"I Ain’t No Senator’s Son"

Cathy Sterling

Cathy Sterling in the NCSU Brickyard

"A Little Help From Mom"

Text from article "A Little Help From Mom": "It might have been a complicated matter for North Carolina State University students to figure out whether they were voting for Cathy Sterling, right, or her mother, Mrs. Ann Sterling, left, when they cast their ballots for student body president Tuesday. Mrs. Sterling is shown helping her daughter campaign. Cathy won to become the first woman president ever elected at the predominantly male school at Raleigh."

Ann Sterling raised Cathy and her three sisters as a single parent. Sterling remembers her mother as a strong matriarch and mentor in her life and attributes many of her leadership qualities to her. Her mother was active in their church and was an integral part of Sterling’s campaign.[1] A story about Ann and Cathy, titled "A Little Help From Mom" circulated the United States and even Europe and Asia, showcasing Ann and Cathy.[2] In our interview, Sterling remembered that the article got all the way to The Stars and Stripes, and as a result, she received letters from Europe to Japan, especially from soldiers, who read about her and her mother in the massively reprinted article.
Both Sterling and her mother were often chastised for their clothing choices—short dresses and skirts. Many of Sterling's critics talked about her "inappropriate" dress and their disappointment in her as a "southern girl."[3] To them, Sterling did not think, dress, or act like a “southern girl,” and they were offended because they knew she was born and raised in the South. As Sterling highlighted in her interview with me, these views were problematic for several reasons, namely that she and her mother were both grown women, not girls. Moreover, the harsh and personal attacks had nothing to do with her platform or her initiatives in student government. These attitudes were reflective of the inherent sexism that informed many conservative, southern dissenters. Jesse Helms even sent Sterling several letters that condemned her for acting inappropriately for a "southern girl."[4]
Sterling differed much from the other candidates and past student body presidents in more ways than her gender. Her ideas were controversial. As a young adult in the 1970s, Sterling was a part of a generation that did not trust anyone over thirty. Her stance on the role of the administration on campus, especially the chancellor’s role was not one of a parent “in abstentia.” She did not agree with the administrations’ assumptions about what students needed and what students thought. She wrote tumultuous pieces like “I Am Not Proud"--page four of the Technician on March 06, 1970--an exposé on the athletics program at NC State, arguing that the program should not receive funding from students that did not wish to financially support the athletic program.[5] In a letter to the editor, Ivan Mothershead, a student senator who was very vocal in Student Government, attacks Sterling and her article. Ironically, his attack actually made Sterling more of a buzz on campus as Sterling and Mothershead exchanged heated letters to one another that were published in the Technician. Their argument came to a head in the April 1st “April Fools” edition of the Technician, where a journalist satirically reported that Sterling and Mothershead were engaged to be married.

[1] Cathy Sterling, interview with author, Samantha Smith, November 13, 2014.

[2] The article "A Little Help From Mom," can be found in several newspapers from across the country. It was repulished in The Stars and Stripes, but I could not retrieve a copy from there. The reprint I found was through the Google newspapers search engine and it comes from The Evening Independent from May 7, 1970 and is titled, "A Little Help From Mom...From Mom?" Link to article: <http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=UWVQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=UlcDAAAAIBAJ&pg=884%2C1626959>.

[3] Cathy Sterling Papers (1966-1999), Special Collections Archive, Box 1. 

[4] Cathy Sterling, interview with author, Samantha Smith, November 13, 2014.

[5] Cathy Sterling, Technician, “I Am Not Proud,” Volume LVI, Number 57, March 6, 1970.

"I Ain’t No Senator’s Son"