RALEIGH – Scores of North Carolina women have made history, and you can find many of their stories scattered across the state on North Carolina Highway Historical markers. Their careers cross disciplines and historical periods, and their contributions to the state and nation are far-reaching and deserve recognition during Women’s History Month.
Among women recognized as early feminists are Anna Julia Cooper, who in 1892 published “A Voice from the South” in which she proclaimed, “Not boys less, but girls more,” and Harriet Jacobs, who escaped slavery and sexual subjugation in 1842, and published “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” detailing her experiences as a slave and her journey into freedom and feminism. Sallie S. Cotten became a champion for women’s rights, and in 1902 founded the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs.
From early days, North Carolina’s women engaged in politics and making a difference, as women staged the Edenton Tea Party in 1774, a year after the better known event in Boston. Among the many trailblazing women of North Carolina are Ann Durant, who in 1673 was the first woman in the state to act as an attorney, successfully representing Francis Godfrey and recovering his wages for work aboard a ship.
In 1921, Lillian Exum Clement became the first woman in the south to hold legislative office, beating two male opponents 10,368 votes to 41. Her nomination had come two months before passage of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. The Democratic women’s organization “Lillian’s List” is named in her honor. During the horrific flu epidemic of 1918, Connie Guion gained a national reputation as a physician when few women entered the field. She became a full professor at Cornell Medical School in 1946, and was considered the dean of America’s women physicians upon her death in 1971.
Other North Carolina women are known for public service, including first lady Dolley Madison, wife of President James Madison and Washington socialite, who rescued several official documents and a portrait of George Washington as the British set fire to the White House in the War of 1812. Mobility in North Carolina was the passion of Harriet Morehead Berry, who became active with the Good Roads Association in 1919, led lobbying to create the state highway commission, and set the foundation for the state’s modern highway system.
In recognition of Women’s History Month, Historic Edenton will offer tours in recognition of Hannah Iredell and Penelope Barker, of Edenton Tea Party fame, and bus tours around the life of freedom activist and author Harriet Jacobs for a small fee all month.
The Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville will host an afternoon program about women from the Regency Period of the early 1800s on March 3. The event coincides with the days of Jane Austen and the social pastimes of that era, and also with the observance of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812.
Tryon Palace will present two programs in recognition of Women’s History, one embracing the future and one reviewing the past. The March 2 Girl Scout Day program will examine the food and fitness of early Americans, how they can teach us to have healthier lifestyles today, and will feature fun-filled activities, games and tours of historic houses and gardens. A fee and reservations are required; call (252) 639-3524 before Thursday, Feb. 28.
An intimate look at the Lincolns on March 17 will explore many details of the lives together of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and reveal the extraordinary impact she had on her husband’s life and career. A fee and reservations are required; call the New Bern Historical Society at (252) 638-8558.