Interviewee: Keller Bumgardner (Barron)
Interviewer: Kathie J. Carter
Date: November 20, 1977
Keller Bumgardner (Barron) lived in Columbia and attended the National Women’s Conference as a delegate from South Carolina. Barron attended Vanderbilt University from 1949 to 1950 and graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia in 1953 with a B.A. in History and Political Science and an Elementary Teaching Certificate. In 1953, she married Sherrod Lewis Bumgardner, D.D.S., and had four children. Dr. Bumgardner passed away in 1979. Keller was married William B. Barron in 1984. Barron served in the leadership of the League of Women Voters and the Equal Rights Ratification Coalition of South Carolina. At the time of the interview, she was employed by an interfaith social action agency and directed a public school project under the Emergency School Aid Act.
Interview includes discussion of Barron’s experience as an interfaith organizer, how her family supported her work in the women’s rights movement, and how she perceives the relationship between women and men in society. Barron’s personal papers are held at South Carolina Political Collections, University Libraries, University of South Carolina.
Kathie J. Carter: 10…11/20/77. Houston, Texas IWY Conference. Would you please give us your name, address, and telephone number and begin by telling me what brought you to the conference today?
Keller H. Bumgardner: My name is Keller H. Bumgardner. 311 Spring Lake Road, Columbia, South Carolina, 29206. Telephone number (803) 787-0888. I came to the conference as a delegate from South Carolina, elected at the state convention on a Woman-for-Woman plank.
KC: How did you get interested in Women for Women?
KB: I’ve been working with various aspects of the women’s movement for a number of years. Although, I don’t think I was calling it that because I was interested in government and worked primarily through the League of Women Voters. I came on the National Board League of Women Voters. We had supported ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment after it passed Congress in 1972, so I began to be aware of national efforts and considered my situation in South Carolina in contrast, or, in comparison with a lot of people that I was meeting nationally.
And began to think about my experiences: I went to a girl’s high school, went to a women’s college, and began to see some of these things in greater ways. In the meantime, I had younger friends who were dealing with questions—social questions and relationship questions—that I really hadn’t considered. When I thought about these things, I began to realize that, in part, I really was feminist.
KC: You’ve been active in political activities most of your life. Why did you first get interested in that sort of thing?
KB: Well, I majored in history and political science in college. When I married and moved to Columbia—which was my husband’s home—I wanted an opportunity to make a difference. I found that learning about government and working with people that were interested in government and governmental issues was really something that I enjoyed. I think that’s a certain kind of orientation, you know? I really like to go to meetings. (Laughs) And I like to learn things and to hear people talk that know more things than I do; although, I like to ask questions and that sort of thing.
But I was primarily…I enjoy working with women. I am employed presently; I’ve been working for almost three years. Although I had served on a number of boards and commissions and been associated with men, I never had really worked directly with men. I’m enjoying that now, but don’t like the role of being the token woman or speaking for women. You know, folks kind of snicker, “Oh, there she goes again,” because your sensitivity’s raised now. You pick up on some of those kinds of things and that makes it sort of difficult; sometimes you feel like the men are baiting you, whether or not you are going to rise to that. But I find that this is probably a pretty good stage because the background I had working for issues that were not considered just feminist issues has helped me now that I am calling awareness to what I consider feminist issues.
KC: Is this conference meeting your expectations?
KB: Well, one of my expectations was, in fact, to see a lot of people that I had known all over the country. I’m really doing that and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. And I think that it’s important to keep the state work together. It’s difficult in a society like we have to have the time or the money or the opportunity to see people that you’ve known in other places. I’ve lived in Columbia 25 years, so really have not moved around like some folks that established their home in different places. But I’ve moved around in various organizational circles, and in order to get back in touch with these people, you really have to be able to telephone; you’ve got to be together or some sort of means. So to see them is really, really nice.
I think, just on a personal basis, —just on the idea of the network of the women’s movement—it’s inspiring to see older women, younger women, women of all ages that are working for some of the same goals. To hear Margaret Mead and to see this young woman who’s chairing the meeting right now doing just a marvelous job, you think, “Well (laughs), may not be half bad. We might get there sometime.”
It’s been a really long struggle. I think it seems long for us because we’ve been at it about five years, really, in terms of ratification, but we were with Betty Freidan and the movement that now is making that sort of thing. You think about the fact that from 1848 until women got to vote in 1923, that was really a long time. We think that things should happen sooner, so if we haven’t achieved the goal in quote “seven years,” which is the time allotted for the ERA, then we’re all tired. Our leadership in the South Carolina effort has moved and are saying, “Well it’s time for other people to take over.” And I believe that; I think it’s true. I think you’ve got to build up that leadership and that movement and that effort.
