University of South Carolina

Professors collaborate on first anthology of South Carolina women

The history of the Palmetto State is a rich and complex tableau that is made richer when the study of women is included. Focusing on the lives of individual women—some famous and some obscure—shows how women shaped and were shaped by society.

That’s one of the pictures that emerges in South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times (University of Georgia Press) a new three-volume anthology edited by Carolina history professors Marjorie Julian Spruill and Valinda W. Littlefield with co-editor Joan Marie Johnson, a lecturer in history at Northeastern Illinois University.

Launching the first volume

The first volume in the anthology was introduced during a special day-long symposium at the University June 4, immediately before the eighth Southern Conference on Women’s History of the Southern Association for Women Historians June 4-6.

Each of the three volumes contains about 18 essays on noteworthy women in the state’s history, starting in Volume I with the Lady of Cofitachequi, a 1560s Native American chieftain, and ending in Volume III with S.C. Supreme Court Justice Jean Hoefer Toal.

Volume I covers the period through the Civil War; Volume II, which is due in January 2010, covers Reconstruction through 1920; and Volume III, set for publication in summer 2010, will conclude in the present day.

'...even a stock car racer.'

Included in the essays, written by professors, graduate students, and senior scholars—some from Carolina and others from all parts of the United States, the U.K., France, and Australia—are accounts of enslaved and free black women, plantation mistresses, abolitionists, Revolutionary and Civil War heroines, suffragists, civil rights leaders, politicians, artists, scientists, teachers, and even a stock car racer.

“As the editors, we tried to ensure that there was a balance in the women included in the anthology and tried to avoid giving the impression that they walked on water,” said Littlefield. “They were human and had the same frailties of all people.”

One of their reasons for working on the anthology, said the Carolina editors, was their belief in the importance of understanding history in order to be able to affect the present and the future.

“We want people to learn about the things that have limited women’s lives and constrained their opportunities, but also to know about how women managed to accomplish a lot despite those factors,” Spruill said.

Representing S.C. women

Though the anthology is representative of women in South Carolina history, there was no way it could be comprehensive, even if their sole purpose had been to chronicle the experiences of women who had made key contributions, said Spruill and Littlefield. And they did not limit it only to women who were famous.

“We were interested in the times the women lived in, so we chose individuals or closely related groups of women whose stories would help tell the story of their times,” Spruill said.

“Some of the women included in the anthology had an impact on society and were catalysts for change, but others had no impact other than on their families, though studying their lives provided insights into the times they lived in,” Spruill said.

“As the editors, we tried to ensure that there was a balance in the women included in the anthology and tried to avoid giving the impression that they walked on water,” said Littlefield. “They were human and had the same frailties of all people.”

For scholars and general readers

The three professors edited the entries so that a general audience, as well as scholars, could read and appreciate them. They anticipate the anthology will be used by teachers in grades K–12 as part of their social studies curriculum.

They believe it will give readers a heightened understanding of gender as a factor in analysis of the human experience as well as a more complete understanding of South Carolina’s history.

“This isn’t just about studying women who made a difference,” said Spruill. “It’s also about studying what difference it makes it you’re a man or woman in society. Increased attention to women and women’s roles has changed and enriched the work of historians.

“Now people look at men as gendered creatures, too, and it has changed the study of history.”

 

 

Posted: 05/28/09 @ 12:55 PM | Updated: 10/23/09 @ 11:49 AM | Permalink