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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 >>

Sexism endures in the tobacco business

Squires describes the endurance of sexism in the business. As late as 2001, auction attendees resisted her participation, and she encountered difficulty receiving the same pay as men. She overcame these obstacles with her determination to succeed, but also with practical practices, such as securing her payment in signed contracts before beginning work.

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:
Any thing else that you might do to distinguish your self? I mean, being a woman that's certainly [distinctive].
JANE SQUIRES:
That was usually enough.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
[Laughter]
JANE SQUIRES:
You know. That was always enough. If I got my foot in the door, after I was usually home free. But there were some people that just didn't want a woman [auctioneer].
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Oh, I can imagine.
JANE SQUIRES:
A lot of people.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
I can imagine, 'cause you are talking with some of the more conservative people on the face of the planet.
JANE SQUIRES:
Conservative! As a matter of fact I was in a burly market last year, for the first time and I thought that all of that, to be sure in the year 2001 had changed. This was last year and I said, "I just know, that never will this happen again." But last year I had it happen again in Weston, Missouri.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And what happened?
JANE SQUIRES:
"We don't want a woman to sell tobacco. Can you bring somebody else?" and I'd all ready flown in.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Now was this the warehouse?
JANE SQUIRES:
Yes.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
The warehouse man?
JANE SQUIRES:
And the farmers.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well, I was going to ask, it seems like you've managed to establish a good reputation for yourself with the buyers fairly quickly. What about the farmers?
JANE SQUIRES:
Farmers, over all, have been more open minded than any other group. Depending on the market. Georgia accepted me very well. I worked in Georgia for so long. And of course my home state [South Carolina]. I started in North Carolina, with the flue-cured, so they were always good to me here. I had a little trouble in Maryland. They didn't want a woman. And that really hasn't happened to me in years, until I went to Missouri this year.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Yes .
JANE SQUIRES:
And my response, it really took me by surprise because it has been so long since I've been faced with that. I was very calm. I said, "I understand completely. If you would like for me to sell until you get someone else here, that's fine. If you want me to sell around and let the farmers hear me, that's fine. If you want me to go to lunch, I'll go now." And that was at 9:00 in the morning. So they had a little meeting and said, "The farmers want to hear you." I sold two rows and ended up staying all day.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
That must have been very satisfying . . .
JANE SQUIRES:
It was humiliating at first, but then after that, everything was fine.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Did that happen more regularly when you first started?
JANE SQUIRES:
It hadn't happened in a lot time. But it happened a lot when I first started.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
That must have been pretty disheartening.
JANE SQUIRES:
Actually, I tried to find the humor in it. That was the only way I could get through it. [Laughter]
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And did you manage to do that?
JANE SQUIRES:
Just kept telling myself "They'll wish one day they'd let me sell it." Or, Hmmm, OK." I probably could have . . . . . . Had I let it worry me I would have quit a long time ago. But I tried not to ever let it bother me.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well, it's great that you've hung in there and stuck it out.
JANE SQUIRES:
I think they thought, at first, I was as novelty. And when they realized ("they" meaning buyers, warehouse men and farmers) when they realized I wasn't in it for the novelty part of it, everything kind of worked out.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
And once you demonstrated what you could do they . . . . . .
JANE SQUIRES:
I've often had to demonstrate before [they've let me auction tobacco]. Which is Ok. A lot of times you have to, which is just like filling out a resume. I never ever mind giving a chant, or a trial run or anything. Now I've been faced before with looking for a job and, luckily, have not had to look for one for a long time. Jobs did come fairly easily to me after I first got started. So other auctioneers didn't want you to come into their warehouse and sell. But again, I'll do the 90%-10%. 90% of them welcomed me with opened arms and 10% said "no way." As a matter of fact one said to me one time, "I'll be in a wheelchair, on oxygen before she sells tobacco behind me."
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well, I was going to say, auctioneers are kind of territorial and competitive, so it seems like the idea of a woman could really threaten these guys.
JANE SQUIRES:
And I never set out to be a threat. I just wanted to have my little market, get paid the same thing the guys got paid, when I felt like I was as good as the men. That's all I ever wanted
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Did you have difficulty getting the same pay?
JANE SQUIRES:
Yes.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
They felt like they could pay you less?
JANE SQUIRES:
Still feel like that.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Why?
JANE SQUIRES:
In 2002, and yes to both those questions.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
What happen when you're confronted with the pay differentiation like that?
JANE SQUIRES:
I would get it straight before I sign my contract. But repeatedly they would try. Because I would know. If I was going into a job, usually the auctioneer there before me was a friend of mine. I would know what the salary was. Never, except o one market, have always tried to under cut me.
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Well I can't say that I surprised by that statement. I'm sort of disappointed.
JANE SQUIRES:
It is dissapointing, but it's a fact of life. And I just learn to live with it and fight hard and get the same pay scale, or more. [Laughter]
WILLIAM MANSFIELD:
Hats off for you to that.
JANE SQUIRES:
Thanks. It took me along time. But I was bound and determined. When I was doing the same job, I wanted the same pay.