Women's History

A 1918 portrait of Charlotte Hawkins Brown
North Carolina Historic Sites

One hundred years ago this August, North Carolina declined the opportunity to be the deciding state to grant women the constitutional right to vote. The decision had come down to Tennessee and North Carolina, so Tar Heel legislators sent a telegram to their counterparts in Tennessee, urging them not to ratify and pledging that North Carolina would do the same. Fortunately, Tennessee ignored that plea and ratified the amendment, adding it to the U.S. Constitution.

Book cover that reads 'Speaking of Feminism: Today's Activists On The Past, Present, And Future of The US Women's Movement.'
UNC Press

Why is feminism imagined as waves? These ocean waves, crashing then retreating, can make it appear like ideas come out of nowhere and eclipse everything that came before.

Oral history provides different frameworks for understanding the history of feminist activism.  Personal narratives of the movement capture the constant push and pull of ideology and action — how the definition "feminist" is constantly evolving and sometimes is irrelevant to real social progress. 

Mary Webb Nicholson a Greensboro native, become first woman in North Carolina to earn a private pilots' license, commercial and transport licenses. During WWII, she was among a group of American women pilots who assisted British Air Transport Auxilary.
Courtesy of Greensboro History Museum

The Ruth Wicker Tribute to Women is one of the first standalone exhibits in North Carolina to commemorate the specific achievements of women in the state. The interactive exhibit opened earlier this year in the Barber Park Event Center and documents 31 influential women from the 18th century to the present, including 10 who were “firsts” in their field or position.

Photo of women's history trail in Western NC, cutting through red tape and blazing new trails.
Courtesy of Karen Lawrence

A new women’s history trail in Franklin, North Carolina highlights the overlooked stories of entrepreneurial women in the western part of the state. The trail celebrates both individual women and women’s organizations, like the Main Street Milliners: a group of hat-makers and business owners who worked in Franklin in the 19th and early 20th centuries — a time when women rarely owned businesses. 

Leonard Rogoff

Gertrude Weil spent her life fighting for civil rights in the South. She founded the state's League of Women Voters and campaigned against lynching and segregation. She cleverly navigated the fault lines that marked politics in North Carolina in the early 20th century. In new the book, "Gertrude Weil: Jewish Progressive in the New South" (UNC Press/2017), Leonard Rogoff exposes the roots of Gertrude Weil's activism.

Tabacus: The Magazine of the British Tabulating Company, August 1958.

In the 1940s, Great Britain led the world in electronic computing. They were responsible for developing the world’s first digital electronic programmable computer; it helped crack enemy codes to aid the Allies in winning World War II. Three decades later, Great Britain’s computing industry was nearly extinct.  

Sweet Briar College in Virginia will close its doors in May, after 114 years of teaching women at its scenic campus in western Virginia.

Creative Commons/ Wellcome Library, London

Writer Megan Mahew Bergman describes her newest collection of short stories as “10 years of my reading life.” Almost Famous Women (Scribner/2015) is historical fiction that explores the lives of powerful and unusual women who have remained in the margins of history. The stories range from an account of conjoined twins who were sold into show business in North Carolina, to the life and legacy of Africa’s first female horse trainer. Host Frank Stasio talks to Megan Mahew Bergman about women who took risks, broke rules, and disrupted cultural and gender norms in the early to mid 20th century.