This is part of our #TBT series in collaboration with Historic Columbia.Columbia is laid out on a great big grid. When the state capital was relocated from Charleston to the more centrally-located spot on the Congaree River in 1786, city planners recognized that they had a chance at a fresh start: to make ours an organized, navigable city.
So, they laid out forty-two streets in a two-by-two-mile grid and placed the seat of government (the State House) right at the center.
Of those forty-two streets, 26 were named for male politicians + military figures, 15 were named for objects or places, and one street was named for a woman – Lady Street, for the first lady of the United States, Martha Custis Washington. (Her title, Lady Washington, superseding her own name on the street signs.) That breaks down to 62% male, 35.7% for “other” and 2.3% female.
. . . 2.3%.
In the late-19th century, Columbia began renaming streets, primarily changing gender-neutral names like Indigo and Lumber to ones that reflected prominent antebellum and New South men. Thus, the statistics changed: 28 streets are now named for male politicians or military figures, 12 streets have neutral names, and still only one street is named for a woman.
Putting Women on the Map
Inspired by artist Rebecca Solnit’s reimagined New York City Subway Map, Rachel Hodges, working with Historic Columbia and the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN), sought to make women’s achievements more visible in Columbia. The result was Columbia City of Women.
The City of Women initiative seeks to rectify the lack of female presence in Columbia’s urban landscape by reinserting the female voices and stories of the past (and present) into the narrative. It does not seek to replace men’s names, but to elevate women’s stories into the public consciousness of our city.
We are very proud to present to you the first twelve honorees of Historic Columbia and Wren’s City of Women. (But y’all know one email isn’t enough to get to know these incredible women. To learn more about their lives and legacies, visit the City of Women website.)
Lucy Hampton Bostick
As chief librarian of the Richland County library system for forty years (1928-1968), Bostick created a robust infrastructure for sharing information. Not content to operate a lending library out of a single location, Bostick established multiple branches and a mobile circulation system that reached tens of thousands of citizens across the county. #SheDid, so that we can access freely.
In 1897, Dr. Evans became the first board-certified woman physician in South Carolina. She fostered relationships between black + white citizens to create two hospitals, a nurse training facility, and the Columbia Clinic – which provided free healthcare to African American Children. #SheDid, so that we can support the wellbeing of our community.
Lilly is the co-founder of the Columbia Rehabilitation Clinic, the founder of the first all-female women’s obstetrics practice in Columbia, and previously served as the first female Chief of Staff at Palmetto Richland Hospital. But as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, her true passion is ensuring that future generations understand the horror of history’s largest genocide. In Columbia, she chaired the committee that installed the South Carolina Holocaust Memorial in 2001 and was instrumental in establishing the Columbia Holocaust Education Commission. Today she serves as co-chair of the commission as well as chair of the South Carolina Council on the Holocaust. #SheDid (and does) so that we will never forget.
Sarah Mae Flemming
In 1954, Sarah Mae Flemming became the public face of the fight to desegregate intrastate transportation in South Carolina after being assaulted on a bus for sitting in the wrong seat. After more than three years of dismissals, appeals, and two trials, Flemming received no financial compensation – yet the ruling provided the legal roadmap for Rosa Parks’ case more than a year later. #SheDid, so that we can take any seat.
In 1990, Harriet Hancock organized and led the very first Pride March down Main Street. By then, she had already formed the Southeast’s first chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and had been instrumental in the creation of Palmetto Aids Life Support Services in 1985. As an attorney, she fought anti-discrimination measures. As a community leader, she helped establish the first LGBTQ community center, which was renamed in her honor in 2005. #SheDid, so that we can be who we are.
In 1943, Sarah Leverette became the third female graduate of the University of South Carolina’s School of Law. Unable to find work as an attorney, she accepted a position as a law librarian at her alma mater, becoming the first female faculty member of the School of Law. Over the next twenty-five years, she mentored many of the state’s greatest legal minds. Her service with the Columbia League of Women Voters over the course of 50+ years exemplified her commitment to women’s equality. #SheDid, so that we can work in the field of our choice.
Frances, Charlotte and Katherine Rollin grew up as free people of color in antebellum Charleston. They moved to Columbia after the Civil War and established a space for interracial dialogue about political and civil affairs during Reconstruction. They were among the first + most significant women suffragists in South Carolina during that era. #TheyDid, so that we can vote.
Celia Dial Saxon
Celia Dial Saxon was born enslaved in Columbia in 1857. One of eight African American women to graduate from the South Carolina State Normal School for teachers, on the campus of the University of South Carolina during Reconstruction, she entered the classroom in 1877 and taught for 55 of the next 57 years – influencing generations of black Columbians. #SheDid, so that educate the future.
Modjeska Monteith Simkins
An unrelenting activist + advocate for racial and social equality, her civic engagement extended to health care, women’s rights, and the environment. As a member of the leadership of the SC NAACP, Simkins joined with other activists to challenge South Carolina’s continued flouting of established law and was influential in the fight for equal pay for black teachers, the fight to end the all-white Democratic primary in South Carolina, and the fight to end segregation in public schools. #SheDid, so that we live in a more just society.
In 2017, Coach Staley led the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team to the NCAA Tournament title, clinching only the second women’s athletics title in the history of the university. This accomplishment followed decades of success as a player and coach, even as these roles overlapped. As a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist and current coach of the Olympic team, Staley has represented our city, our state, and our country with grace and integrity – but also with the ferocity of someone who has had to fight for everything she has achieved. Coach Staley not only inspires fans, but she also uplifts women and girls through initiatives that provide opportunities to future generations of leaders, both on and off the court. #SheDid (and does), so that we can ALL be champions.
Anna Heyward Taylor
Born in 1879, Anna Heyward Taylor defied tradition and never married. Instead, she spent years of her life studying with some of the preeminent artists across four continents. A native Columbian, her works appeared in museums and galleries across the globe and at the Columbia Museum of Art, as that institution’s very first solo exhibition in 1950. Taylor is today considered one of the four leading figures of the Charleston Renaissance. #SheDid, so that we can create and explore.
As a high school student, Jean Toal bore witness to the civil rights demonstration at the State House grounds that saw 187 African American protesters arrested for exercising their first amendment rights. Watching Matthew J. Perry argue the case charted the course of her life. As a member of the bar and later the South Carolina General Assembly, she pushed for equity based on race and gender. In 1988, she became the first woman elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court and was installed as Chief Justice in 2000. Toal remains the only woman to have held the position of Chief Justice on the South Carolina Supreme Court. #SheDid (and does), so that we can.
#SheDid, So That We Can
More information about each of twelve honorees can be found at our website, ColumbiaCityofWomen.com. We encourage you to consider our city’s landscape through a new lens – one that prioritizes women.
Throughout the year, Historic Columbia and WREN will be hosting events to recognize the achievements of Columbia’s women. Be sure to mark your calendar for #SheDid Day on Monday, August 26 – a city-wide proclamation meant to inspire our community and to celebrate Columbia’s remarkable women. Keep your eyes peeled for updates as we get closer to the date.
If you’d like to learn more about the future of the Columbia City of Women project, you can find us online and on the Historic Columbia Instagram. (You should have the hashtag memorized by now — use it! #SheDid.)
Interested in advancing the health, economic well-being, and rights of South Carolina’s women, girls and their families? Then head over to WREN and check out their latest initiatives.
That’s it for us this week.
– Lois, one of the many contributing women at Historic Columbia