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262 Mary Elizabeth Massey A Founder of Women’s History in the South Constance Ashton Myers • • • When Mary Elizabeth Massey (1915–1974) arrived at the Rock Hill bus station one late summer day in 1950 to begin a long teaching career at Winthrop College , “the South Carolina State College for Women,” administrators could not know that they had invited to their small campus a future powerhouse in her field and a real innovator in scholarship. In her dissertation for the University of North Carolina and in books written while on the faculty at Winthrop, Massey became one of the first historians in the South to tackle social and women’s history.1 Massey knew, however, what awaited her as far as her new social environment was concerned. This young southern woman had her first college experience pursuing a bachelor’s degree at a small institution, Hendrix College, founded by and affiliated with the Methodist Church. It was an idyllic school in Conway, Arkansas, a town remarkably similar to Rock Hill. She had been quite a success at Hendrix by the time of her graduation in 1937. Campaigning in the 1936 election for senior class president (which she won), she declared confidently that she was “big enough to fill the office,” a reference to her considerable ability and size.2 In the college yearbook she was not only named the campus “politician ” but was said to be “headed for the governorship.” Moreover, she served as president of her sorority for two years and was elected as third “best all-’round woman.” All of these tributes point to a certain social astuteness that would serve her well. Hendrix was and would remain proud of Massey. In 1969 she received its Distinguished Alumna award, the very first awarded by the college.3 On that day she arrived in Rock Hill, Massey had already accumulated two years of administrative experience plus six years of postsecondary level teaching , two in a junior college in Red Springs, North Carolina, two in a four-year Mary Elizabeth Massey 263 college in the “sleepy town” of Chestertown, Maryland, on the Chester River near Chesapeake Bay, as well as another two—master’s degree in hand—back at Hendrix, her alma mater.4 If it were not for the discrimination that women scholars endured during the first half of the twentieth century in their efforts to enter university teaching, one might conclude only that she sought familiar situations in which to live and work. But that would be to overlook another factor that may have influenced her decisions: the scarcity of opportunities for women as college professors may have led her to Rock Hill and Winthrop. She recognized the limitations, did not complain, and apparently felt comfortable in an environment similar to that of her past experiences. In 1915 Mary Elizabeth Massey was born in tiny Morrilton, Arkansas, a rural settlement whose population almost one hundred years later still numbered only 6,551. There she went to school and grew into a young woman. It marked her. She remained—and said as much in conversation—a “country girl,” contentedly living and working apart from an urban environment. Both Morrilton and Conway, so formative in her early life, were within fifty miles of Little Rock but safely out of its penumbra. Five exhilarating years in graduate school in the university community of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, learning, teaching, researching, and hobnobbing with established as well as budding scholars in her chosen field, the history of the Confederacy, opened wide the eyes of this country girl. She had a glimpse of the possibilities in the world of advanced academics and professional associations; she formed friendships and enlisted loyalties renewed at annual historical association conferences, alliances she respected the rest of her life. But Mary Lib (as her familiars called her) found comfort in the place she called home for the next twenty-four years: the friendly, nearly rural, railroad, textile manufacturing, and agricultural exchange town of Rock Hill in York County, South Carolina.5 Though also in a small town, Winthrop College was neither coeducational nor church affiliated, as was Hendrix. It was a state school established through the persistence of a South Carolina politician from Edgefield County, Benjamin Ryan Tillman, who rose to the position of governor and then senator. Winthrop first opened in Columbia in 1886. Later, Rock Hill won a competition for the college’s permanent site.6 To head the new school, a tentative board of trustees...


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