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Part 1: Childhood to City Council
Born December 26, 1910, in Gaffney, NC, Ruth Moss was one of four children. When she was very young, her family moved from Gaffney to Blacksburg so that her father could have a job that paid one dollar a week more than he was making.
Ruth’s mother was determined that the children were going to college, whether or not they had money to send them. However, when the time came, Ruth’s father made sure they had enough money to send her to college; in fact, the owner of the mill where he worked offered him a loan for Ruth’s college. She went to Limestone College and majored in English, preparing to become a teacher. After she graduated, no jobs were available, so she attended Appalachian State Teachers College for the summer.
Her first job was in the Dover Mill in the cost accounting department. After she became eligible to vote, her father took her to register and told the election official that she was a Democrat. While she cheerfully recants that as the way she became a Democrat, she says she laterlearned more about the political party’s platform and decided she agreed with it. She remains a Democrat today.
In 1939 she married Claude Easterling, a manager at Sears. Shortly after they married, they moved to Mississippi. They were married for about 7 years.
Her next job was in Charlotte, NC, with I.D. Blumenthal as executive secretary. Mr. Blumenthal was a significant driving force in the Charlotte area, investing money in what he felt were worthy causes. In fact, he donated money to a church project with which she was involved. Ruth also joined the Professional Secretaries, who were in the process of instituting a new secretarial certification exam. One of the first to take the exam, Ruth passed it.
She also joined both the Charlotte Business and Professional Women and the League of Women Voters. She was very active in the Charlotte Business and Professional Women (CBPW) and in 1955 became statepresident of the organization. While president, she strove to make the Equal Rights Amendment a reality. She also worked with Governor Terry Sanford to establish the Commission on the Status of Women.
In 1964, she was named Charlotte Woman of the Year, predominantly because of her work in the Commission. In 1970, she became the national president of Business and Professional Women, who were still working hard to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed.
In 1971, she was appointed to the Charlotte City Council, an appointment that she had wanted a woman to have, but did not necessarily want herself. Nevertheless, she accepted it, and the day she was appointed, the Equal Rights Amendment passed the United States Senate.
Part 2: Election to and Service in the House of Representatives
The second part of Biographical Conversations with…Ruth Easterling concerns her election to the state House of Representatives. Ruth first ran for representative in 1974 and was elated when she came in 3 rd in the primary,as it was rare for women to run for political positions at this time. Her main issue was ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, and she vowed to run until it was ratified or until she was 91.
She became friends with Louise Brennan, a representative who became Ruth’s mentor. Ruth learned much about the General Assembly carpooling with Louise from Charlotte to Raleigh and back. Ruth’s interests were in business and finance; Louise was concerned about childcare. But one invaluable lesson that Louise taught her was that politics is “the art of the possible.”
In the Legislature, Ruth again pressed for the Equal Rights Amendment to be passed. Although it was ratified in several other states, North Carolina never ratified the bill because there were so many objections to it. In fact, Ruth said that the Legislature didn’t ratify the suffrage amendment until 1971, even though that was already Constitutional law.
In 1981 Ruth again embraced a controversial issue by recommending a ten-cent increase in the cigarette tax. At the time, the cigarette tax was only two cents per pack, and Ruth discovered through her research that nearly every other state had cigarette taxes that were much higher. Although it created more publicity than any other bill that she had sponsored, the bill eventually failed, even after being debated on the floor at length.
During her term on the study committee on children’s issues, Ruth worked closely with Governor Jim Hunt on Smart Start. Smart Start was not popular with House Republicans who mounted a campaign, including radio messages, against the proposed program. Governor Hunt countered the spots with his own radio address, and Ruth spoke out in defense of the program for almost two hours, in the early hours of the morning, during a debate on the House floor. While she was on the study committee, she worked on several other children’s issues, including co-sponsoring a bill that required divorcing parents to seek counseling and lowering the ratio of workers to babies in child care centers.
After supporting Jim Black for the position of Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, Ruth asked him to appoint her to the Appropriations Committee, a request which he honored.
Part 3: The House of Representatives to the Present
Ruth Easterling begins the conclusion of Biographical Conversations with a recollection of her experience in 1994, when the Republicans won the majority in the House. As she states, she went from seat 5 to seat 106 —not too dissimilar to her placement during her first term, when she was in seat 104 because there were so many Democrats. She says that even though she disagreed with the Republican platform, she had many good friends who were Republicans.
All through the 1990s, she worked to increase salaries for teachers. In some of the smaller schools, there was no separate class for children with special needs, so they were included in the classes with the other children. Teachers were doubling as nurses to provide medications and counselors to help these children with their needs, and they were doing these extra duties on the same salary that they had accepted for teaching. Ruth felt that they should be compensated for their roles outside of their normal duties.
In 1995, she attended the United Nations Conference for Women in China. She joined 42 other women from North Carolina at the conference, looking at the status of women in all countries.
In 1999 she regained her front row seat in the House after Democrats regained control and Jim Black was elected Speaker of the House. In addition, Speaker Black appointed her as co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, only the second women to be in that position. Although she is proud of her accomplishments to improve opportunities for women, she feels that more needs to be done.
She shares her recollections of the House speakers who served while she was there. She begins by telling of the split in the House over two speakers who were running, and the one that she did not support was chosen. To her surprise, he appointed her as chair of the Appropriations subcommittee.
In 2002, Ruth Easterling stepped down from the General Assembly, a decision she says was not that difficult, because women were gaining momentum in the General Assembly. She feels that her best accomplishments were improving the divorce laws, conditions in daycare centers and in education. She still advocates for having a nurse in each school and is proud of North Carolina’s community college system.
She is proud of what she accomplished and for taking the opportunities with which she was presented. She feels that she paved the way for more improvements to be made in the areas of women’s issues, divorce laws and education but says that those improvements will come in the future.