A Voice of Her Own: South Carolina Women in Politics – Colonial Women

The romanticized Colonial and antebellum era of South Carolina offered the version of the genteel southern lady who was placed on a pedestal where she would never soil her hands. However, that pedestal was never an option poor white women or for African American women in South Carolina. Almost all black women were enslaved, lived in poverty, and had no control over any aspect of their lives. 

In reality, the Colonial and antebellum era found women with few means available to support themselves, other than dependence upon husbands, fathers, or male relatives. The limited educational opportunities for women of this era focused on skills considered appropriate for good wives and mothers.

By the early 1800’s cultural expectations in South Carolina society dictated that women should remain only in the private or domestic sphere- away from the man’s world of government and commerce.  Middle and upper-class women were expected to act as hostesses for their husbands, run their households, and supervise the slaves. 

During this period, and for many years after, South Carolina women had no legal rights. Women could inherit money and property, but once a woman married, her husband gained sole ownership of her property. Single women and widows were allowed to own their property, but they had few options for independent living. It was only through marriage and motherhood that an antebellum woman could find protection, status or power. But even then, those privileged elite white women were learning how to use the little power they had effectively. 

South Carolina Women in Leadership has proudly partnered with the South Carolina State Museum in sharing that story and the struggles of women throughout our state’s history who wanted their opinions to count and for their voices to be heard.  A Voice of Her Own is an exhibit now open at the museum.  SC Women in Leadership persuaded the museum’s Curator of Cultural history, JoAnn Zeise, to personally walk us through this empowering exhibit while sharing stories of the women, events and influences that have shaped our lives today.

Today, the physical exhibition is limited to 100 people/day for in-person visitation. 

Date of Exhibition:
Open now at SC State Museum and through at least September 2020. See more exhibits online.

Time of Exhibition
Tues. – Fri: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. • Sat: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. • Sun: 12 – 5 p.m.Masks required. 

Location of Exhibition
SC State Museum, 301 Gervais Street, Columbia, SC 29201

Special rules for visiting the Museum during the pandemic.

Special thanks to Betsy Breckinridge, former TV talk show host and volunteer videographer who also helped write all the summaries of our vignettes. And to Joann Zeise, cultural history curator extraordinaire of the A Voice of Her Own: South Carolina Women in Politics exhibit for the SC State Museum and woman who delivers much wisdom through her understanding of history.


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