Women’s History Month in Charleston
March is Women’s history month. As one might expect, several trailblazing women of Charleston, South Carolina, went on to make history that we still celebrate today.
For example, there are the Rollins Sisters, five African American women born into a wealthy free Black family who fought for women’s suffrage. There was also Septima Poinsette Clark, who is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” At only 18, she was a trained teacher and began teaching at a private school on Johns Island as black teachers could not teach in public schools. She lobbied for legislature pushing for black educators in public schools, a fight she won in 1920. She was fired from being a schoolteacher for being a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also known as the NAACP, but instead of being discouraged, she just continued to fight the good fight. She went on to receive an honorary doctorate, received the Living Legacy award from President Jimmy Carter and was even a member of the Charleston County School Board in 1975. She never once let roadblocks that others pushed on her define her or her future.
Then there is Laura Bragg, who moved to Charleston and became the librarian of the Charleston Museum. From this position, she quickly rose up the ranks and by 1920, she was the director of the museum. This made her the first woman in the country to hold this kind of leadership and power. She always strived for more achievements to make the world around her a better place, pushing for accessible education and information for all up until her retirement in 1939.
Late 18th and early 19th century author Caroline Howard Gilman also spent several decades in Charleston, only leaving some time after her husband passed. During this time, she pioneered the first children’s magazine and publication, The Rosebud, which contributed several pieces of poetry and juvenile literature to the youngest citizens of Charleston.
Then there was Dr. Huldah Josephine Prioleau, born and raised in Charleston, who, after spending time away to receive her degrees, returned to Charleston as one of the very first African American female doctors in South Carolina. She, throughout the entire span of her life, was the only doctor on record in Charleston who met this description as well. Her work, though forgotten by many, is credited to have improved the quality and understood importance of health care for women and children. She was the leader for a short time of the Colored Branch of the Red Cross in Charleston and was a founding member of the Charleston County Medical Association. She was well known for speaking out against mistreatment of black servicemen at the hands of her white colleagues and did well to improve the health care and race relations within her community up until her death.
These are just some of the stories of the amazing women who made history in Charleston.
Marissa Thompson is a senior communication major and was a fall 2022 intern with the Office of Marketing & Communication.