Living Columns & Blogs

Learn more about important South Carolina women during National Women's History Month

In March, educators across the nation highlight the achievements of women. The tradition began in 1978 when the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women in California initiated a "Women's History Week." The movement grew so that by 1986, more than a dozen states had proclaimed March as National Women's History Month.

In 1987, Congress followed suit and officially designated March as National Women's History Month.

The theme for 2013 is "Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics." Log on to to discover the accomplishments of the 18 innovative scientists to be honored by the National Women's History Project organization this year. Although there are no South Carolina natives up for nomination, below are a number of innovative scientific South Carolinian females worthy of note.


South Carolina history buffs are sure to know the names Eliza Lucas Pinckney (indigo planter), Elizabeth Allston Pringle (rice planter), and Mary McLeod Bethune (educator), but the list of notable South Carolina women is much longer. Perhaps you are unaware that it is Hannah English Williams, who gets credit for being South Carolina's first female biologist. Enlisted by the British Museum in the 1700s, Hannah collected plant and animal specimens from Charles Towne.


John James Audubon's "Birds of America" paintings are world renowned, but the background scenes to his paintings were the work of watercolor artist, Maria Martin. A Charlestonian, Maria began drawing illustrations to depict her brother-in-law's field research. When Maria's brother-in-law began working with John James Audubon for their groundbreaking work, "The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America," Maria assisted by helping with the drawings. Although she received no recognition for her contributions in her lifetime, she is now known as America's first female naturalist-artist.


Matilda Arabella Evans was the first black woman licensed to practice medicine in South Carolina. (Not to be confused with Dr. Lucy Hughes Brown, the first black doctor to practice medicine in South Carolina). After spending her formative years in Aiken, Matilda enrolled in the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania and graduated in 1897. From her practice in Columbia, Dr. Evans treated both white and black patients primarily in the field of obstetrics and gynecology. Aside from her busy medical practice, she ran a farm, published a weekly newspaper (The Negro Health Journal of South Carolina) and founded Taylor Lane Hospital, the first black hospital in Columbia.


Born in the early 1900s to a large family in Orangeburg, Hilla Sheriff set out to create changes in the medical field that would directly affect the residents of her home state. After graduating from the Medical College of South Carolina and completing post graduate internships, Dr. Sheriff returned to South Carolina in 1929 to set up a private pediatric practice in Spartanburg. During the 1930s, the field of public health became ripe for aspiring physicians and Sheriff left her practice to pursue a master's in public health degree from Harvard University. From 1940 to 1967, she became South Carolina's first female health officer by taking on the role of state director of the Maternal and Child Health Division. Her lists of accolades and awards are impressively lengthy, and her imprint on public health, especially in developed standardized midwifery training, in South Carolina is readily visible today.


To learn more about notable South Carolina women innovators, check out a few of the following books and articles used in drafting this column:

  • "South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times," edited by Marjorie Julian Spruill, Valinda W. Littlefield and Joan Marie Johnson.
  • "South Carolina Women," by Idella Bodie
  • "Go Tell it on the Mountain: Hilla Sheriff and Public Health in the South Carolina Piedmont, 1929 to 1940," American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 85, No. 4, pages 578-584.
  • "Audubon; The Charleston Connection," edited by Albert E. Sanders and Warren Ripley
  • Amanda Brewer is reference manager at the Bluffton library.