As a child, I read every biography in our school library on women that I could get my hands on. From the first female ambulance driver to First Ladies to sports legends, I read it all.
Almost thirty years later, I can still remember the battered, orange covers of those books and how they lined one wall of the Windsor Elementary School library so clearly. But what eludes my memory are the stories of women from my own hometown.
With a little help from the Walker Local and Family History Center, I was able to find six women whose stories piqued my interest. But stopping at a photo wasn't enough for me. I scoured books, the Internet and even alumnae magazines to learn more about these women who helped shape our city.
Some are women you may know or have heard about. Some are women you don't. But all are shining examples of the women--the humans--that I hope my own daughters will emulate as they grow.
Ethel Bolden, Educator and School Librarian
"Raised in the Edgewood neighborhood, Bolden served as an educator and school librarian in the Columbia area for more than four decades.
Establishing "the first elementary library in the all-Black public schools in Columbia," she advocated throughout her career for free access to all library materials for students (even letting reference books be checked out overnight) and using the library to enhance the classroom experience.
Following her retirement, Bolden served as a trustee on the board of Richland County Public Library for more than 15 years and is memorialized with a large ficus tree in the children’s room of the main library in Columbia."
Source: Unsweetened Magazine
Dr. Wil Lou Gray, Adult Educator
"Gray dedicated her life and career to creating opportunities to learn for the disadvantaged people of South Carolina. She transcended race and class barriers by focusing her energy on the eradication of illiteracy through progressive educational programs designed for adults.
In a state rife with bigotry and segregation, she “championed equal education for both races without being dismissed as an idle dreamer or revolutionary.” She used her influential family and class ties, her church, and the powerful grassroots network of clubwomen and teachers to turn her pioneering work in the field of adult education into reality."
Source: South Carolina Encyclopedia
Frances Miller, Pilot and Aviation Instructor
"A lifelong contributor to aviation, Miller started working for Owens Field in 1948, where she earned her pilot’s license in 1949. She obtained her Commercial and Flight Instructors’ ratings in 1950.
In 1951, she became a flight instructor for Hawthorne Aviation, and she became a FAA Pilot Examiner in 1957. She administered more than 3,100 flight examinations during her 30-year tenure.
In 1964, she started Miller Aviation at Columbia Metropolitan Airport, where she taught almost 6,000 people in some aspect of aviation."
Source: South Carolina Aviation Association | scaaonline.com
Jane Moorefield, Chemist and Educator
Mooreland worked as a chemist for the SC Highway Department for 35 years. Upon retirement she helped teach science to children at the State Museum and taught Math at a local technical college.
Modjeska Simkins, Civil Rights Activist and Public Health Educator
"Modjeska Simkins was the matriarch of the Civil Rights Movement in South Carolina. She was also a leader in African-American public health and social reform. For her contributions to the struggle for civil rights, Simkins is an American Hero.
Modjeska Montieth Simkims passed away on April 5, 1992 in Columbia, South Carolina. Speaking at her funeral, Judge Matthew J. Perry stated:
“She probably will be remembered as a woman who challenged everyone. She challenged the white political leadership of the state to do what was fair and equitable among all people and she challenged black citizens to stand up and demand their rightful place in the state and the nation".
Simkins is associated with the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House in Columbia, South Carolina. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 25, 1994."
Jean Toal, Chief Justice, South Carolina Supreme Court
"Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal began her service as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of South Carolina on March 17, 1988, becoming the first woman to serve as a Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. She is the first native Columbian and first Roman Catholic to serve on South Carolina's highest court.
When she was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1968, women comprised less than one percent of the licensed lawyers in South Carolina. Now almost twenty percent of South Carolina's lawyers are women.
In addition to practicing law, Chief Justice Toal utilized her law degree in public service. Beginning in 1975 she served in the South Carolina House of Representatives representing Richland County for 13 years. She was the first woman in South Carolina to chair a standing committee of the House of Representatives. She served as Chairman of the House Rules Committee and Chairman of the Constitutional Laws Sub-Committee of the House Judiciary Committee."
March is Women's History Month
Commemorating, observing, encouraging the study of, and celebrating the vital role of women in American history.
Women’s History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.” via WomensHistoryMonth.gov
Have a Midlands' woman you want us to know about? Tweet us at @accessfreely and tag #WomensHistoryMonth.
Laura Bliss Morris
I love a good YA series or anything DIY related—especially if it involves old houses or overgrown gardens.