During the early nineteen hundreds, lived a young woman named Carrie Pollitzer. Her life in America was much different compared to present day. Women did not have much freedom to be independent and their accomplishments were based primarily on gender. A woman would go to college to meet a husband, stay at home with the children, and would have a hard time living a high standard of life if not marrying. Economically, businesses were run by the white man. Men owned the land and often had poor white women and African Americans working the farms. Industrially, the factories were owned by men and many women that were unwed would work in the factories.
Politically, the white man ran the national and state government. They were the only American citizens who were allowed to vote. My study of the southern women has shown, culturally, there were many different ways of living and prospering in the south. One is the poor African American communities, in which the people did not have anything. Another was the rich white plantation owning families who only associated themselves with other rich upper class plantation owners. This was a time when the civil war was over and the African Americans were not slaves anymore, so new problems were arising for the South since there was no longer free labor. Many women wrote letters to communicate with their friends and family. Now that I have set a basis of the time period and have explained women did not have many rights, I will look into Carrie Pollitzer’s life and her struggles as well as accomplishments being a woman in the early nineteen hundreds. A time when feminism in America was as alien as space travel is in the eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds. For example, 1913 was a time when people said a woman’s place was in the home and almost everyone believed it. Women did not work or go to college as much as men. In general men thought women were to stay home and take care of the daily house hold chores if money was not available for a nanny or maid. Most women had to depend on their husbands for money and a high standard of living. Men ran the government for the state and federal legislation. Their opinions were based on the writings of the English author Sir William Blackstone, who wrote, “The man and the wife is one, and he is the one.” This was the popular opinion of most white men living during the early nineteen hundreds. Soon women were to fight back and gain some independence and freedom to take part in America’s decisions on government.
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The number one campaign in women’s suffrage was the right to vote. In 1913 two Charleston women decided to rebel and join a newly formed party, which would later be known as the National Women’s Party. The two women’s names were Carrie and Mabel Pollitzer. Later their younger sister joined in the year 1916. Her name was Anita Pollitzer. The campaign of the National Women’s Party was to win the right to vote for women living in the United States and would change all three women’s lives.
Carrie Pollitzer wrote many letters to her family and friends. Through her letters, I have been able to take a step back in time and experience what life may have been for her. She was born December 5, 1881 in Charleston, South Carolina. She was the daughter of Gustave M. Pollitzer and Mrs. Clara Guinzburg Pollitzer. Her father was the owner of the firm, G.M. Pollitzer & Company of Beaufort and Charleston. His company exported sea island cotton and cotton seed. His family was German Jews who emigrated from Vienna to New York before Gustav was born. He made his way to Charleston when he was age sixteen. Carrie’s mother was from Baltimore and was the daughter of a rabbi. Her family had emigrated from Prague in 1848. She taught German having graduated from Hunter College before she was married. Carrie had two younger sisters, Anita and Mabel Pollitzer. Anita, born October 31, 1894, was the youngest born and considered the smartest. She had learned how to read, write, and play the piano before she even entered school. She also graduated from Columbia University with a degree in art and education in 1916. Her middle sister, Mabel was very active and helped Carrie with women’s suffrage. She organized the biology department at Memminger high and normal schools in 1906. She also established the Charleston Public Library in 1929, which required obtaining legislation. Her brother was a pediatrician who spent most of his life in Greenville. The Pollitzer family was very prominent and somewhat wealthy. There was an invitation to the president’s banquet at the Charleston hotel in 1903, found in the family letters. This implies Carrie’s father had an influence of a higher society. My impression is the family was a part of the ellite class in Charleston and as young women in the early nineteen hundreds; the Pollitzer sisters accomplished the unusual for that time. Carrie Pollitzer died in October 24, 1972, at the age of ninety-two. Anita died when she was eighty-one in July of 1975, and Mabel lived to be ninety-four and died in April of 1979. Gustave died in 1909, six years before Carrie joined the Woman’s Party and Clara lived to 1942.
