Wonder Women

Walking tour spotlights impactful Charleston women
It’s no secret that Charleston is steeped in history. It’s part of its enduring charm – and why thousands of visitors come from all over the world to visit the Holy City year after year. But there’s more to admire about this fabled place than its cobblestone streets, Antebellum mansions, horse-drawn carriages, and stately churches. 
Charleston has had plenty of “wonder women” leave their mark on history over the last several centuries. And they are each super heroes in their own right.
Just ask Cainhoy peninsula resident Lee Ann Bain, who hosts a variety of walking tours in downtown Charleston, including one titled “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History.” 
Last month, Bain took a group of local women on the tour, spotlighting more than a dozen incredible female trailblazers, each with ties to the city, and their efforts to make the world around them a better place, even if that meant ruffling a few feathers along the way.
To set the stage, Bain gathered with her attendees at Washington Square near City Hall, where she painted a picture of what life was like for women in Colonial Charleston.   
“Once a lady gets married, her education pretty much stopped,” noted Bain, who also serves as president of the Charleston Tour Association. “And education at this time is what I call ‘sing, dance and catch a man,’ because that’s what women were programmed to do.”
And once a woman got married in those days, control of her life shifted to her husband.
“Besides losing her education, she loses control over a lot of things,” Bain continued. “So if she brings money into the marriage, whether it’s from a dowry or a previous marriage…that automatically goes to your husband. You bear those children, you have no legal rights to those children, even the clothes on your back belong to your husband at this point in time.”
A woman in the 18th and 19th centuries, and part of the early 20th century, also had no legal rights, explained Bain, and anything her husband did, even criminal activity, she was attached to. If a husband had a wandering eye, it was his wife’s fault, she said.
“So this is the environment that these ladies that we’re talking about were growing up in,” Bain continued. “And these are the molds they’re going to start breaking.”
Walking down the street in an area known as South of Broad, Bain stops to talk about the Pollitzer sisters – Anita, Mabel and Carrie, who were born in Charleston in the late 1800s. While the sisters were growing up, Broad Street was a “men-only” district for legal matters and banking. There weren’t even any public restrooms for women in the area at the time. As Bain explains to her group, Anita, Mabel and Carrie see that women’s rights are not equal to that of their male counterparts – and they want to change that. While Anita focuses more on
the national movement for women’s rights, Mabel and Carrie help lead the fight closer to home – starting with pushing for a woman’s right to vote. 
“They have learned the best way to get these men to pay attention to them is to get in their faces,” Bain said. So they decide to set up a “lemonade and literature stand” on Broad Street.
“As the men walk down the street they go ‘Would you like a glass of lemonade? And I want to vote!’” Bain added.  
Their work helps push the conversation forward. They also are passionate about education. Since the College of Charleston is not open to women at this time, Mabel leaves town and comes back with a degree in biology and gets a job teaching sciences at what was then Memminger High School in downtown Charleston. 
“Her claim to fame is she’s the first woman and the first teacher in South Carolina to teach sex education to women,” Bain noted. “She talks to them about hygiene and everything like that.”
Carrie and Mabel open a free kindergarten school in their backyard. And later, Carrie takes a position as assistant principal at Memminger. 
“At Meminger, she’s the one that gets involved with programs that we think are standard today,” Bain said. “She brings in a psychologist to help with the children’s issues, she gives them school lunches, which was unheard of. She even brings physicians in so that they are able to get physicals.”
Carrie is also instrumental in getting the College of Charleston to open to women in 1918. 
“Carrie believes that the way women can get to vote is education, and to build them up,” Bain added. “Education is very, very important to her.”
Sister Anita is also pushing for women’s rights, but from a larger stage. An artist based in New York, Anita befriends artist Georgia O’Keeffe and joins with others in the fight. She marches in a number of high profile cities advocating for women, including Washington and New York. Ultimately, Anita was instrumental in the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919. 
“She doesn’t just focus on what’s happening here in the United States,” Bain explained. “She becomes part of the World Woman’s Party... and she works to get women heard in the United Nations... She will devote 50 years of her life to women’s issues.”
Another important woman in Lowcountry history that Bain discusses on her tour is Clelia McGowan, who is the first woman to serve on the South Carolina Board of Education. Born in Columbia in 1865 on a plantation outside the city, McGowan is a progressive thinker who isn’t afraid to share her opinion on the need for equality. After moving to Charleston following her husband’s death in 1898, she becomes the first woman to serve on the Charleston City Council. 
“While she’s on (council), she forms the committee for better race relationships,” Bain noted. “It is said that she had done more for the Black community than anybody else up until this point.” McGowan goes on to be the chair of the committee for public education and chair of the committee for public charities. She also sits on the committee for sanitary matters, the committee for insurance, and the committee of pleasure grounds, which oversees the parks.
“She was very influential in getting parks for Black children, because they didn’t have any playgrounds at that time,” Bain said. 
Once McGowan steps down from her post, there would not be another woman on the City Council for 40 years.
Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Septima Poinsette Clark, Angelina and Sarah Grimké, and Laura Bragg are also featured on Bain’s walking tour. Attendees learn about Pinckney’s successes with introducing indigo to the Lowcountry and its rise to become the second most profitable
crop in the Colony. A pioneer for education, Clark was also a tireless civil rights advocate who marched with Martin Luther King in Selma and Birmingham. 
The Grimké sisters fought for women’s rights and civil rights, with Sarah famously saying, “But I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.” Bain leads an entirely separate tour just on the sisters’ many accomplishments. 
Bragg, whose former home on Chalmers street is a stop on Bain’s tour, was the first woman to serve as director of the Charleston Museum – and the first woman to head a publicly funded museum in the country. Her well known “Bragg Boxes,” which contained a collection of artifacts and other educational items from the museum that were sent to local schools, are still used today. 
For more information on Bain’s walking tours, visit walkcharlestonhistory.com.
Want to go?
Tuesday, March 21, 7-8 p.m.
Church of the Holy Cross
299 Seven Farms Drive, Daniel Island
What do Septima Poinsette Clark, Gertrude Legendre, and Martha Daniell Logan all have in common? They were each groundbreaking women whose achievements broke down barriers and paved the way for others to succeed. In recognition of Women’s History Month in March, Daniel Island Historical Society board members Lee Ann Bain and Beth Bush will showcase these trailblazing female superstars, who each have ties to Charleston. 
Free. All are welcome. For more information, visit dihistoricalsociety.com.

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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