Opinion: Putting Greenville Women on the Map
by Dr. Courtney Tollison on Mar 9, 2020
On November 2nd of 1920, white women in Greenville went to the polls for the first time. After an approximately 80-year battle to gain the right to vote, one can only imagine the excitement and optimism that filled the air of polling stations across the nation. However, on this momentous occasion, the front page of the Greenville News simply read, “Women’s Votes to Make Counters’ Task Greater.”
One hundred years later, women in Greenville are launching a new effort to celebrate and amplify the role that women have played in our city’s past and present: Greenville City of Women. Though our nation has made great strides in advancing women’s rights, our city’s historical markers and monuments do not reflect women’s contributions to our community. Women currently account for only two of the city’s statues.
Local supporters of the 19th amendment, such as Adelaide Viola Neblett, Mary Putnam Gridley, Ellen Perry, Sarah Sirrine, Eleanor Furman, and Helen E. Vaughan, were among the city’s most dedicated volunteers and philanthropists in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Their activism paved the way for women to become increasingly more involved in the economic and political life of our community. Suffrage was just the beginning; those who followed them persisted, breaking glass ceilings and defying social norms. Due in part to their hard work, women in Greenville and across the nation are now successful entrepreneurs, scientists, academics, artists, and politicians.
The City of Women Greenville strives to honor women who have positively impacted our community throughout our past. Inspired by a project to recreate the New York City subway map with names of influential New York women, former First Lady of South Carolina Rachel Hodges founded the Columbia City of Women project in 2018, which honors a dozen women every year and has created a new “map” of Columbia to honor the city’s past and present heroines. The Columbia City of Women project continues to expand, and in 2020, the project is coming to Greenville. Hodges’ hope was that other cities throughout the state would similarly undertake City of Women programs, and thus she is thrilled that Greenville “will celebrate the stories of Greenville women and inspire the next generation.”
The Grenville City of Women leadership group is composed of community activists, philanthropists, business leaders, and academics, who are partnering with Furman University and the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN). Furman President Elizabeth Davis has said, “Furman is honored to play a role in highlighting the impressive contributions made by the exceptional women of Greenville, past and present. During Women’s History Month and beyond, their efforts have contributed significantly to the creation of a more vibrant, inclusive community.”
During this centennial year of women’s suffrage, Greenville City of Women will announce its first cohort of honorees. This endeavor will connect Greenville residents of all backgrounds and gender identities to the rich legacies of our all-too-often undersung women leaders, whose contributions are woven into the fabric of our city. Through this initiative, we hope to inspire all community members and especially young people to help create a more just community where the contributions of all its citizens are valued. By shining a light on women who are not as prominent in our city’s history as they ought to be, we hope others will realize that they, too, can play a significant role in shaping our community for the better.
As we approach the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment in August of 2020, events will be planned to celebrate honorees and engage community members. In the meantime, community members can nominate women to be honored at www.greenvillecityofwomen.com.