“First Among 14,000 Club Girls,” from The Independent, Elizabeth City, N.C., published Friday, March 18, 1927. There’s a nice photo of Lela Paul on the front page. To see it, visit https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025812/1927-03-18/ed-1/seq-1/
What It Takes to Be a Community Leader…A Man in Gallilee Suggested the Formula 1900 Years Ago and Lela Paul of Pungo Unconsciously Made Notable Use of It
This then is Miss Lela Paul of Pungo, Beaufort County, unanimously approved by state and federal departments of agriculture experts as the outstanding community leader among club girls on the farms of North Carolina.
Out of 14,000 girls engaged in agricultural club work in North Carolina, Lela Paul, 17 years old, of Pike Road, Beaufort County, has been rated the outstanding leader in club work in the State and will go to Washington, D.C., as one of two girls from North Carolina who will be entertained for a week by the extension division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Pike Road is in the Pungo section of Beaufort County, 14 miles from Belhaven, 45 miles from Washington. To a stranger it would appear only as a desolate back county neighborhood where farmers fight incessantly against the jungle growth of black lands. A stranger passing thru the Pungo country wouldn’t see much in it to make life interesting or even endurable. But out of Pungo comes a little slip of a girl whose reputation as a community leader has brought her into statewide and national fame within the past few weeks.
A little more than a year ago the Department of Agriculture conceived the idea of picking out the two outstanding leaders in girls’ clubs in every state in the union and bringing them to Washington for a week’s encampment. Every girls’ club in the State was asked to nominate its outstanding member, without knowing what it was all about. Lela Paul among scores of others in North Carolina was nominated.
Lela didn’t know it, but from that moment and for a whole year she was under the close and constant observation of specialists, district agents and field experts of the Department of Agriculture and all of its ramifications.
The little girl in Pungo didn’t know it, but a dozen or more spies were on her trail for 12 months, checking up on all of her activities, and her deportment, in the home, in the church, at the school, in the neighborhood. When she went up to State College last summer to attend the annual girls club short course, she was under observation by experts of the college from the moment of her arrival until her departure. She didn’t know what they were doing, but they pushed her forward into all sorts of activities, called on her for an impromptu speech, interviewed her time after time, and studied her like so many scientists studying a poor little bug under a microscope.
And then when all the experts got their heads together and with their own notes and the reports from county and district agents all over the State, they had to hand it to Lela Paul of Pungo that she is the greatest little old all-around community leader among all the 14,000 fine, upstanding club girls on the farms of North Carolina.
It was leadership that the agricultural departmentalists were looking for. It wasn’t enough that Lela should be the best little housekeeper, the best home gardener, the best little clothes maker, the best food preservationist, the best poultry raiser, the best little biscuit maker, and the best high school student in the State. She had to be a community leader as well, who had the respect and confidence of everyone in her neighborhood, to whom people naturally turned for leadership, and who had qualified as an actual community leader.
And they had to give it to Lela Paul, a 17-year-old Pungo girl who rises at 5 o’clock each morning, helps with the cooking, house work and outdoor chores, catches the school bus at 7:30 and rides 10 miles over rough roads to a country school, carries a full schedule of third-year high school work, helps again with home duties before she prepares her lessons for the next day; and with it all takes an active part in club, church and community life.
When Miss Violet Alexander, the county agent, was 45 minutes late at a club meeting one day when her Ford broke down on the road, Miss Alexander found the club meeting under way and proceeding with a flue program under the leadership of Lela Paul, who had called the meeting together, apologized for the absence of the county agent, and was staging a great meeting.
When the county agent expressed a regret that older women in the community were not interested in club work, Lela rounded up the older women in the neighborhood, enrolled them in the club, and they gladly followed her leadership.
Under the leadership of Miss Paul, the Pungo Club, which was organized a little more than four years ago, grew and grew and grew. And then she did something that had been done in no other girls’ club in North Carolina She conceived the idea that her club should have its own clubhouse instead of having to meet at the schoolhouse or in members’ homes. An idea with Lela Paul means action. She got the land and lumber donated for the clubhouse and is now raising the money to build the house.
How Did She Do It?
Now who is this little Miss Lela Paul of Pungo and what is there about her that distinguishes her from thousands of other girls on the farms of North Carolina, I asked Miss Pauline Smith, district supervisor of girls’ clubs. Miss Smith answered by bringing Miss Paul to Elizabeth City the other day and presenting her at my office.
And so I looked the little girl over. Never in this world would you make a snap judgement that she is a leader in anything. She is just a neat, frail, modest, retiring little girl who doesn’t make a move or a gesture of any kind to impress you. And when I asked her how it felt to be a nationally recognized community leader, she smiled naturally, showing a wealth of dimples, and said just what any genuine, wholesome, red-blooded American girl would be expected to say: “Why, I think it’s fun.”
And as I studied this fine little girl and asked Miss Smith and Miss Alexander questions about her, I discovered the secret of her community leadership. When the disciples of Jesus were wrangling over the question of who should be the greatest among them, the Master called them together and said: “If any may desire to be first, the same shall be last and a servant of all.” The wisdom of the Great Teacher is justified in the life and character of 17-year-old Lela Paul of Pungo.
To become an outstanding community leader among 14,000 club girls in North Carolina, she didn’t set out to be a leader at all. She only took hold of the things that could be done on a lonely farm in a backwoods neighborhood in North Carolina and did them so beautifully, so enthusiastically and so well that the neighbors took note.
When help was needed anywhere in the neighborhood, Lela helped. When a girls’ club was organized in Pungo, the secretaryship was forced upon Lela because everybody knew that she would put her best into it. And she did.
If an ignorant and unskilled housewife anywhere in the neighborhood wanted to know the latest and most approved method of preserving a certain vegetable, Lela would come over and show her. If a little girl in the neighborhood wasn’t satisfied with her method of darning a stocking, she would take the stocking over to Lela with full assurance that Lela would make time to show her how to darn a stocking to make it feel and war as good as new. If there was a school entertainment or a Sunday school entertainment, Lela could also be depended upon to take an important part. If there was a picnic or a party anywhere in the neighborhood, Lela would be the life of the party and, without putting herself forward in any way, would always have new games and diversions to suggest.
They have better home gardens, better poultry, wear better clothes and eat better food because of Lela Paul.