Well-behaved women rarely make history

Allow me to introduce you to Dean Amy Thompson McCandless.  She’s a chocoholic, loves to wear pink, and jogs in her office to keep warm.  She has taught courses in U.S. women’s and British history, but her research mainly focuses on women’s history. Dean McCandless was recently invited to speak at the Clarendon Historical Society on South Carolina Women. You can read Cathy Gilbert’s article on Dean McCandless’ lecture below, originally featured on the front page of The Manning Times.

Amy2008Members and guests of the Clarendon Historical Society were treated to an interesting and entertaining program last week, entitled “Brazen Belles – Three South Carolina Women of Dis­tinction” by Dr. Amy Thompson McCandless, professor of history and dean of the Graduate School at the College of Charleston.

McCandless’ lecture set out to dispel the long-held myth and stereotype of the Southern woman.

“The southern plantation was idealized as a place where slaveholders and the enslaved mingled as one, big happy fam­ily,” she said. “Women were af­forded but one right – the right to protection from her husband or family, and the obligation to obey. In essence, she was also a slave.”

The “ideal” Southern woman was submissive, pious and vir­tuous and her only responsibili­ties were to have children and keep the home, McCandless ex­plained.

“She was not a legal person,” she said. “She could not own property, testify in court, make a will or control any money she might earn or inherit. Children belonged to the father, and in case of separation (there was no divorce), the mother had no right to them.”

However, as McCandless noted, there were some great exceptions to that rule, and she discussed one from each of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722- 1793) was a somewhat self-edu­cated botanist and one of the leading producers of indigo in her time. At the tender age of 17, she was left in charge of three plantations, her mother and a younger sister. McCand­less reports that her own father attempted to sabotage her efforts to thwart her business success.

Nevertheless, though histori­ans have not given Pinckney her due according to McCandless, Pinckney was the first woman inducted into the S.C. Business Hall of Fame in 1989.

From the 19th century, Mc­Candless gave her audience Mary Boykin Chesnut (1823- 1886).

amybook“We are so lucky to have Chesnut’s Civil War Diary, which is considered one of the finest literary works of the Con­federacy,” McCandless said.

Chesnut was an early critic of slavery and likened her position as a woman to that of a slave.

“I think these times make all women feel their humiliation in the affairs of the world,” Chesnut wrote. “With men, it is on to the field – glory, honor, praise, etc., … power. Women can only stay at home. Oh, that I was a man.”

Boykin had no children and described herself in her diaries as a “useless wretch.”

And from the 20th century, McCandless introduced the Historical Society to Anita Pol­litzer (1894-1975), one of three Charleston sisters who were all very politically involved and leaders in the suffrage move­ment in Charleston.

“There were few suffragettes in Charleston in the 1920s, but the Pollitzer sisters were formi­dable ones,” said McCandless.

Pollitzer was an advocate for gender equity, fair labor prac­tices and the right for women to keep their American citizen­ship when they married foreign nationals.

Prior to the passage of The Cable Act of 1922, a woman lost her U.S citizenship if she mar­ried a foreign man, since she assumed the citizenship of her husband – a law that did not ap­ply to men who married foreign women. Though Pollitzer traveled widely in her political work, she always claimed South Carolina as her home.

“In my many travels and in life away from the state … I of­ten think with deepest gratitude of the fact that I am a Charles­tonian. So many influences here – so much beauty of the city – gave me a tremendous sense of important and permanent values which have stayed with me al­ways,” Pollitzer wrote in 1954.

Dr. Amy McCandless re­ceived her undergraduate degree from Sweet Briar College in Vir­ginia, an MBA degree from the University of South Carolina and her master’s and doctorate in British history from the Uni­versity of Wisconsin. She is the author of “Women’s Higher Education in the 20th Century South, Past and Present.” She has been a Charleston resident for more than 30 years.

The Clarendon Historical So­ciety meets three times a year, in January, March and September. For more information about the Historical Society, contact the Clarendon County Archives at 435-0328.

2 thoughts on “Well-behaved women rarely make history

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