaving the sale. You've often heard that men talk about tobacco all night long. Have you ever heard that? The tobacco buyers and all?
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I've heard they get together and talk, but I wasn't sure it was always about tobacco.
JANE SQUIRES:
Well, probably not. But it was easy for me to detach myself from the professionalism of the sale and the camaraderie with the buyers and warehousemen. And I just did my own thing in the afternoon. I'd take classes some places or go to antique shops. I just occupied my time on those long afternoons away from home and never got too . . . . . .. I always wanted to keep a business relationship with men. I had to let them know that it was completely . . . . . .. That I was there to do a job, just like they were.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Did you have instances where it was difficult to convince them that you were there to sell tobacco and . . .
JANE SQUIRES:
Well I had, like I say, to prove myself. A lot of times you'll get a new set of buyers. If you're on the same market for six or seven years you're still going to get a new set of buyers every year. Yeah, I had to prove myself every year. And tested and tested and tested and tested. But I got to the point that I was just used to it. The same thing happened this year. It's even going on now.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Would you care to illustrate that with an example?
JANE SQUIRES:
Opening day, this year, A buyer asked me, "Do you ever regret not being in the grading service?" I said, "No. I've never regretted it at all." I'm glad I took the avenue that I took, as far as the auction end. There are no benefits as far as long term retirement. You're self employed. That aspect of it, I probably would have done things a little differently, where I am now. Three years ago, between flue cured and burley I sold 40 million pounds. This year I'll sell six [million].
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
That's a big change.
JANE SQUIRES:
I sold nineteen flue cured and twenty-one burley in '99 and this year I'll sell six million. That's a big difference.