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179 Harriet Simons Women, Race, Politics, and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina Jennifer E. Black • • • Harriet Porcher Stoney Simons (1896–1971) of Charleston was a key figure in the development of the League of Women Voters (lwv) in South Carolina after World War II. A white woman from an elite background and a moderately progressive leader in a conservative state, Simons stood out among South Carolina women of her race and class. Like many of them, Simons worked to improve her city and state. However, her positions on controversial issues relating to gender and race placed her at the forefront of change in an often resistant atmosphere. Simons’s activities in the late 1940s and in the 1950s, many of them as a leader of the lwv, demonstrated the obstacles to as well as the importance of women’s work in public life in South Carolina and the South during those years. Harriet Porcher Stoney was born in Charleston on November 6, 1896, the descendant of a long line of prominent Charlestonians. Her parents were Samuel Gaillard Stoney and Louisa Cheves Smythe Stoney. She was educated in Charleston except for a short spell at a boarding school in Philadelphia. As a teenager she worked for her father. “My first job was as secretary-stenographerchauffeur for my Father who was then President of West Point Rice Mill. I got paid for being his secretary, but no salary for my duties as chauffeur,” she later recalled. “It was excitement and reward enough in those days for a girl of 19 to get her hands on a model T. Ford. I particularly liked the chauffeuring part of my job and through it I learned my way around this county.”1 This vision of Harriet Simons as one of the first women behind the wheel in the city of Charleston is consistent with her image and personality. According to her daughter, Harriet Harriet Simons Courtesy of Harriet Simons Williams. Harriet Simons 181 Simons Williams, she was highly visible within the community and had a reputation for being headstrong and a force to be reckoned with.2 Harriet Stoney married architect Albert Simons of Charleston on December 1, 1917, and had three children, Albert, Serena, and Harriet. For several years during the 1920s she attended courses at the College of Charleston as a “special student.” She also worked intermittently as a secretary for her husband’s architectural firm and as a laboratory technician at the Medical College of South Carolina.3 Plagued by severe hay fever and seasonal allergies from the mid-1930s onward , Simons left Charleston each year by August 15 to escape the ragweed and was unable to return until after the November frost. By 1940 she had developed asthma and began to suffer serious attacks.4 In spite of these health problems, which often left her bedridden, Simons was involved in a vast number of voluntary societies in Charleston in the 1930s and 1940s. Simons and her husband embraced civic work because of the sense of duty they felt toward the city where they spent most of their lives. According to her autobiographical writings, Simons “started at a tender age feeling responsible for the city of Charleston and its welfare.”5 Simons’s major interests, encouraged first by her work in various church groups and then by her service as an officer of the Junior League and president of the Craft School Parent-Teachers Association, lay in “governmental , health and welfare activities.”6 Many of the organizations in which Simons participated focused on women ’s welfare. After 1937 Simons helped start a privately sponsored birth control clinic in Charleston and served as the first president of its lay group. Simons’s daughter recalls that Simons made contact with two women from the North who had worked with the well-known birth control advocate Margaret Sanger in New York. The women and their husbands were clients of Albert Simons’s architectural firm and had hired the firm to renovate old homes they purchased in Charleston.7 The clinics were set up to serve black and white women, and there is evidence to suggest that the majority of the women who used them were black. Simons’s achievement in getting such a clinic started during the 1930s was remarkable given the level of resistance throughout the United States at that time to the dissemination of contraceptive advice, though there were other women’s organizations and women doctors in South Carolina in...


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