I see right now passing (laughs) in front of us, Marguerite Raywalt with the Business and Professional Women; she is older and she is still in there. When we were working in South Carolina, she was writing letters, you know. Mabel Politzer from South Carolina was writing this little squiggly hand. Nearly 90 years old and passing it on. I mean, folks are passing it on. This is something that a conference like this does: I think it inspires the young women that go on in leadership positions when they see fired up first women, older women, just keep on keeping on. But it’s difficult.
KC: Have you experienced any disappointments in the conference?
KB: Well, I think it may be that some people are going to say, “In some ways, it was really too easy.” It’s obvious that persons of different persuasions—in terms of any change—are in the minority, so there really has not been an opportunity for much debate of their particular philosophy. Some people have said, “Well, you know, I have been listening to it for years, so I really don’t need to hear it again. We really don’t need to platform that; we know what they’ve been saying, and they’ve lost.”
So we haven’t had those sides of the issues brought up—most of us know what it is; they haven’t had our sides brought up—most of them know what ours are. But some of the people that are not into the specifics on some of the issues—the media, international relations—would’ve been well if we could have had a good exchange of those issues. I guess those things happen at the state level, and this is really not the platform for that. This is a philosophical kind of affirmation that those women were not trying to draft legislation or even talk about specific kinds of things on a word-by-word basis.
KC: Earlier you mentioned you resented being quote, “The token woman,” end quote. What kinds of barriers or problems have you experienced in your life in terms of being a woman and being in that particular problem too?
KB: Well, I’ve been very fortunate. A lot of things that have happened to me, I never really sought; they came to me. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities—sort of like my job—and the organizational experiences that I had had as a volunteer. So I’m not aware of some of the things that I missed because things have come up. I’ve gone ahead and done it. Persons that might have prevented me from doing things or knew that I didn’t get it would be in more of a position to say, “We didn’t choose her because of her guilt by association or neglect of what we think are important kinds of things.”
But many things have happened to me. For example, I received the award from the Christian Action Council for citizenship activities, and I received an award from the South Carolina Baptist Convention in recognition of citizenship activities. Somebody said to me, “We tried this last year and it didn’t happen, and now we got it this year.” So there were people working to recognize the things that I had done as examples that they supported.
In my own church, my husband was elected as chairman of the Board of Deacons at downtown First Baptist Church, which has more than three thousand members. He would have never gotten that role if there were not some people who were supporting what I did. If I had been an embarrassment to the church, he wouldn’t have gotten that, you know? And my daughter has been asked as a guest to a couple of debutante balls. She would’ve never been asked to do that if there were not people in there supporting that. So although there are some people that you kind of feel like they’re getting a knife to you and turning it, there must be enough movement—even though some of it is not open—to be quietly kind of supporting and glad that you’re out there doing some of the things that you’re doing.
KC: Tell me about your job.
KB: I work with a interfaith social action agency that was brought together in ‘69 by five of the downtown churches. And hired a coordinator who’s done a great job in trying with the broad-based community board to determine what the needs of the community are then go after federal funds—some state, local, church funds to support…
Our biggest grant is called Drug Response Operational. Over an $800,000 budget with rehabilitation, education, intervention, prevention programs for persons with drug problems…We establish that as a need. One church couldn’t do it alone—or one civic organization—but a combination with a broad-base could do it.
Meals on Wheels: we got that started, 150 meals a day. The Council on Aging has that now. I direct a public school project for public schools under the Emergency School Aid Act. Funded at $40,000 the first year and $64,000 the second year.
And for the bicentennial, we did an interfaith worship service—which had never happened in Columbia before—at the auditorium. We had tours of downtown churches. And a real broad-based ecumenical effort that cut across black and white. There hadn’t… Many black church members had never had an opportunity to go in white churches, and white church members had never had an opportunity to go in black churches. Because most of that’s on a social basis: you either go for funerals or for weddings. And there was not that crossover. So here we had downtown churches that people didn’t even appreciate or know the history of, and just to open the building was a real step forward.
KB: I’m finished.
(Recording cuts out briefly at 11:45)
KC: How do you feel women’s roles have changed in our society?
KB: I don’t know that women’s roles have changed (laughs) very much in the sense that everybody is involved in a certain amount of maintenance. You’ve got to clean up, to wash the dishes, to wash clothes, and somebody has to do it. We had to maintain ourselves, and I don’t think it’s sex linked, it’s just who gets there first or last; women’s roles have always been these maintenance kinds of roles. Or who was willing to do it.
