Interviewee: Sharon Harper
IWY SC 609
Interviewer: Elaine Mayo Paul
Date: June 10-11, 1977
Sharon Harper, originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, lived in Greenville, South Carolina and helped her mother run a business. Important issues to Harper included the Equal Rights Amendment, women in the creative arts, and mental health issues. She became interested in women’s issues after taking a course on the status of women in college. Interview includes Harper’s reflections on the conference as a positive event, discussion of her pin that says “A Worldwide Sisterhood for Equality,” and the antagonistic reaction it caused in a fellow conference attendee. She also shared observations about women’s rights and activities in the North in comparison to South Carolina.
Elaine Mayo Paul: Would you tell me your name please?
Sharon Harper: Sharon Harper.
EP: Sharon Harper. And where are you from?
SH: Originally, I’m from Kalamazoo, Michigan but I live in Greenville, South Carolina.
EP: And how did you come from there to here?
SH: My mother here, like, six years ago to Greenville to bring a business and I came with her.
EP: Well, what do you think of the conference here today?
SH: I think it has potential to be very positive if people are open-minded enough to accept new ideas and look for a change for women to be equal. I think there’s a lot of women that oppose my viewpoints, at least. I think…
EP: Such as?
SH: The undercurrent of the ERA and passing that. That I think there are a lot of people here that are for it and a lot of people opposed to it.
EP: Well, frankly, it’s not on the schedule is it? At all?
SH: No, it’s not. No.
EP: I’ve seen opposing buttons and that sort of thing. Have you talked with any of them?
SH: I’ve talked with some in Greenville that I’ve seen here that I don’t really feel like talking to again.
SH: They got me a little angry then.
EP: What do they say about that button you’re wearing?
SH: An older woman came up to me and she said…
EP: What is that button?
SH: Well, it’s just a button that symbolizes the International Women’s Year. It’s that symbol and all it says is “A Worldwide Sisterhood for Equality.” And I thought more like the woman was out to attack me for some reason that she said, “Does that mean you want the same government for the whole world?”
SH: And I said, “No, I don’t think that’s what it means.” She tells me, “Because America is the best country.” And I said, “No, I think, what it represents to me is, is it’s just a symbol of the International Women’s Year. That all women can come together as sisters on some common ground that they’re all women.”
SH: But, likely, she wanted to read something deeper into it and find something to fight with me about when she’s wearing the same symbol on her name badge. You know? It’s just that mine happened to have the words around it is what it stands for in my mind. That I thought, that’s how it was.
EP: Do you feel that we’re going to have a little bit of a meeting of the minds? People of various persuasions?
SH: That’s hard to say.
EP: Did you leave her somewhat mollified or?
SH: No, I think she was ready to attack me some other way.
SH: Because she started to say something else to me about, I guess pinpointing maybe I’m a Communist or something.
EP: Yeah, I’ve encountered that.
SH: I don’t really know what she was coming at me with.
EP: Yeah, uh-huh.
SH: She had a United States flag on her dress and I’m wearing the same thing she is in the symbol and I couldn’t understand at all because I hadn’t even any thought that it would raise any question by wearing it because that’s what this whole conference is.
EP: Do you feel hopeful, optimistic about the conference?
SH: I’m optimistic to see South Carolina have this conference. I guess because I’ve thought that South Carolina was still behind, I guess, coming from the north and a little bit of the women’s activities I’ve been in there in government. I’m really surprised, it seems really well organized and people seem to be interested in learning.
EP: Mmhm. What workshop would you be going to tomorrow?
SH: “Women in the Creative Arts”
EP: Yes. Sounds very good.
SH: “Mental Health,” I think, because I think those are…creative arts is for myself and mental health is more of a problem I think women are afflicted by – depression and nervous breakdowns – so much more than men. It’s good to know how to combat that and help other people, hopefully.
EP: Very good perspective. Now just one more question.
EP: How, what did you get attracted to this problem of women’s issues? Of this general field?
SH: I took a class, as a general study requirement in Michigan, on the status of women. It started involving me at all, because I really never felt any kind of suppression myself.
SH: You know, I never really thought about it. And as I was really bombarded with all the different things in society and the media and how we’re raised from we’re little and the sex roles and stereotypes that we learn that I’ve learned so many things that we do are so political now that I’ve gotten a lot stronger stand on it.
EP: And you feel optimistic for the future?
SH: With education, yes. I think any woman at this conference, if they knew enough about statistics and things that happen to women every day. How they are socialized into their roles and how men are socialized into their roles, if people are more aware of them, I’m optimistic that they’d change. I want to think that.
EP: Oh, so do I. Thank you so much.
EP: Wait a minute, I’ve got to…
End of Interview