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Women’s Influence in Post-WWII Civil Rights Movement

March 4, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, Oral history, Political history, Social history

“Women polish the silver and water the plants and wait to be really needed.”

~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960

While this quote seems a little extreme, I think it is fitting for the discussion of women as a part of the Civil Rights Movement following World War II. During this time period, women stepped up as leaders in their communities – they became the heads of NAACP chapters in their towns, they spearheaded protests such as sit-ins, and were great advocates for educational reform. Women who had previously been counted on solely in their own homes were now of great use to the general community.

Anne Braden

Women such as Anne Braden, an active Civil Rights Leader for many years throughout Kentucky, were critical to the many developments in racial relations that occurred throughout the United States following World War II.

Another such woman was Mae Street Kidd, who stepped up as a legislator, leader, and role model for women everywhere. Helen Fisher Frye‘s story of influence was included in Chapter 3 of Freedom on the Border.  Her oral history details her influence as the President of the NAACP in Danville, Kentucky.

Another area in which women demonstrated their abilities following World War II was in organizing protests. The 1964 March on Frankfort was attended by many notable Kentucky women, including two who give Oral History accounts detailed on page 112-113 of Freedom on the Border.

In addition, many student led organizations were spearheaded by women following World War II. Several of the Oral Histories in chapter 3 of Freedom on the Border are accounts by female students, such as Helen Fisher Frye and Anna Beason speak on their influence and participation in protests and organizations for Civil Rights.

All in all, the Civil Rights movement was greatly affected by a great number of women in a variety of ways. They led campaigns, held offices, led NAACP chapters and other local organizations, organized protests, influenced students, participated in national marches, and changed the face of the Civil Rights movement. Without the influence and determination of women such as these, the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful as it was, and our nation would not be where it is today.

“Women really do rule the world.  They just haven’t figured it out yet.  When they do, and they will, we’re all in big big trouble.”  ~Unknown

Resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Braden

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mae_Street_Kidd

http://books.google.com/books?id=kBN_GwAACAAJ&dq=Mignon+McLaughlin&hl=en&sa=X&ei=OgU2UZPJNqfh0QGvuYD4DQ&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA

http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/record.php?note_id=764

http://books.google.com/books/about/Freedom_on_the_Border.html?id=bnj0JHhoZ4oC

http://media.concreteloop.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/braden1.gif

http://owl.library.louisville.edu/2005/Owl0205.pdf

http://www.quoteidea.com/authors/doctor-leon-of-drleonscom-quotes

Working in a Louisville hospital during World War II

February 25, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, Military history, Primary source

Constance Cline Phillips, 1945, UNC-Greensboro Library

Constance Cline Phillips, 1945

Constance Cline Phillips of North Carolina dropped out of college and signed up for the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in February 1945.  After attending six weeks of basic training at Fort Des Moines in Iowa, she spent  four months in X-ray technician school at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.  Then, she was stationed at Nichols General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky from August 1945 to March 1946 when it was closed.

Phillips (1924- ) gave an oral history interview along with her papers and documentation about this time period in her life to the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (where she returned after the war to finish her education in what was then called the Woman’s College).

X-Ray Department Staff of Nicolas General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, Fall 1945. According to the identification on the back of the photo, "This is an example of the hard life we lead." Constance Cline Phillips is kneeling at left. From UNC-Greensboro Libraries Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

X-Ray Department Staff of Nicolas General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, Fall 1945

In her interview, Phillips talked about the Nichols General Hospital in Louisville where her work as an X-ray technician was part of medical experimentations using wounded veterans.  She remembered Nichols General as a “nerve center” where soldiers whose injuries made them into paraplegics.  Many of them, she said, had extremity nerve injuries – some had been wounded quite a long time before – and the surgeons were experimenting with ways to rejoin the nerves.

X-Ray staff at Nichols General Hospital, 1945

X-Ray staff at Nichols General Hospital, 1945 – from UNC-G Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

“…they used tantalum wire, is something I remember X-raying to see how close something was getting to something to rejoining.  But I think that was where some of the first paraplegics were kept alive. I don’t believe they understood the technology to be able to do that. So that was very interesting. And of course, most of our patients were male. Very few females. Which, of course, at twenty I thought was cool.

