21 June 2015

Every Hero Has a Story: Rachel C. Mather

An unsung heroine who confronted the suffering left in the wake of that "Tide of Death," the Great Sea Island Storm of 1893, was Rachel Crane Mather. 
Mather tapped into her religious, educational, and philanthropic circles writing letters to solicit donations to ease some of the hardships she saw around her. With those donations, she distributed food, clothing, and occasionally a few coins to the endless stream of sufferers arriving at the Mather School doors, a boarding school she had founded in 1867 with support from the American Missionary Association to educate formerly enslaved girls. According to The Reconstruction Era in Beaufort County Local Initiative for National Designation Report (2003), Mather School "actually served as more of a social agency that provided Biblical instruction and lessons in home economics" than as a general educational facility for African-American women. She felt deeply for the people she served.  From the start, she used her payment from teaching to buy food for the freedmen as "she could not 'send away these pitiful cadaverous looking people without giving them a few qts. or pints of grits.'" Her actions foreordained her reaction to the survivors of the hurricane.

Much of what we know of the personal tragedies caused by the hurricane comes from the accounts she published at a cost of $120 in 1894.  Storm Swept Coast is replete with personal accounts of what transpired during and in the immediate aftermath of the deadliest natural disaster in Beaufort District's long history. However, Palmetto Post newspaper editor Samuel H. Rodgers criticized the expense.


Yet Rodgers retracted his criticism in the next week's edition of the newspaper: "We did her an injustice with the lights now before us, and hasten to remedy the evil. The book is to be sold.” He goes on to say that “Miss Mather pays a tribute to the Red Cross which many think it in no way deserves.  Why, with an amount not over $10,000 Miss Mather did more real good work among the sufferers than the vaunted Red Cross with four times the amount." 

Read some contemporary newspaper accounts of her activities and see a list of materials that we have here in the Research Room about her life at http://bit.ly/1paZgEz

(Update 8 March 2018): You can find a digital version of Storm Swept Coast and our small collection of hurricane of 1893 photographs through our partnership with the Lowcountry Digital Library. This way anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world can learn about Mrs. Mather's role in helping alleviate the suffering caused by the most devastating natural disaster to ever befall this area.

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