27 March 2016

Working to Form A More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government

Government has been on everyone's mind as we brave the Presidential primary processes for the major political parties. It is quite fitting that the 2016 National Women's History Month theme is "Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government."

(Courtesy of National Archives)
Securing the right to vote for American women was a long and arduous process. After almost 100 years of advocacy and strife, Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the United States in 1919 and submitted it to the states for ratification. On August 20, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment and it became the law of the land. While on paper, every American female citizen was eligible to vote, the states set the voter registration rules and procedures. In many parts of the country, exercising one's right to vote was abridged by these rules. Even with the reforms of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964 in place, another decade passed before women began to secure elective office here in Beaufort County. 

(This is at best a rudimentary list of women serving in local governments since 1974. Please help me by letting me know who I may have left out, their position, and the period in which they served in that position.)  

In 1974 Harriet Keyserling (1922 - 2010) became the first female elected to serve on Beaufort County Council. She served in the State House from 1977 - 1993 and helped found the SC Legislative Women's caucus. Read her memoir Against the Tide: One Woman's Political Struggle. It is available in our Research Room or check out a copy from a branch library's Local History sections. We have a BDC.BCL List of Links and Materials about her posted on our Wordpress blog.

The very first archive we processed with a SC State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB) grant was the Nancy Ciehanski Papers. She was appointed to the Beaufort County Joint Planning Commission, Island Commission in 1979 and was elected to serve on the Town of Hilton Head Island’s first municipal council becoming Mayor pro tempore in 1983. She was actively involved with environmental groups and the Hilton Head Island Member-at-Large Unit of the League of Women Voters. (Contact me for the Finding Aid to this archival collection.) 

Juanita White, an African-American woman, represented parts of Beaufort and Jasper Counties in the State House of Representatives from 1980 - 1995. Holly Cork won the state representative seat left vacant by her father's death in 1989 and was elected to James Waddell's long-held State Senatorial seat in 1992. JoAnne Gilham, Edie Rodgers, and Catherine Ceips also were elected to the State Legislature. Margie Bright Matthews represents District 45 in the SC Senate, filling the vacancy caused by the murder of Sen. Clementa Pinckney, one of  the Emmanuel 9
Laura Von Harten, Dot Gnann, Beth Grace, Alice G. Howard, Cynthia M. Bensch, Starletta Hairston, Margaret Griffin, Eva M. Smalls, Gloria G. Williams, and Victoria Mullen are among former or sitting female Beaufort County Council members. Jerri Ann Roseneau is current Beaufort County Clerk of Court while Maria Walls is current Beaufort County Treasurer. Joy Logan was County Treasurer for 20 years. Other women elected to County level positions were Bernice Wright, Sharon P. Burris, Mary Ann Gray, and Elizabeth Smith. 

The City of Port Royal has a number of women on its governing board and commissions. Mary Beth Gray-Heyward sits on the Port Royal City Council. 

Kimberly Likins sits on the Town of Hilton Head Island Council. There may well indeed be women on some of Hilton Head's boards and commissions but I found no online list of current board and commission members.

Lisa Sulka was elected to the Bluffton City Council in 2004 and first won the mayorship that she holds today in 2007.  

Among the African-American women to hold elective office since 1960 were Freida Mitchell, Agnes Sherman, Ann Perry on the Beaufort County Board of Education,  Alice G. Wright on the Beaufort City Council, Bluette H. Jones and Annette Drake Smith on the Port Royal City Council. A number of Black women have served on County Boards & Commissions. Among them were Jessie M. Jenkins, Mary Davis, Mary Mack, Renell Brown, Jennie Green, and Rosalyn Thompson.  

The 11 member Beaufort County School Board has five women currently serving: Evva Anderson, Laura Bush, Mary Cordray, Geri Kinton, and JoAnn Orischak.  

JSYK: The National Archives has a script based on documents from their holdings for a 4 reader play, "Failure is Impossible," about the struggle for a women's right to vote  in America that could be used in schools.

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