Women's History

www.lwv.org

In February of 1920, just six months before the 19th amendment was ratified, the League of Women Voters was founded by Suffragists of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Chicago, Illinios. The nonpartisan organization has been referred to as a "mighty political experiment," designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters.

Christensen family Portrait, Abbie 3rd from right
The Christensen family

Anne Christensen Pollitzer lives at the end of a dirt road on Saint Helena Island.  The view from her back porch is as stunning as her story.

White egrets wade along the marsh as Anne unfolds two large, cardboard displays beside her, spreading them out like wings.  Each is filled with old photographs.

The retired schoolteacher is prepared to talk about her great-great grandmother Abbie Holmes Christensen, a celebrated suffragist, folklorist and educator.

The Pollitzer house 5 Pitt Street Charleston, SC
Victoria Hansen/ SC Public Radio

A pale, pink home with contrasting, black shutters sits along 5 Pitt Street in Charleston.  Its window boxes overflow with colorful flowers, vibrant like the women who once lived there.  An historical marker tells their story.

"Hello, we are the Pollitzer sisters," the recording says.  "Carrie, Mabel and Anita."

It goes on to describe how the sisters grew up in Charleston during the end of the 19th century when women had no voice, no vote and no equal rights.  But that didn't stop them.

Emily Anderson Dunovantfield lived in Edgefield, South Carolina. She was well-educated and what many called a traditional woman. But during the early 1900's, Dunovant used a radical voice to help elevate the women's suffrage cause in South Carolina. 

Eulalie Salley pictured second from right, with then governor of South Carolina Ronald McNair, as he signed the 19th Amendment in 1969 .Source: https://sohp.org
Image courtesy of the Edgewood Project.

Eulalie was born in Georgia on December 11, 1883. She grew up on a plantation near Augusta, was privately educated and attended both, Virginia's Mary Baldwin College and Converse College in Spartanburg, SC. In 1906, she married attorney Julian Salley (later mayor of Aiken) and together they had two children. But it was the court case of another woman's fight to regain custody of her own children that prompted Salley to join the fight for suffrage.

The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women's rights convention. Held in the Wesleyan Chapel of the town of Seneca Falls, New York, it spanned two days over July 19 - 20, 1848.
Kenneth C. Zirkel [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia

The women’s suffrage movement was a decades-long fight that most historians place starting with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. But there are some who place the nearly 100-year struggle starting, in earnest, decades before the civil war with the proliferation of reform groups like temperance leagues, religious movements and antislavery organizations.

Detail from a poster showing a Red Cross nurse with an American flag and the Red Cross symbol. (Artist: Howard Chandler Christie)
Library of Congress

Prior to that World War I, South Carolina was a predominantly rural state, with a Black majority populaltion. The typical S.C. woman in 1916 was Black, and, if she was employed, she was likely an agricultural worker or a domestic worker. If she was White, a working woman was likely on the farm or in a textile mill. There was a quite small middle class where working women might be employed as teachers or a nurses; a few were clerical workers. The United States' entry into World War I offered women, White and Black, new opportunities.

Suffragists demonstrating against Woodrow Wilson in Chicago, 1916.
Library of Congress, Records of the National Woman's Party https://www.loc.gov/resource/mnwp.276016

On May 21, 1919, the US House of Representatives passed the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing American women the right to vote. Two weeks later, the Senate followed. The amendment was ratified and adopted, one year later on August 18, 1920. Getting to this historic moment took an almost century- long effort of lecturing, writing, marching, lobbying, and practicing civil disobedience for many women and their allies.