Carrie Pollitzer was the oldest so she had to set an example and she really did. During the time when Carrie was a little girl, it was rare for women to have gone further than a high school education. Carrie proved this to be something of history. She started at Miss Hutchet’s private school and moved on to public schools. She graduated from Memminger Normal School in 1901. She was the age of twenty. She attended many colleges and universities, such as, Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Michigan, Colorado, Wellesley, and Vassar. She then went on to graduate from the South Carolina Kindergarten Association Training School. After her graduation from the training school she took part in two years of post-graduate work at the New York Kindergarten Association. This set her career in being a teacher. She spent her main bulk of her teaching career at Memminger Elementary School, which she taught for forty years. She also taught at Beth Elohim Sabbath School. Carrie has so many accomplishments and has succeeded at many of her goals; she is in a class of her own. Once she started teaching she became a kindergarten Director. This is when she pioneered in health work, social work, home visiting, kindergarten lunches, and programs for parents’ meetings. She held offices in the Charleston Federation of Women’s Clubs; offices in the Free Kindergarten Association; Recording Secretary of the Charleston Natural History Society; was a member of the Board of the Temple Sisterhood; was a speaker at Women’s Clubs and Parent Teacher Association meetings; and was a participating member of civic, cultural, and educational organizations.
Carrie was a local leader for Women’s Suffrage before the passage of the Suffrage Amendment, and inaugurated a city wide Suffrage Day. She was a founder and organizer of the Annual Community Children’s Festival, and served as director for the children’s festival for twenty-three years. She served as Chairman of the Committee of the Charleston Federation of Women’s Clubs, which was successful in obtaining the admission of women to the College of Charleston in 1918. She was an active participant in several cultural organizations; the community chest drives, the Red Cross and Sabbath school education, and raised many fund raising drives to expand the school’s facilities. While being a kindergarten teacher, Carrie was never married and lived with her sister Mabel at 5 Pitt Street in downtown Charleston. For as many accomplishments as one white woman can receive in the early nineteen hundreds, she should definitely set an example for all women to accomplish anything you want, especially being single.
Carrie’s motivation for writing letters was that of communication with her family and keeping them informed of what was going on in her life and what was going on in theirs. She did not write about political matters so much, but friendly letters to her loved ones. She had speeches and other writings which I found some parts of, but mainly I read her letters. She would write to her sisters and father the most about what she was accomplishing in college and in her activities. Her father would write her back and tell her he was proud, but the number one concern for her was her health. In one of her letters to her sister Mabel, she writes about weighing herself and only being seventy-nine pounds. She blames the scale because she thinks she really weighs eighty pounds. I liked to read her letters and find out what daily life was like. She talked about walking into town and different places she knew the family and friends had been. The letters and family papers that the source was coming from contained all types of writings about the family and their role in the community of Charleston. Carrie’s papers included letters of her activities and accomplishments, as well as, friendly comments to find out what her other family members were doing. One interesting letter was about the time when she was organizing the community children’s fund to help support the kindergarten program, a tornado and hurricane ravaged the two Kindergarten buildings. These took place mainly when she was in colleges and universities. She also had written some fiction, which was a story, but there was no title. There were just some sections of the story. The individuals that mainly came up were her father, Mabel, Anita, her nephew Richard, and to some sources I was not sure who they were. Her ideas were happy ones and she gave updates on how she was doing. Events that she discussed were the major movements she was a part of. These included: women’s suffrage, women attending the College of Charleston, and the importance of children’s education starting at an early age.
The main interesting topics that Carrie Pollitzer accomplished and was a part of, were the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and her part of being a leader in the movement allowing women to attend the College of Charleston. Her involvement in the movement to let women attend the college is her most well known feat. She made this a personal goal after World War I. Carrie gave a great speech to the College of Charleston in regards to letting women into college. Some of the speech said in 1918 is: “The old order changeth’, and because of existing international, social, and economic conditions, the women of today, as the co-workers, partners, and guardians of precious civilization, are to be accorded this opportunity, so long ago accorded to men.” The move to gain admission for women to the College of Charleston was spear headed by Carrie, which she was the executive board member of the administration. She instigated a petition from the federation to the college and, after more than a year of conferences with college officials, was notified that women would be accepted providing the federation would pay the salary for a woman matron and have provided funds for special facilities for women students. Carrie called a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce, and then considered men’s exclusive territory and invited prominent speakers and she started a drive to collect necessary funds. She would walk the neighborhood during the hot summer in which her efforts were looked down upon. She wrote in one of her letters, “The fact that women, in that era, were asking for money was looked upon with amazement.” By mid-summer of 1918, her group had raised 1,500 dollars in order to have facilities made for the women. A newspaper gave some good quotes about Carrie and her involvement with the College of Charleston. One was based on her speeches given in 1918 to exclusive male groups such as the Chambers of Commerce. Pierrine Smith Byrd, the colleges first female graduate in 1922, says “Carrie thought a woman should be able to attend classes from elementary school to college without leaving Charleston.” “She was very, very determined,” said Mrs. Byrd, who lived in Greenwood. “She appeared before all the Charleston groups. They thought she was very bold and didn’t want to let her speak.” One quote from Carrie to the newspaper was, “You should have seen the expressions when I asked that women be admitted to the college. I felt like Henny Penny telling them the sky was falling.” Another aspect of Carrie helping educate women to be independent and successful was her work training other young women to become kindergarten teachers. She also cared for her students and visited families to attempt to solve environmental problems of her students and scheduled physical examinations of the children.
