Reading Matters

Essays on exceptional North Carolina women

What Charlotte woman helped persuade the North Carolina legislature to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and said she preferred that her daughters and granddaughters serve in the armed forces, “operate a jack hammer, or use a second-class toilet rather than spend their lives as second-class citizens?”

That was the remarkable Gladys Tillett, described as “one of the shrewdest political organizers in the country.” All the while, according to an essay on Tillett by Davidson professor Sally McMillen, remaining a gracious Southern lady. Tillett died at age 92 in Charlotte in 1984.

Tillett is one of several women explored in-depth in a two-volume work edited by McMillen and Wake Forest history professor Michele Gillespie, “North Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times” (University of Georgia Press, $34.95).

Other women in this second volume include ballad collector and John C. Campbell Folk School co-founder Olive Dame Campbell; advocate for black women’s rights Charlotte Hawkins Brown; textile union organizer Ella May Wiggins; chief justice Susie Marshall Sharp; and civil rights worker Ella Josephine Baker.

What many of these women have in common, it seems, is an abundance of energy and parents who believed in education.

This excellent two-volume set belongs in every high school and college library in the two Carolinas.