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Watch the Leading Women documentary that tells the story of the Women's Leadership project and its discoveries (50 minutes, Real Audio format).

SOHP Home > Projects > Davis Oral History Fund > Women's Leadership

Celebrating Women's Leadership and Grassroots Activism

Nearly 200 people gathered at UNC-CH's Hanes Auditorium on September 13, 1998, to celebrate the completion of the Southern Oral History Program's Women's Leadership and Grassroots Activism project and to view the video documentary Leading Women. Co-sponsored by UNC-CH's Curriculum in Women's Studies and the Communication Studies Department, the event brought together female leaders and activists from around North Carolina, UNC-CH students and faculty, and friends of the SOHP.

The program included remarks by State Senator Ellie Kinnaird and Janice Periquet of the North Carolina Humanities Council. After the screening, the audience had a chance to discuss leadership with participants in the project. Many of the insights shared during the discussion echoed comments made by Women's Leadership and Grassroots Activism interviewees:
  • "Leadership means inspiring confidence, respect, and initiative in people so that they will act for themselves."

  • "The most important thing for a leader is simply to stand up, speak up, and take responsibility by rolling up your sleeves and pitching in."

  • "The essence of leadership is to be able to gain the trust of the group, to inspire them and organize them without separating yourself as an authority."

  • "Leadership means helping a group confront a controversy as a way to energize rather than dissolve itself."

The oral history project, initiated by the SOHP in 1994 to document the lives of female activists in the South, generated over 200 interviews that challenge conventional definitions of leadership and propose new frameworks for understanding women's activism. By focusing on the South, considering conservative as well as progressive movements, and paying careful attention to race and class, the Women's Leadership interviews offer a varied perspective on the ways in which women can act collectively to change society. Launched by Jacquelyn Hall and coordinated by Alicia J. Rouverol, the project involved over a dozen graduate and undergraduate students from UNC-CH, primarily from the departments of history, folklore, and religious studies.

Leading Women, directed by Joanne Hershfield and co-produced by Hershfield and Rouverol, focuses on six interviewees who exemplify the diverse experiences of female leaders: UNC-CH housekeeping organizer Barbara Prear, poultry grower organizer Mary Clouse, North Carolina Central University law professor Cheryl Amana, charter school advocate Louise Cole, La Voz de Carolina editor Lizette Cruz-Watko, and Principal Chief Joyce Dugan of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Leading Women uses their stories to explore how women take action on behalf of themselves and their communities, how they define leadership, and what leadership entails for women on a daily basis. A performance piece, "Performing Women's Leadership," was also produced as part of the project.

The complete collection of SOHP interviews from the Women's Leadership and Grassroots Activism initiative is available in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-CH, as are copies of Leading Women, which is distributed through the University of California Extension Center for Media and Independent Learning.

Want to learn more?

    Watch the Leading Women documentary that tells the story of the Women's Leadership project and its discoveries (50 minutes, Real Audio format).

The Southern Oral History Program
Center for the Study of the American South
Love House and Hutchins Forum
410 East Franklin St., CB# 9127, UNC-CH
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-9127
(919) 962-0455