When you consider how much women’s roles have changed over the course of the twentieth century in America, you may feel a sense of wonder and respect for the daring women who instigated those changes simply by pursuing their passions and abilities. We call them trailblazers and pioneers. Though they may deserve these titles, many of the women in our oral histories did not think of themselves in such a way.
These ladies simply followed their hearts, their instincts, and their interests. “I wasn’t out trying to prove anything,” said Naomi Elizabeth Morris about her success at UNC’s School of Law early in the twentieth century, and many other women echoed the same sentiments.
Though they are proud of and satisfied with their achievements, most of these women emphasize that they did not set out to change women's roles or to become the first women to accomplish what they did. Many of them never considered themselves to be trailblazers. Nevertheless, their determination and success as professional women in fields long reserved for men make them important figures in the struggle for equality between the sexes.
Perhaps the most important themes connecting the stories of all Southern women trailblazers in academic and professional careers are their determination, their belief in themselves, and their perseverance even when the odds against their success seemed great. At times in their amazing lives, these women recall feeling frightened, uncertain, or overwhelmed. In spite of these feelings, they used their considerable intelligence, hard work, and drive to overcome obstacles successfully and achieve accomplishments that have paved the way for continuing change in women's social roles and professional opportunities.