What an unusual lady! Charming when she needed to be, but tough as nails and mean as a snake. She showed women around the world that they could take the lead in a country that had never had a female prime minister and make it work well.
But, we have learned that she was not a vigorous advocate for the advancement of other women. She did not want to be viewed as a token at any stage of her career. Other women, she believed, should work to advance on their own merit and not be given special opportunities because of their gender.
North Carolina’s own iron lady had similar views, as explained by Anna Hayes in “Without Precedent,” her 2008 biography of North Carolina Chief Justice Susie Sharp.
When Sharp entered law school at Chapel Hill in 1926, she was the only woman in her class. When she began practicing law in 1929, women could not be judges or serve on juries. Nor was there much encouragement for her from the judge who administered her oath for admission to the bar. He lectured her, “Well, young lady, I congratulate you and all like that, but I’d be derelict in my duty if I didn’t tell you that you will never make a lawyer. If you persist, you will just be wasting your time, playing in the sand. I advise you to start right now trying to find something more appropriate to do.”
However, by 1949 her talent as a lawyer and her political connections led to appointment as a superior court judge, which required her to hold court in different parts of the state. At one courthouse she found that access to the judge’s chambers was only through the men’s restroom.
As a trial court judge, according to Hayes, Sharp offered a “sterling example of how a court should be run—knowledgeably, fairly, and efficiently—earning the respect of lawyers and litigants alike. She was a tireless crusader in her courtroom remarks and public speeches for the rule of law as the foundation of democracy, and for active, informed citizenship.”
Her service led to appointment to the state’s supreme court and election as its chief justice where Hayes said in an interview for the book’s publisher, UNC Press, “She was known as a legal scholar whose opinions were models of lucidity, and who undertook on occasion to bring about needed changes in the law…As a woman, of course, through her example she expanded opportunities for women in the legal profession and public life.”
Ironically, Hayes said, Sharp was an “obdurate opponent” of the Equal Rights Amendment in the battle for ratification in North Carolina that raged from 1970 to 1982 and “she exerted every effort she could to defeat the amendment. She based her opposition largely on the arguable idea that women were already protected under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and believed that the ERA would cause women to lose existing protections they had under the law. … North Carolina was considered a critical state whose approval could break the logjam and create momentum toward ratification. … Justice Sharp was undeniably influential in the ERA’s defeat in North Carolina, and to that extent, can be said to bear some credit or blame for its ultimate failure in the nation.”
Even those who disagree with Thatcher’s and Sharp’s positions on women’s issues or other important matters must be grateful for these iron ladies’ tenacious and successful battles that demonstrated powerfully how women can perform exceptionally well and lead at the very highest levels.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.
Next week’s (April 21, 25) guest is Vicki Lane author of “Under the Skin.”
Vicki Lane sets her popular novels on the farms and small towns in mountainous Madison County north of Asheville, where she and her husband have lived since moving there from Tampa, Florida, in 1975. In “Under the Skin,” she turns her mountain surroundings into compelling fiction.
The program will also air at Wednesday April 24 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring Isabel Zuber author of “Salt.”
A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.
Ready or not, spring is here and it is time for a seasonal update on new books important to North Carolinians.
This month’s most important literary news is the release of “Life After Life,” popular author Jill McCorkle’s first novel in 17 years. McCorkle fills a southeastern North Carolina retirement facility with quirky residents, staff, and visitors whose encounters with each other make readers wonder whether to laugh or cry. She will be the guest on North Carolina Bookwatch at noon on Sunday, March 31 and Thursday, April 4, at 5 p.m.
Understanding the actions and attitudes of our parents and grandparents in dealing with the system of oppressive racial segregation that confronted them is one of our great challenges. Some of the best Southern writers deal with our past in ways that make for compelling storytelling. UNC-Chapel Hill creative writing professor Pam Durban steps up to that challenge in her new novel, “The Tree of Forgetfulness.” (April 7, 11)
The recent temporary closings of the Hatteras Ferry and coastal Highway 12 remind us that our coast is fragile and unstable. How do we protect it? In “The Battle for North Carolina’s Coast: Evolutionary History, Present Crisis, and Vision for the Future,” retired East Carolina professor Stanley Riggs and his coauthors give the background we need to make good decisions. (April 14, 18)
Vicki Lane sets her popular novels on the farms and small towns in mountainous Madison County north of Asheville, where she and her husband have lived since moving there from Tampa, Florida, in 1975. In “Under the Skin,” she turns her mountain surroundings into compelling fiction. (April 21, 25)
The third and final volume of the “Literary Trails of North Carolina” series establishes Georgann Eubanks as the master guide to our state’s literary history. She has already taken us to Murphy and now in “Literary Trails of Eastern North Carolina: A Guidebook,” she takes us from Raleigh through the Coastal Plain all the way to Manteo. (April 28, May 2)
Everyone knows our health care system is in trouble, but UNC Medical School Professor Nortin Hadler is more specific and troubling when he says that conflicts of interest, misrepresentation of clinical trials, hospital price fixing, and massive expenditures for procedures of dubious efficacy point to the need for an overhaul. Who is responsible? Every citizen, says Hadler, has a duty to understand the existing system and to visualize what the outcome of successful reform might look like. Hadler provides a primer and guide to action in “The Citizen Patient: Reforming Health Care for the Sake of the Patient, Not the System.” (May 5, 9)
Do you remember “Big Fish,” the wonderful novel by Daniel Wallace and the movie it inspired? They made us suspend disbelief and go into a magical world of stories and characters. Wallace has done it again in his latest novel, “The Kings and Queens of Roam,” which is full of the magic he uses to draw us into his worlds of imagination. (May 12, 16)
How could one of North Carolina’s most important political leaders be both a progressive champion for education and economic development and, at the same time, the leader of the white supremacy movement in our state? N.C. State Professor Lee Craig wrestles with this challenging question in his new book, “Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times.” (May 19, 23)
In reviewing Duke Professor William Chafe’s “Bill and Hillary,” Jonathan Yardley wrote, about the Clintons, “No personalities in recent history speak more compellingly to the importance of understanding that the personal and the political are inseparable.” Chafe’s detailed study of the relationship between the power couple of all power couples shows how their relationship shaped our history. (May 26, 29)
Watauga County native Sheri Castle’s “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes” is a guide to finding the best seasonal foods in our region. She organizes her recipes into about 40 chapters, each featuring a different vegetables or fruit.
More about Sheri Castle:
Castle is a popular food writer and cooking teacher who celebrates delicious and healthy home cooked meals made possible by fresh, local, seasonal food. She has packaged that enthusiasm into “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes.”
Castle’s book has about 40 chapters, each one devoted to one particular fruit or vegetable from apples to zucchini. She suggests that you go to the market without a shopping list, buy what is the most freshly available and tasty, bring it home, consult her book, and find all kinds of ways to prepare your purchase.
Castle entertains her readers with stories about her mountain family and even a song or two. Because I love tomatoes, here are lines she shares from a song by Guy Clark: “Only two things that money can’t buy/That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
But tomatoes are not the only stars in Castle’s catalogue of fresh foods. For instance, she gives great advice to overcome two different contradictory ideas about how long to cook snap beans. “At one time, most snap beans were sturdy pole beans with thick, tough pods that required extensive cooking to become edible. However, subjecting the newer stringless varieties to long cooking would dissolve them into a tasteless mess. … If a bean pod is delicate and tender enough to eat raw, it needs quick, gentle cooking. If a bean pod is thick and has strings…, it needs long slow cooking. When you know your bean, you know your cooking method.”