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MANUSCRIPTS DIVISION 2002
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Alice Norwood Spearman Wright Papers, 1923-1989 [Addition]
One and one-quarter linear feet, 1923-1989, of manuscripts and miscellaneous printed items (newspaper and magazine clippings, bibliographies, catalogues, reports, studies, announcements, course outlines and syllabuses) enhance the library's holdings on the life and work of one of South Carolina's foremost twentieth-century humanitarian leaders, the late Alice Norwood Spearman Wright (1902-1989), the Marion native who for many years served as executive director of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations.
The primary focus of this addition to her papers is the period of the 1920s and 1930s, when she was completing her education, traveling around the world, and beginning to determine her life's work. She was president of the Student Government Association at Converse College, Spartanburg, when she received a lengthy letter from Eleanor Phelps, director of the speakers bureau of the National Student Forum, New York, 23 February 1923, that began, "What are the students of America thinking and doing at a time when the continent of Europe is alleged to be sinking into economic and social decadence? Would the students at your college accept or reject this implied proposition? What does it mean to them that the French have invaded the Ruhr? Is this a step toward peace or toward war?"
A few years later she embarked on an extended trip around the world, spending most of her travel time in Asia, attending conferences, studying social conditions, and continuing her education. Writing from Lahore, India, 21 January 1931, to her mother, Mrs. S.W. Norwood, in Marion, she reported, "The 1st conference, the All-Indian Women's Conference dealt with the need for certain Educational & Social Reforms. It was a marvelous way to meet women of intelligence & influence from all over India. There were many fine missionaries present also. You have no idea how interesting the cultural practices of the various groups are - -taste, dress, customs etc. That there is a real awakening, no one can deny." She went on to say, "I'm leaving here...for Delhi where I expect to spend a few days with a Hindu Indian lady whom I met at the first conference. As she said it ought to be quite a different experience for me to experience being in an Indian home where the conditions are so different from our own." Other letters and miscellaneous items from this period reflect firsthand contact with persons or institutions in the Philippines, China, and Japan. The Imperial University, Kyoto, is mentioned in a brief biographical sketch in the collection as one of the institutions where she pursued graduate studies; and a program from a musical entertainment held on 4 July 1932 and sponsored by the Oriental Culture Summer College of Tokyo, pasted in a scrapbook on Japan, probably indicates that she was there at that time.
Much of the material here dating from the mid-1930s represents Alice Norwood's great interest in workers' education. Numerous publications - - originating with such institutions and agencies as the Affiliated Schools for Workers, the Workers' Bureau of the National Urban League, the Workers Education Bureau of America, and the federal Works Progress Administration - - and a few letters indicate her commitment to this work. Her name appears on the list of members of the advisory committee for the Southern Summer School for Women Workers in Industry on the letterhead of a missive sent to her on 15 October 1936 from one Louise Leonard McLaren, the New York City director of the program. In this lengthy letter to Alice Norwood, Mrs. McLaren attempts to estimate "the abilities of students at the Southern Summer School in 1936 for the report to local committees."
Among the most interesting items in the unit is a copy of a letter sent by William P. Jacobs, secretary-treasurer of the Cotton Manufacturer's Association of South Carolina, written from Clinton to James H. Hope, state superintendent of education, Columbia, in which Jacobs tells Hope that he has been apprised of the fact that the WPA was holding or had held - - with Hope's permission - - a six weeks' conference in the YMCA Building at USC, "under the direction of Mr. Kenneth Douty, as we understand it-a man from the North who was sent there for the purpose." "We have also been advised by some of the students who attended the conference," Jacobs continues, "that the instructors at the conference have been insisting that the students go back to vicinities and proceed immediately to organize all workers under the U.T.W. [United Textile Workers]." He goes on to disclose that one of the students had stated that he had "attended a conference at Clemson some time back and was advised by the professors there to stay off of such controversial subjects and have nothing to do with the organization of workers, and he so reported to the professors at the conference at the University, and was asked the question 'What kind of professors do you have at Clemson anyhow?'" "It is not the purpose of this letter to raise the question of the right or lack of right of the workers to organize," Jacobs writes. "We are wondering, however, if it is the proper function of an agency of the government, under the sanction of the State Department of Education, on the property of the University of South Carolina, to confine so much of its attention to the organization of the workmen, or the encouragement of the organization of the UTW, which has never represented as much as 10% of the working people of the state." He concludes-"From the reports we have heard, I am afraid that this WPA school is undertaking a policy that would not meet with your approval at all."
Also included here is a letter sent out over Ralph David Abernathy's signature by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta, 20 May 1970, inviting Alice Spearman Wright to attend a retirement celebration for Septima Poinsette Clark in Charleston on 19 June - - "I know you will give your support and plan to be present at this occasion to honor this great soul who has given so much and received so little in material return." Nineteen years later, the tributes would be delivered in memory of Mrs. Wright herself. Near the end of his remarks made at the memorial service held for her at Washington Street Methodist Church, Columbia, the Rev. Fred M. Reese, Jr., stated simply - - "We are all more alive because she lived." And her friend Barbara McClain said of her - - "If any person lived life to the full, it was Alice....She was aware of the beauty of the earth and wanted to enjoy it and to save it...[She] cared about people - - individuals - - and wanted to know what was happening in their lives. She listened and encouraged. She loved color and beauty....Where she meant the most to many of us was the opportunity to share in her efforts to make the world a better place for all people to live in."
Among Alice Spearman Wright's particular concerns were those of securing the rights of women and of promoting an increased awareness of the importance of their role. At the conclusion of a speech entitled "People on the March," delivered in Chapel Hill, 20 October 1973, on the occasion of her receiving that year's Frank Porter Graham Civil Liberties Award, she declared, "All of the institutions, structures and systems under which we now live in the United States have been designed, directed and dominated by white males. Besides woman's inherent right to equality in all areas, her human values, understanding of human behavior, and skill in human relations offer a much needed contribution to our political, social and economic life. Without generalizing and idealizing too much, I hope, let me point out the qualities of persistence, patience and compassion woman has developed. Being under less pressure than men to compete, make money, become famous, exercise power, be a 'success', may she not bring to our man-made institutions some of the objectivity required for basic change? Has she not come into the kingdom for such a time as this?"
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