But you know what contradicts that is when two men live together. It’s like someone said, “Let’s give it the roommate test.” You’re not going to say to one of your roommates, “You’ve got to do all the dirty work, and I’m going to do all this.” If you’re the same sex, somehow you share it, and women have always assumed—in many situations not assumed it— but have had to do quote “the dirty work.” But I think women’s roles are changing in the sense that respect their own abilities in other roles than homemaking kinds of maintenance roles, which is witnessing this. And we’re seeing that so many of these activities are absolutely not sex linked.
One of the things that I think is particularly important is the fact that my husband is now doing needlepoint. I just think that is great. I hate needlepoint; he loves it. And he’s a dentist, so it figures he could do the little things. But at first he would do it and then when the children would come in with some of their friends, he’d hide it. Now he just keeps right on doing it, and this is really good. I’ve liberated him.
KC: (Laughs) Tell me something: how have your parents felt about your activities and your life?
KB: My parents have really been very supportive, and my grandmother always said you can do anything you want to do. She really believed it, and she had us believe that. I think that’s basically at the heart of the whole thing because a lot of people say, “Well I don’t need it.” Well, they probably don’t, and I—in many ways—didn’t because of my self confidence and personal worth. A lot of women have been put down and just haven’t felt that. See, you basically got to have that feeling, and I give her a lot of credit for that.
Now, I only have one sister, and my mother used to always say to my father,“I know you always want a boy.” (Laughs) And my daddy would say, “I really never wanted a boy; I’m perfectly happy, satisfied. Girls are great.” So that never made us feel that it would have been better to have had a boy because our daddy was saying that’s not true. Basically, this is the whole situation in terms of human relations: People have to be valued where they are in their own personality. If you can give somebody that, then you don’t have to worry about stereotyping them, in every way else because they’ll break out of that.
KC: What are your children’s opinions about your activities?
KB: Well, I think they’re great children. I say that with a lot of pride, and that really gives me a good base for what I’m doing. If they had developed problems, that guilt I would lay on myself and other people would lay on me. I could say, “That’s true you lost because something happened to some of these people.” But that’s really not true.
I remember one time I was getting ready to go somewhere, and I was struggling about whether I should go or not go. My daughter said, “Well I don’t know why you don’t go. We do what we want to do. Why don’t you do what you want to do?” And I thought, you know, that figures. They do what they want to do, and I help them to establish those priorities in terms of what they ought to do. They were, in turn, helping me.
They came real close together, five years, four years. The oldest was five, then I had one four, then I had one two, then I had a baby. I had to organize to figure all that. My husband came at lunch, nursed all the babies, and by the time we were moving along where they are now—twenty-three, twenty-two, almost twenty, and almost eighteen—they’re out doing their thing and seem to be very well adjusted and really happy.
KC: And your husband’s role in your activities?
KB: Well, I think there, I would really feel like, you know, to be honest, that he has not moved to a lot of stages that I have in the sense that it hadn’t been as much fun for him. (Laughs) He used to say, “You know, I have to work because I’m the one who has to make money. You do what you want to do because you want to,” not recognizing the fact that I was organizing and doing a lot of things in the home that permitted me to be able to do that. I always wanted to have a clean house, straight, so that I had to be superwoman to have all that right and then be able to do the other things as well.
I think that in many ways—just in terms of personal relationships—he felt some sense of possessiveness. Two college roommates and I worked to get together for a weekend football game at our house. We still all have the same husbands twenty-five years later. There we were: me, Frances, Marty with those fellows, and they stuck to us like glue!
By the time it was over, we said, “Gee, can you realize that they did not give us a chance to even be together? The three of us.” And it was just really sad. There they were, driving them off in those cars, and they never let us get together because they wanted to be there, wanted to hear what we said, were so afraid they were going miss something. It was really kind of sad because, in many ways, people like me and my types ought to have fellows that are more independent.
KC: They had to find out what was going on. (Recording cuts out briefly at 17:29) Thank you very much; I appreciate your time. Is there anything else you would like to add to the record before you go?
KB: Well, I’m glad we’re taking oral histories. I think in the future it’ll be interesting to see many of the things that I’ve experienced—that I’m sure people and women have experienced throughout the age. You know, they’re universal and certainly not much different; it’s just how we cope and adopt it. I’ve always thought, that “I’ve been able to cope with my problems; you’ve been able to cope with yours, but if we change they’d probably just tear us apart.” So people compensate and cope, and I just hope the things I’ve done are right.
KC: Thank you very much.
End of Interview