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373 Victoria Eslinger, Keller Bumgardner Barron, Mary Heriot, Tootsie Holland, and Pat Callair Champions of Women’s Rights in South Carolina Marjorie Julian Spruill • • • The modern women’s rights movement that began in the 1960s had a tremendous effect on American society. In South Carolina, where traditional views concerning women and their role in society were deeply ingrained, many people were suspicious of feminism and its goals. In the early 1970s, however, a vigorous feminist movement emerged in the Palmetto State. There were women’s rights advocates working throughout the state whose efforts greatly enhanced women’s lives. This is the story of five Columbia women, Victoria Eslinger (1947– ), Keller Bumgardner Barron (1932– ), Mary Heriot (1921– ), Eunice “Tootsie” Holland (1931– ), and Pat Callair (1946– ), who were among the most influential champions of women’s rights in South Carolina.1 This able and determined group, working through the long-established League of Women Voters (lwv), the newly established National Organization for Women (now), and other organizations supported a variety of reforms on behalf of women including the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (era), a key feminist goal of the 1970s.2 Heartened by the successes of the civil rights movement and of their own nascent movement, they sought further changes that would benefit South Carolina women of all races and classes. They won considerable support from both women and men. They sought to educate South Pat Callair, Keller Barron, Eunice “Tootsie” Holland (front), Victoria Eslinger, and Mary Heriot Photo by Clint White. Eslinger, Barron, Heriot, Holland, & Callair 375 Carolinians about the need for and the justice of new laws and policies regarding women, yet arguably they produced the most change by insisting that the state adhere to new federal laws brought about by the women’s movement at the national level. This group of Columbia activists varied in age, experience, personal style, and circumstance, as well as in their approaches to reform, but they had in common considerable ability, determination, and courage. In the 1970s—as in the earlier movement to gain the vote—it was not easy to be a champion of women’s rights in the South. And in South Carolina, a state profoundly conservative and wary of social change, there were many defenders of tradition who were not at all happy about the massive changes taking place with respect to the role of women. American society had changed dramatically in the two decades following World War II, but in regard to women there was a significant lag between actual changes in their lives and a consequent adjustment in attitudes and practices. This contributed to a new wave of feminism in the United States often called the “second wave” of the women’s movement. The reality was that large numbers of women, including mothers, were entering the job force even as the ideal was still the patriarchal family in which the woman was a wife and mother who worked exclusively in the home. Partly because many Americans viewed women’s participation in the work force as temporary or as a means of earning “pin money,” women workers faced pay inequities, sex segregation in jobs, and obstacles to advancement to more desirable and better-paying jobs. In the 1950s and well into the 1960s, most universities openly discriminated against women and denied or severely restricted their admission to professional schools. Even those women who managed to attain advanced degrees found it difficult to find jobs outside traditionally female occupations. Despite major antidiscrimination legislation enacted by Congress, including the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that mandated equal pay for equal work, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibited gender discrimination by employers, and Title IX of the Higher Education Act of 1972 that required equal treatment of women in educational institutions, South Carolina women looking for employment still confronted discriminatory treatment from employers in state government, colleges, and the private sector.3 Women who worked solely in the home were widely regarded—and often regarded themselves—as privileged but also faced problems that policy makers rarely acknowledged or addressed. A 1976 study of the status of homemakers in South Carolina coauthored by Vickie Eslinger noted that “South Carolina 376 Marjorie Julian Spruill women, particularly those who have chosen to be full-time homemakers, are not in fact the ‘privileged suitors’ referred to by the courts.” The report indicated that wives had “no enforceable interest in the family income during marriage” and “no real protection from physical abuse.” Despite the...


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