Tag Archives: Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month: Ella Currie McKay

[This blog post was written by Stephen C. Edgerton, who donated the collection to Private Collections, Special Collections Section, and is volunteering under the supervision of Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist.]

In Recognition of Women’s History Month (March 2017): Focus on Researching Women in History, from the McKay, McPherson, and McNeill Private Papers (PC.2144)

Farmer’s Daughter

Ella McKay, RN, with a Confederate veteran at the Old Soldiers Home in Raleigh, North Carolina, ca. 1917

Ella McKay, RN, with a Confederate veteran at the Old Soldiers Home in Raleigh, North Carolina, ca. 1917. From PC.2144, State Archives of North Carolina

Ella Currie McKay was born in 1888, the daughter of a progressive, North Carolina farmer with 75 acres of sandy, arable land in Robeson County. A highly resourceful man, her father managed to send four of his nine children—two girls and two boys—to college. Three of them became medical professionals—two doctors and one registered nurse. Ella was that nurse.

At age twenty-four in 1911, Ella graduated from Philadelphus High School. At Red Springs, a mile away, she attended and graduated from Flora MacDonald College for women, and in time, Whitehead-Stokes Sanatorium Nursing School in Salisbury, North Carolina. Her professional nursing career began in May of 1917 at the Confederate Soldiers Home in Raleigh. Her many letters to her family at this time reveal thoughts about her two brothers, doctors serving in the war, and about whether she should join in the fight.

“Oh, this is hell here now”

Just prior to the end of World War I, in September of 1918, Ella joined the U.S. Army as a Red Cross nurse. Her first posting was at the military hospital at Camp Meade, Maryland, nursing the wounded and afflicted soldiers. Within ten days she contracted Spanish Influenza. Too ill to work, she was kept isolated from her patients and others for weeks. Her eyes remained “glued shut,” she said, and her back ached as if it would break. But her symptoms were more merciful than those suffered by the soldiers she encountered once she again took up their care. She surely was now squarely on the front lines of the flu epidemic of 1918, estimated today to have killed more people worldwide in the short time it raged than all those who died in the four years of the First World War.

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Women’s History Month: Carolista Baum

[This blog post was written by Kim Andersen, Audio Visual Materials Archivist in the Special Collections Section of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Photo of Carolista Baum from the files of the News & Observer, Raleigh, NC

Call number: NO_4710_CarolistaBaum_Fr11. From the N&O negative collection, State Archives of North Carolina; Raleigh, NC. Photo copyrighted by the Raleigh News and Observer. Illegal to use without express permission from the N&O.

Meet Carolista Baum, the woman credited with saving Jockey’s Ridge—the largest natural sand dune on the east coast. Carolista Baum was moved to activism when her children alerted her of construction equipment taking sand from the dune.  She simply walked out and sat down in front of the bulldozer, refusing to move. Baum then started a local campaign that included protests and fundraising that aimed to preserve the natural landmark for generations to come. Her efforts, bolstered by community support, were eventually successful in 1973 when the Division of Parks and Recreation decided to preserve the area as a state park which opened in 1975.

A film documenting her campaign and the community effort to save Jockeys’ Ridge was made in 1976 by then UNC-CH film student Ron Hagell – Jockey’s Ridge for All the People, 1976 [MPF.116]

Thank you, Carolista Baum!

Women’s History Month: Mary Bayard Morgan Wootten

[This blog post was written by Kim Andersen, Audio Visual Materials Archivist in the Special Collections Section of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

It’s Women’s History month! Today we highlight photographer Bayard Wootten.

Bayard Wootten posing near sand dunes at Nags head, NC,

Bayard Wootten posing near sand dunes at Nags head, NC, Dare County, c.1920’s. Courtesy Ms Louise Morgan, Brevard, NC. (N_95_1_68) From the General Negatives, State Archives of NC.

Mary Bayard Morgan Wootten (1875–1959) was an American photographer and pioneering suffragist born in New Bern, N.C. Also a competent painter, she is credited with designing the first trademarked logo for Pepsi-Cola. Wootten was adventurous and unflinching in all aspects of her life, especially business. She owned several photography studios and was known to set out on solo trips across the state in her 1920s Ford to photograph North Carolina’s people and landscapes.  She continued to photograph well into her seventies and operated her photo studio until 1954. A trailblazer for women photographers in the South, Wootten overcame economic hardship, gender discrimination, and the obscurity of a small-town upbringing to become the state’s most significant early female photographer. She died in 1959 in Chapel Hill at the age of 83.

Wootten was adventurous in finding new angles for images, once dangling off a cliff to take the perfect photograph of Linville Falls. In 1914 she became one of the first female photographers to engage in aerial photography when she flew in an open-air Wright Brothers Model B airplane and took pictures of the landscape below.  She was also the first woman in the North Carolina National Guard.

Photographer Bayard Wootten with camera in front of cypress tree in Great Lake, Craven County, NC, 1909

Photographer Bayard Wootten with camera in front of cypress tree in Great Lake, Craven County, NC, 1909. Photo by H. H. Brimley. (PhC42_Bx16_Great Lake_F1-2) From the H. H. Brimley Photo Collection, PhC.42, State Archives of NC.

