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Women’s History Month in Charleston

a woman wearing a black shirt

Women have officially had the right to vote for 100 years! Help us celebrate women in Charleston in the month of March by learning about the women who helped build the city — and fought for women’s rights all over the U.S. Here are just some of our women to honor throughout Women’s History Month in Charleston.

 

Famous Women to Celebrate During Women’s History Month in Charleston

Ann Pamela Cunningham

Ann Pamela Cunningham helped to start the Mount Vernon Ladies Association in 1856. She helped raise a huge amount of money to help the organization purchase the George Washington estate. 

The home had fallen into disrepair and was badly decaying by the time the organization acquired it. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association repaired and preserved the home — and the organization still owns and cares for Mount Vernon to this day. 

 

Louisa Susannah Cheves McCord

Louisa Susannah Cheves McCord was an essayist and president of the Soldiers Relief Association. She was also a nurse and a matron of the army hospital in Columbia during the Civil War. She wrote drama, poetry and reviews, though she’s most well-known for her essays about the Antebellum south. 

 

Mary McLeod Bethune

During Reconstruction, the South was struggling to rebuild. Mary McLeod Bethune believed that the key to rebuilding the South and the economy was through education, so she started the Bethune-Cookman University for African American girls. 

She also founded the National Council for Negro Women and was an advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt. 

 

Julia Peterkin

Julia Peterkin was a writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1929 for her novel “Scarlet Sister Mary.” The book is about Mary, an orphan, who struggles with goodness and sin. It was very controversial in the South and was banned from the Gaffney Public Library. 

Peterkin grew up at Lang Syne Plantation and traveled through the South with photographer Doris Ulmann to collect material for her work. She and Ulmann created “Roll, Jordan, Roll,” a book about plantation slave life. 

 

Doris Ulmann 

Doris Ulmann wasn’t a native Charlestonian. Though, she did eventually make a great impact on the city. Teamed up with Julia Peterkin, she came to Charleston to photograph the rural residents throughout the south.

Just some of her subjects were the mountain people of Appalachia and Charleston’s own Gullah-Geechee. Ulmann was active throughout the early 20th century, but her work still lives on in Charleston’s history. 

 

Septima Poinsette Clark 

Septima Pointsette Clark was widely known as the ‘Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.’ When she was 18, she graduated from the teacher training program at the Avery Institute. She became a teacher on Johns Island at a private school (black teachers were not allowed to teach in public schools in the early 1900s). 

She helped lobby legislatures to allow black teachers to teach at public schools and won this battle in 1920. She became a member of the NAACP and was fired in 1956 for her membership in the organization. After she was let go, she created the citizenship school grass-roots advocacy. 

In 1975, she became a member of the Charleston County School Board and received an honorary doctorate from the College of Charleston. She also received the Living Legacy Award in 1979 (awarded by Jimmy Carter) and the Order of the Palmetto (South Carolina’s highest honor) in 1982.

 

Women of Joint Base Charleston

Each year, the Joint Base Charleston honors the women who serve at that base and in all the armed forces. In fact, this Airforce base has several all-female aircrews. 

 

Dorothy Haskell Porcher Legge

If you’ve ever walked past the gorgeous rainbow-painted buildings on E. Bay Street and wondered, whoever got the idea to paint these homes such beautiful colors? You’re not alone. 

What most people probably don’t know was that it was a woman who first got the idea to paint one of the houses pastel colors. Dorothy Haskell Porcher Legge painted her home in the 1970s and the result was so beautiful that the other homeowners on the street followed suit. 

You can visit the outside of Rainbow Row on one of our tours, such as Charleston’s Most Beautiful Walk and the Downtown Charleston Walking Tour.

 

Pollitzer Sisters 

The Pollitzer family of Charleston had not one famous woman in their tribe — but three women who left a major mark on the city’s history. 

Carrie Pollitzer helped open the College of Charleston to women in 1918.

Mabel Politzer was an education advocate and helped found the free library. She was also the first director of a science museum in the U.S. 

Anita Pollitzer was a feminist and activist. She was a leader in the National Woman’s Party and helped women gain the right to vote in 1919. 

Want to pay tribute to these three women? There’s a memorial to them at 5 Pitt Street.

 

Laura Bragg

Laura Bragg was another woman who wasn’t a Charleston native but left an important mark on the city. She became a librarian at the Charleston Museum in 1909 and became the president of the Charleston Natural History Society only two months after starting her position at the museum!

She was the first curator of public education and eventually went on to become director of the Charleston Museum. Bragg was the first woman to hold the position of director of a museum in the U.S. 

She also helped found the Poetry Society of South Carolina, the Southern Museum Conference and the Southern States Art League.

 

Who are your favorite women in history?

 

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