Tonight, a salute to stellar South Carolina women

cclick@thestate.comDecember 6, 2012 

  • If You Go What: Book talk and reception for launch of third volume of “South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times,” edited by University of South Carolina historians Marjorie Spruill and Valinda Littlefield and Joan Marie Johnson. When: Tonight, 5:30 p.m. Where: USC’s Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, inside the Thomas Cooper Library.

The late Democratic lawmaker Harriet Keyserling often would recount tales of legislative maneuvering as a member of the “Crazy Caucus,” South Carolina progressives who battled a group of conservative lawmakers who called themselves “the Fat and Uglies.”

Fannie Phelps Adams, an African-American educator and resident of Columbia’s Wheeler Hill, often spoke of the struggles to overcome segregation and gain entrance to the state’s colleges and universities.

Now their stories, along with the stories of other prominent South Carolina women, are gathered in a three-volume anthology on South Carolina women.

Tonight, the editors will gather at USC’s Hollings Library to celebrate the release of the final volume of “South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times,” edited by University of South Carolina historians Marjorie Spruill and Valinda Littlefield and Joan Marie Johnson of Northeastern Illinois University. The 5:30 p.m. event is free and open to the public.

“They are just amazing stories — you couldn’t make up stories more interesting than this,” said Spruill, a USC history professor.

There will be time for book signing and Spruill and Littlefield will be on hand to discuss the project and the personal stories of the women they chronicled, who range from slaves with only first names to suffragettes to modern, high-powered women like S.C. Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal, who moved through the ranks of the state’s legislative and judicial systems.

Poor Civil war-era women from Mush Creek are represented, their letters to their fighting men adding a new dimension to the portrait of the war painted by more well-heeled diarists such as Mary Boykin Chesnut, who is also the subject of an essay. There is even a Nascar driver, Spruill said.

One of the hardest tasks of the seven-year project was winnowing down the list to a manageable 47 essays, Spruill said.

“I found that to be the hardest part of the entire undertaking,” Spruill said. “It was easy to find out about lots of women whose stories need to be told, a whole lot harder to narrow it down to ones we could include.”

Some of the noteworthy women included in the volume will be on hand to celebrate the publication by University of Georgia Press. They include Adams, the civil rights educator, and Chief Justice Toal; Alice Delk Ray, who with her sister worked in the Charleston Naval Yard during World War II as welders; and three women, Victoria Eslinger, Keller Barron and Tootsie Holland, who helped launch the women’s movement in the 1970s.

Some of the authors of the essays also will be on hand to talk about their role in the ambitious project. The essays were authored by scholars from around the world, many who availed themselves of the resources in the USC libraries, including the South Caroliniana and the South Carolina Political Collections.

Although a daunting 1,082 pages, the essays in the three volumes are meant to be accessible to students, teachers, casual readers and the armchair historian.

“They are all meant to be very readable and very accessible to the general public,” Spruill said. “They can be useful to scholars and teachers and also those who are just interested in history.”

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