Ellen Robertson

Interviewee: Ellen Robertson
IWY SC 665
Interviewer: Louise Pettus
Date: June 10-11, 1977

Sister Ellen Robertson lived in Beaufort County, South Carolina, and was a member of the Adrian Dominican Congregation and served as Director of St. Mary Human Development Center in Beaufort County. She attended the conference because she was interested in women’s rights and working against discrimination. Robertson was from Washington, D.C., but previously lived in Chicago before moving to South Carolina. Interview discusses Robertson’s observations about unequal treatment in South Carolina, how she became aware of discrimination against women, and her group with a pro-ERA coalition.

Sound Recording



Louise Pettus: Hi, I’d like your name and where you’re from.

Ellen Robertson: My name is Sister Ellen Robertson. I live in Beaufort County, South Carolina. I am a member of the Adrian Dominican Congregation and I am a director of St. Mary Human Development Center in Beaufort County.

LP: What particularly brought you here to this conference?

ER: I’m very interested in women’s rights, particularly, and have been. I believe that in all of the states in our country we have many laws that really discriminate against women and then there are also places where discrimination is not by law, but simply by custom and I believe that at this point in time, it’s about time, that women were treated equally and received equal rights.

LP: Alright. You’re not a native of South Carolina?

ER: No, I’m not. No.

LP: I didn’t think, your accent. How long have you been in this state?

ER: I’ve been here five years.

LP: And where did you come from?

ER: Well, I came from Chicago down here but originally I’m from Washington, D.C.

LP: Do you find this very different? I’d sort of like to get your impression of where the women’s rights movement is here in South Carolina? Or what you feel to be the status in South Carolina, as you observe it?

ER: As I observe it, women are really not treated equally. They are regard by men as not being able to, either intellectually or psychologically or any other way, meet their match as far as capabilities. For example, in administration in the school system. You have very few women who are principals of schools or in administration at all. In other agencies, the women are the secretaries and the clerks and seldom are they in decision-making positions.

LP: When did you first become aware of this discrepancy? Can you remember?

ER: Oh…

LP: Does it go back to your childhood?

ER: Probably, as I became an adult, I was aware of it. I came from a family where my mother and father shared a lot of things that normally were not – for example, my father did all the cooking and my mother was a bookkeeping so she took care of the financial end of it and they worked together in business and so, I know that the roles were not as defined in my family. And when I found out in, you know, as an adult meeting other people, that they were much more defined.

LP: You think this had a definite influence on your interest in women’s rights and role seeking?

ER: Oh, I’m sure it did.

LP: Now you’re with the Church. Does that have any relationship to your interest in women’s rights or you feel like it’s a thing apart?

ER: No, I think the Catholic Church, as well as probably most of the other churches, definitely is dominated by men and there is definitely discrimination against women. There are no women in any decision-making positions in the Church at all.

LP: Do other women in the Church feel like you do?

ER: Oh yes, definitely.

LP: Very strong?

ER: Many of them do, yes. Mmhm, yeah.

LP: Alright. Did any others come with you today?

ER: No, I’m by myself down there. There aren’t any sisters with me.

LP: Oh, I see.

ER: And I don’t know. I presume there will be other sisters here. I got the word around. I’m president of the sister’s group in South Carolina.

LP: Mmhm, but you came alone?

ER: Yes, well, there are women and men working with me at the Human Development Center that are coming up tomorrow morning.

LP: Mmhm.

ER: And there wasn’t anyone who was ready to come up when I came up.

LP: Okay. Have you been involved in the ERA movement?

ER: I have been to a degree, particularly on the local level. I’m a member of the ERA coalition and I have done some communication work down there, talking to the legislators and such things. I haven’t really gotten involved as much as I would like to. I just haven’t had time.

LP: Well, the local level in Beaufort, this would involve? Since you have a base there, these people likely to be wives of the military or?

ER: Well, the ones that I know that are in favor of equal rights are really not military. I belong to a AAUW chapter down there and the chapter as a whole, a couple of individuals.  But most of the members of that group are very supportive of ERA. But none of them are wives of the military, that I know of.

LP: What age would you say? Is there any particular age or any particular adjectives that you could use to describe the ERA supporters?

ER: I have an idea. Women in their middle years who have worked and who have become very much aware of the fact that they really are not treated equally, you know?

LP: Mmhm.

ER: That they are the ones that seem to be the most supportive of it. Now I did find in Jasper County, people who didn’t know what is was. They had never heard of the ERA.

LP: And these would be relatively well-educated or people you expected to have heard?

ER: Yes, that’s right. Then in starting to talk about it they say, “Oh, that’s the thing that’s going to keep us from getting our Social Security,” or “We’ll have to use bathrooms with men,” or…

LP: Or be drafted.

ER: Such as that. Or be drafted. This is the only thing that they know about it so I’ve set about trying to do a little bit of education there. (Laughter)

LP: (Laughter) Mmhm. Besides the AAUW, is there any other particular group that would be identified with the ERA in the area? Any?

ER: Probably the League of Woman Voters.

LP: Mmhm.

ER: Mmhm.

LP: Okay, well thank you very much.

End of Interview