WAC barracks at Nichols General Hospital, Louisville 1945 - UNC-Greensboro Libraries

WAC barracks at Nichols General Hospital, Louisville 1945

Phillips remembered that the WACs had their own barracks at Nichols Hospital (“Well, see, we were peons and segregated”) – and the local nurses were in “another segregated area.”   However, Phillips does not address this issue of segregation as one of race (though later in the interview she indicates that she was a white supremicist).

Oneida Miller in 1943 before she started work at Nichols General Hospital in Louisville

Oneida Miller, Army Nurse Corps, 1943

Oneida Miller Stuart who served as an US Army nurse there then remembers that there were about 30 African-American nurses and 100 White nurses attending approximately 500 veterans and prisoners of war (most from Germany and the Pacific front).  She remembered the difficulties of working with Whites despite her professional status and experience: “We were called ‘nigger’ many a time… but you just kept on going.” (audio excerpt)

Phillips met her husband Mike at the Hospital in Louisville – he had been serving as a truck driver in an Army unit recently returned from Germany.  “They didn’t know what to do with all these people at the end of the war, because they were overstaffed.  So they put him on as a ward boy.”  He later became a professional football player, but her first memory of him was seeing him in the hospital: “So here came this great big fellow, moving a patient on a stretcher very gingerly. It didn’t bounce him off the walls.”

This memory is explains also why the young Oneida Miller, in her early 20s similar to Phillips, chose not to move her patients herself anymore. She described her pace of work as progressively becoming “too slow” since she was often accosted by the American GIs who did not want an African-American nurse.  The racism still an important component of the American day-to-day interactions allowed for her to rely on this future football player to serve as a “ward boy.”

~~~~~

Resources:

Oral history interview with Constance Cline Phillips, 1999. WV0082.5.01. The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project, University of North Carolina-Greensboro Libraries. Full text transcript available online: http://library.uncg.edu/dp/wv/results5.aspx?i=2015&s=5.

Listen also to the oral history interview with Oneida Miller Stuart, an African American servicewoman in the Army Nurse Corps who worked at the Nichols General Hospital in 1945 – Oneida Stuart Collection (AFC/2001/001/4850), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/story/loc.natlib.afc2001001.04850/

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by OneTon

In the footsteps of Ida B Wells

December 11, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Intellectual history, Political history

Ida B Wells is remembered throughout American Civil Rights history for many reasons. In this instance, Mrs. Wells is seen through the acts of a Kentucky woman activist. After losing both of her parents to the Yellow Fever Epidemic, Mrs. Wells took the responsibilities of raising her remaining siblings while juggling her two careers of teaching and being a leader in womens rights.

A native of Webster, County, Mrs. Nelda Lambert Barton-Collings (born in 1929) has also strived to enforce equality in America by serving her community, state, and nation as a leader in Kentucky’s fight for equal rights. After her husband passed, she too took the responsibility of raising five children while balancing the fight for womens rights and keeping her deceased husbands business afloat. Over her lifetime she has been appointed by American role models to lead many different government positions such as:

“A five-time Kentucky delegate/28 year Committee woman to the Republican National Committee, she was the first woman from Kentucky to address the RNC and call the meeting to order.  She was the first woman elected Chair of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and served as the Secretary-Treasurer of the National Institute of International Affairs.  President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the Federal Council on Aging and President George H. W. Bush appointed her to the President’s Council on Rural America.”

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by OneTon

Jefferson County Native Shows Determination

December 10, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Intellectual history, Social history

Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, I was raised by parents who agreed with equality and justice. My mother, Mary Fitzpatrick Singleton, has taught in Catholic elementary schools for more than ten years, while my father, John Alan Singleton, has a degree from the University of Kentucky’s business school and incorporates his scholarly knowledge into each day of work. Both of my parents are role models in my life and help me lead a more respective life of equality. My mother truly reminds me of another special woman from Kentucky as well.

An educator and advocate of womens rights this woman was an extremely important lady in the fight for equality. Lilialyce Akers is a special woman for all Kentuckians to investigate further. Dr. Akers was born in 1927 and has advanced equality in Kentucky since she arrived! As a particpant in the Equal Rights Association (ERA), Dr. Akers displayed her determination for the right of equality in the United States of America.  Akers was also a representative to the UN Commission on Women, and has presented seminars at the UN’s Third and Fourth World Conferences in Kenya and China.

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