Her movement in woman’s suffrage and their right to vote was another great cause Carrie was involved in. She once told The News and Courier, “that getting men to listen to a woman in 1918 was quite a feat.” Her movement in women’s rights even goes further back than when she advocated women in college. In 1912, she and her sisters became members of the newly formed National Women’s Party. She wrote letters to legislators urging them to pass the equal rights amendment and to treat women fairly. Women being able to gain the right to vote was a very important goal to Carrie and her sisters. She always handed out pamphlets or set up a booth at the corner of King and Broad Street advocating her cause of women’s suffrage and the right to vote. For her efforts in women’s suffrage and speaking out, which was not heard of during those days, she got put in the Hall of Fame from the Charleston Federation of Women’s Clubs and she also won a plaque from the Charleston chapter of the National Organization for Women. The plaque read: “With deep appreciation for contributions towards women’s equality, from the Charleston NOW chapter.”
Carrie had a great personality. She was considered a strong woman who believed that if you were going to accomplish anything, you had to start at the child’s level. She was dedicated to what she believed in and it made a difference. William Pollitzer, Richard’s son, says that all four Pollitzer children grew up with the belief that they should serve others. He says, “It was kind of expected of them and in a way, all of them did that.” William, who is the nephew, also said, “Carrie struck me as a proper Victorian lady in her dress and attitude.” He also said, “Although she was interested in the equal rights movement, she wasn’t what you think of today as a liberated feminist.” She was very much the little, old lady of the nineteenth century in that respect. She was known as Miss Carrie, since she was never married. She lived with her sister, Mabel, and they both belonged to the same cause of women’s rights. Mabel and Carrie lived on Pitt Street together and were usually seen together. They must have been simple women since neither had a car. The personality of Carrie showed up in her letters. She was very proper and spoke well and educated in her writings. In the commentaries that were written by her family and friends, there was nothing negative to be said.
Carrie compared to other significant southern women that I have looked is she seems to be a little more accomplished and focused on making her and her children’s lives better for the future of women. Fanny Kemble relates the most to her out of the women we have studied. Fanny was very independent and worked as well as educating herself to become what she wanted to be. She was a successful actress and showed great strength when she separated from her husband. Fanny fell victim to the unequal rights women had because she could not see her children or she did not receive any benefits from her husband financially. Fanny grew a hatred for the United States and soon tried to help out her own cause which was to not take part in the use of slavery for free labor. She did not advocate very much, but she really did not have much power. Carrie had the chance to advocate her cause while other women backed it up. Fanny would not have had as much support. The both were upper class white females living in the south dealing with issues facing their future.
The social activism of Carrie Pollitzer and her sisters are different then the stereotypes of southern club women. At a time when few women in the south were suffragists, Carrie identified with the National Women’s Party. She came from a time when women were not allowed to be jurors until 1967 and a time when the Nineteenth Amendment did not ratify until 1969. She was one of the earliest and most tenacious supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment. She was a brave and strong woman by voicing her cause in public and in front of men. Many women during the time met in private. She managed women suffrage booths in the heart of the city’s business district. By reading her letters and researching her accomplishments, I have concluded Carrie Pollitzer was a feminist who would forever bear her southern heritage. She was a white southern woman who came from an elite family, but she worked with and around as well as against regional stereotypes of gender, race, and class. She set a new path for southern lady hood. The only shortcomings that came from her letters were the lack of historical facts rather she wrote more on her opinions and what she was accomplishing. Her writing was often difficult to read as well.
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