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Posts Tagged ‘Women’s History Month’

Charlotte Hawkins Brown

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina women’s history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit on the women of our state’s past.

Noted African-American educator and founder of the Palmer Memorial Institute, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown was born in Henderson. She moved to Massachusetts with her family when she was young, but returned to North Carolina in 1901 to help educate southern blacks.

In 1902, Brown established the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia. She named the school for Alice Freeman Palmer, a former president of Wellesley College, who was a friend and benefactor. It first operated out of an old blacksmith shop, but eventually grew to house hundreds of students in more than a dozen buildings. Palmer grew to become known as an elite black preparatory school, hosting students from all over the country and world.

During her tenure at Palmer, Brown actively toured, speaking on behalf of women’s suffrage and racial equality. She devoted her life to the improvement of the African American community’s social standing and was active in the National Council of Negro Women, an organization founded by celebrated educator Mary McLeod Bethune in 1935. As president of the North Carolina State Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs, Brown also directed African American women’s formal civic experiences for more than 20 years.

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All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina women’s history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit on the women of our state’s past.

Clubwomen played an important role in shaping North Carolina life during the 20th century. Their influence extended to the ballot box, the workplace, public health, library development, the arts, conservation and literacy.

The North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs, as the “oldest, largest, charitable, non-denominational, nonpartisan service organization of volunteer women in North Carolina” was organized on May 26, 1902, on the campus of Salem Academy. The charter called for the promotion of education and for civic, cultural and social activities that would better the state. The original departments of work were education, library extension, village improvement and state charities.

Gertrude Weil recalled the meeting: “Women were not so accustomed in those days to leave their homes to attend meetings, and still less to leave their home-towns. Having no husband nor children to neglect by my absence, I was free to go . . . We arrived in Winston—by rail of course—at night . . .Our respective hostesses met us and whisked us off—in surries. . . That was the first annual meeting of what has become the biggest, strongest organization of women in the State.”

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An image of Garber from the  Winston Salem Journal

An image of Garber from the Winston Salem Journal

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina women’s history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit on the women of our state’s past.

A pioneer in the field of sports journalism, Mary Garber worked for the Winston-Salem Journal and its predecessor, the Twin City Sentinel, for more than 60 years. Garber got her break in the business when the sports editor at the Sentinel left to fight in World War II. She had previously written for the society page and as a general assignment reporter.

The only female sports reporter on the job in the area for nearly 30 years, Garber broke down racial barriers, too. In the midst of the segregationist atmosphere of the 1940s and 1950s, Garber was one of the few white reporters to cover black high school and college athletics.

During her more than 40-year career, Garber garnered more than 40 national and state awards for sports writing and was elected to the North Carolina Journalism and Sports Halls of Fame. She also became the first woman to join the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame in 2000.

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An image of  Wiggins from the Gaston Gazette.

An image of Wiggins from the Gaston Gazette.

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina women’s history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit on the women of our state’s past.

One of North Carolina’s best known folk heroines, Ella Mae Wiggins is most famous for helping to organize Gaston County mill workers for better working conditions and higher wages.

In the spring of 1929, the National Textile Workers’ Union—or NWTU—sought to establish Loray Mill in Gastonia as a southern stronghold for unions and began a strike there. After owners refused to negotiate with the strikers and conditions escalated, the state militia was called out to try and control the situation.

The events at Loray engendered support from workers in nearby mills, and in early April 1929 Wiggins and fellow workers from the American Mill in Bessemer City staged a spontaneous walkout and joined the NTWU. The group helped sustain the Loray strikers, and Wiggins emerged as a strong leader. The strike dragged on through the summer and fall of 1929 with tensions in the region continuing to escalate. They reached a head when Wiggins and other labor leaders were killed.

After her death, pressure from a variety of groups led Gaston County mill owners to reduce work week to 55 hours and improve general conditions.

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A Rural Free Delivery mail carrier at Chadbourn, early 1900s. Image from the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill

A Rural Free Delivery mail carrier at Chadbourn, early 1900s. Image from the North Carolina Collection
at UNC-Chapel Hill.

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina women’s history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit on the women of our state’s past.

Though she was first woman postmaster in the United States after the adoption of the Constitution, Sarah Decrow was born and died in near obscurity. Since most of her private correspondence has been lost to history, almost all of what we know about her comes from court records.

After the death of her first husband, she became a visible and controversial figure in the community. She was in and out of courtrooms for years as both a plaintiff and a defendant, getting in trouble over accusations of trespassing, adultery and tax excavation and taking her detractors to court for libel and slander. Future Supreme Court justice and notable Edenton resident James Iredell even once served as her counsel.

Decrow’s tenacious nature didn’t subside after she was commissioned as a postmaster in September 1792. In fact, she threatened to resign, feeling she had not been paid enough for her services. Assured by that she received the highest rate allowed for her position she continued in the office until the end of her life.

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Mary WycheAll this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina women’s history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit on the women of our state’s past.

Mary L. Wyche was chiefly responsible for establishing nursing as a profession in North Carolina. Raised in Vance County, she went to work at Rex Hospital in Raleigh and Watts Hospital in Durham shortly after completing her medical training in Philadelphia in 1894.

While at Rex in 1901 Wyche organized the Raleigh Nurses’ Association. The following year, she founded the North Carolina Nurses’ Association with 14 other nurses from around the state. During her six-year tenure as that organization’s president Wyche persuaded the legislature to enact a law concerning the registration of nurses.

Instrumental in the founding of several nursing schools, Wyche retired from active service in 1910 to work on a history of nursing in North Carolina. The history was published two years after her death in 1936. At least one writer claimed, “What Clara Barton has been to America, Mary Lewis Wyche has been to North Carolina.”

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Bayard Wootten

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina women’s history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit on the women of our state’s past.

Pioneering North Carolina photographer Bayard Wootten came from a long line of coastal creative-types. Her grandmother was a noted writer and editor, her father a photographer and her mother supported the family by painting decorations on hats and fans.

Wootten attended what is now UNC-G for a year and then taught school in Georgia before shifting her efforts to commercial art. After designing the first trademark for Caleb Bradham’s Pepsi-Cola, she transitioned from artwork to photography around 1904. She gained experience at Camp Glenn, the National Guard installation in Morehead City, where she was hired as photographer and director of publicity. Her business flourished and her half-brother George Moulton joined her full-time.

In 1910 Wootten protested sexual discrimination in a professional publication and later took part in suffrage demonstrations. As a pioneer in the field Wootten achieved numerous firsts, often endangering her safety to get the picture. She flew over New Bern in 1919 to get early aerial views, photographed Linville Falls after being lowered over a cliff by a rope, and late in life, shot a mill from atop a water tower.

The State Archives and North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill both hold a significant amount of her work.

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