Echoes of 100 years at UNCG: Women’s suffrage and equal pay

Posted on October 09, 2020

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, codifying women’s suffrage in the U.S. This campus’ alumni magazine of the late 1910s, as WWI concluded, took on two big societal issues: women’s suffrage and equal pay for equal work.

Equal Pay for Equal Work?
(in June and November 1918 Alumnae News issues)

The magazine asked prominent people in the state about the equal pay question. Among the printed responses, some excerpts:

I am told by those who have investigated the subject, that men, because they are men, are being paid from 30 to 80 per cent more than women for the same work in our schools. This is not fair, nor do I believe that the argument of “supply and demand” answers the question. It merely serves to becloud the issue. — Minnie Mclver Brown, Class of 1899, director of State Normal College

Replying to your esteemed favor of the 5th, I beg to say that the proposition that “justice requires that the amount of compensation should not be regulated by sex, but by the amount of service rendered” is so manifestly correct as to require no support. My own opinion is that the salaries of all public school teachers in North Carolina should be increased at least 50 per cent. — T. W. Bickett, governor

If a woman does as good work as a man and does as much of it, then she should be paid as much. If she does not do so much or does not do so well, she should be paid less. If she does better or does more, then she should be paid more. This principle, I think, applies to all work of whatever kind. When we understand fully that money is paid for work and not on the basis of any kind of favoritism we will act on this subject just as we do when we buy cloth or food or land or any other commodity. — P. P. Claxton, U.S. commissioner of education

A Patriotism Perspective

“Is it a mere theory that, if women are granted suffrage, they will help to end the war? Perhaps. But have not the majority of ideas been “mere theories” before they were proved to be facts? And there is no way to prove a theory except by trial. Is it illogical? Possibly. But certainly not more illogical than that one-half of the world should make laws which the other half must obey, and decisions in the consequences of which the other half must share. … It is entirely conceivable that, after this war is over, the mothers of the world, if they are granted suffrage, will find some way whereby their sons may be allowed to live for their country instead of die for it.”

— Clara Booth Byrd ’13, co-editor, June, 1917 (excerpt)

The Right to Vote

The students were chagrined at the 1915 commencement when Governor Craige spoke against women’s suffrage. That year, many students marched on College Avenue for women’s right to vote. In 1918, 575 of the 650 students signed a petition for women’s suffrage. In the October 1919 magazine, co-editor Clara Booth Byrd ’13 made it plain: “The suffrage battle is practically over. There remains before us only the question of ratification. Surely our own Tar Heel State, foremost in so many movements, will not lag behind in this. Surely not, if we, her daughters, do our utmost to bring it to pass.”

Footnote: Enough states ratified the amendment for it to become national law in 1920. North Carolina ratified the 19th Amendment in 1971. Clara Booth Byrd, who led as alumni secretary from 1922 to 1947 and who exercised her right to vote for five decades, did live to see her state pass it.

Compiled by Mike Harris
Visual: 1918 peace parade on campus, courtesy UNCG Archives

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