Originally trained as an artist, Wootten worked in photography’s pictorial tradition, emphasizing artistic effect in her images at a time when realistic and documentary photography increasingly dominated the medium. Traveling throughout North Carolina and surrounding states, she turned the artistry of her eye and lens on the people and places she encountered and is perhaps best known for her photographs of people living in impoverished rural areas in her home state of North Carolina.

Many of her photographs were used as illustrations for six books, including Backwoods America by Charles Morrow Wilson, 1934; Cabins in the Laurel by Muriel Sheppard, 1935; Old Homes and Gardens of North Carolina by Archibald Henderson, 1939; and From My Highest Hill by Olive Tilford Dargan, 1941.  UNC-Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library is home to the Bayard Morgan Wootten Photographic Collection which includes over 90,000 images and other materials created by Bayard Morgan Wootten and the Wootten-Moulton studios. Formats include glass negatives, film negatives, photographic prints, lantern slides, artwork, and some manuscript materials.  The State Archives of North Carolina houses only a few copies of some pieces of her work, but is fortunate to have several original photographs of Wootten working with H. H. Brimley photographing in eastern North Carolina in the first decade of the 20th century.

For more complete biographical information on Bayard Wootten, please see:

“A Fight for Citizenship:” Exhibit on Women’s Suffrage Now Open in Search Room

[This blog post was written by Josh Hager, Reference Archivist in the Reference Unit of the Collections Services Section.]

The Suffragists' Calendar, a year-book for every thinking woman

The Suffragists’ Calendar, a year-book for every thinking woman,” Gertrude Weil Papers (PC.1488), State Archives of North Carolina

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the State Archives of North Carolina is proud to announce our new Search Room exhibit, “A Fight for Citizenship: The 19th Amendment and Women’s Suffrage in North Carolina.” The bulk of the facsimiles included come from the private collection of Gertrude Weil, a prominent suffragist from Goldsboro. She was active in organizations such as the North Carolina Equal Suffrage League, the Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the League of Women Voters. Her collection spans 42 cubic feet and over one-hundred boxes of material, constituting a treasure trove for researchers into the women’s suffrage movement.

The collections of the State Archives provide a wealth of material concerning women’s suffrage, from letters and broadsides to the correspondence of state and local officials. Narrowing those choices down to the ten items on display proved difficult, but the items selected allow for a glance at several important documents and themes.

Visitors will also see a facsimile of the 19th Amendment, specifically the cover page sent by the U.S. Secretary of State to the N.C. Secretary of State which includes an official seal. The amendment arrived in North Carolina’s hands in 1919 and the General Assembly first considered it in 1920. However, legislators did not hold an up-or-down vote on the amendment in 1920; historians agree that the amendment would likely have lost the vote based on the legislators’ stated positions. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee narrowly voted for the 19th Amendment, making women’s suffrage the law of the land nationwide. North Carolina did not ultimately ratify the 19th Amendment until 1971 under Governor Bob Scott. The only state to ratify it after North Carolina was Mississippi in 1984.

Letter from Josephus Daniels to Gertrude Weil, Feb. 12, 1920

Letter from Josephus Daniels to Gertrude Weil, Feb. 12, 1920, Gertrude Weil Papers (PC.1488), State Archives of North Carolina

Visitors will also get a chance to look at the amount of work and dedication needed to make women’s suffrage a reality. Gertrude Weil’s personal efforts are on display through an organizational pamphlet where she was elected as an officer and through correspondence with Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to promote the cause. Photographs show women in a campaign office as well as at a public gathering wearing sashes for equality. “The Suffragist’s Calendar: A Year-book for Thinking Women” is a day-planner with helpful tips for political organization. Finally, the exhibit includes a letter from the leaders of two organizations asking for unity as women fought for the shared goal of the vote.

Amidst the triumphs of 1920, the exhibit also includes two examples of the opposition faced by the proponents of suffrage. Governor Thomas Bickett sent a message to the General Assembly in opposition to the 19th Amendment, arguing that women should not lower themselves to the political arena. His tone of social condescension was commonplace for 1920, but others in opposition held more unique views. For example, a petition to the General Assembly sent by a concerned citizen from Connecticut argued that women voting would increase ignorance at the polling place and that it was no better than a Soviet plot.

Western Union telegram from G.L. Grosgrove to the Speaker of the House on the topic of the 19th Amendment

Western Union telegram from G.L. Grosgrove to the Speaker of the House on the topic of the 19th Amendment, General Assembly Session Records, 1920, State Archives of North Carolina

Despite the opposition, women in North Carolina and across the country gained the right to vote in 1920. We hope that our exhibit gives you a small window into the incredible people and organizations that fought for equality and succeeded. The exhibit is currently scheduled to run through the end of April, so please plan on visiting the Search Room soon.

Other archival items related to role of women in North Carolina’s 20th century history are available through the North Carolina Digital Collections.