May Thompson Evans Oral History Interview

1921-1964; March 26, 1981; October 23, 1981
Oral History #OH0069
Soapes, Thomas F.; Lennon, Donald R.; Evans, May Thompson, 1901-
Physical description
0.01 Cubic Feet, 2 audiocassettes, 3 hours, 60 pages
Preferred Citation
May Thompson Evans Oral History Interview (#OH0069), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

Scope and arrangement

Also, a transcription of a third tape (January 30, 1978) done by Dr. Thomas F. Soapes for Franklin D. Roosevelt Library is included in the series (71 pages, typescript). The East Carolina Manuscript Collection does not, however, have a copy of the tape.

May Thompson Evans was raised mainly in North Carolina. She attended Meredith College, in Raleigh, N.C., and Westhampton College of the University of Richmond; taught public school in Detroit, Michigan (1921-1922); went to Columbia University to obtain her master's degree; taught at Averett Junior College in Danville, Virginia; and then taught at the Woman's College in Greensboro (UNC-Greensboro). After 1930 she became involved in Democratic Party politics. She helped organize the Young Democratic Club in North Carolina, served as a state director of the National Re-employment Service (1933-1937); was organizer and first director of the N.C. Employment Service (1935-1937); and was assistant director, Women's Division, of the Democratic National Committee (1937-1940). She served with the War Manpower Commission (1942-1945), the U.S. Department of Labor (1945-1949), the Federal Security Agency (1949-1954), and the U.S. Public Health Service (1954-1964).

The first interview concentrates on Evans's background in North Carolina, as well as experiences teaching children of Polish immigrants in Detroit (1921-1922) (pp. 3-5). Her discourse also includes a humorous account of Professor Horace Williams adopting a young student at UNC-Chapel Hill whom he had first intended to marry (pp. 6-8). While Evans taught at UNC-Greensboro, she lived with Harriet Elliot, whose staunch support of the women's movement was an influence on Evans's later political involvement (pp. 5-6, 9-11, 16, 35, 40). Evans recalls Tyre Taylor and Lula Martin Scott, organizers of the Young Democratic Club in N.C., asking her and Dewey Dorsett to become the new state leaders of the club in 1931 (pp. 16-18). She discusses writing a new constitution for the club, reorganizing the Young Men's Democratic Clubs statewide to include women (pp. 18-21, 24), and her election as president in 1933 (p. 20). Evans recounts organizing offices in western counties for the National Re-employment Service (1933-1937) and she discusses her work as director of the State Employment Service (1935-1937), including establishment of a Civil Service system (pp. 24-30). During her discussion of the National Re-employment Service she also talks about Capus Waynick, the first North Carolina director of the service. She comments on economic disabilities in N.C. in the 1930s and traces the career of her husband, William Ney Evans (pp. 11-14), as a lawyer and commissioner with the National Textile Labor Relations Board in High Point, N.C.

In the second interview Evans discusses her appointment by Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary "Molly" Dewson, as assistant director, Women's Division, of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C. (1937-1940). She also recalls her difficulty in working with Mayor LaGuardia, president of the Mayors' Organization and mayor of New York, on a civil defense program in 1941 (pp. 31-39). During World War II, Evans worked to prevent blackmarket activity (pp. 40-42) and then served on the War Manpower Commission (1943), which provided policies and training for women working at industrial jobs in place of men who were serving as soldiers (pp. 42-46, 49-50). She discusses opposition to the program (pp. 44-46), success of the women workers (pp. 45-46), and restoration of men to the positions at the end of the war (pp. 49-50). Evans also served on the committee created to determine which industries were "essential" to the war effort and could keep their labor force (pp. 47-48). Evans worked as a field agent for the Federal Security Agency from 1949 until 1954 when Oveta Culp Hobby, a Republican, was appointed secretary of the Public Health Service and transferred Evans to her department. Evans discusses Hobby's background, character, and administrative methods, including the firing of Arthur Altmeyer, "the father of the social security plan" (pp. 51-56). Evans also discusses the controversial venereal disease clinic at Tuskegee, Alabama, where black patients were divided into two groups for observation and only one group was treated for the diseases (pp. 51-52, 56-58).

The third interview, done by Dr. Thomas F. Soapes of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, concentrates on Evans's work with the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee (1937-1940) and contacts she had with Eleanor Roosevelt and Molly Dewson. Evans discusses the Six Point Program designed to enable women and youth to become politically educated and involved in the social and economic reform of their community, an idea which Mrs. Roosevelt believed in strongly (pp. 6, 14-22). Evans recalls a trip with Mrs. Roosevelt to Wallace, N.C. (pp. 24-25), luncheons and receptions at the White House (pp. 11-14), and Mrs. Roosevelt's remarkable organization and memory. Evans then discusses the Democratic Convention of 1940 at which women gained membership on the platform committee (pp. 43-47). She also relates how President Roosevelt's national chairman, James Farley, attempted to gain the presidential nomination himself (pp. 43, 46-48), and that Paul McNutt, who had the popular support, withdrew from the vice-presidential race because President Roosevelt announced his choice of Henry Wallace (pp. 49-52).

Administrative information
Source of acquisition

Gift of May Thompson Evans

Processing information

Processed by M. Cherry, April 1988

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Copyright notice

Repository does not own copyright to the oral history collection. Permission to cite, reproduce, or broadcast must be obtained from both the repository and the participants in the oral history, or their heirs.

General note


Key terms
Personal Names
Evans, May Thompson, 1901-
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
Corporate Names
Democratic National Committee (U.S.). Women's Division
African Americans--Medical care
Human experimentation in medicine--Alabama--Macon County--History
Teachers--North Carolina
Tuskegee Syphilis Study
Women--Political activity--North Carolina
World War, 1939-1945--Women