Book Review: “More Than Petticoats: Remarkable North Carolina Women” By Scotti McAuliff Cohn
By Mary Ickes
Ms. Cohn writes, in her introduction, that … in spite of their profound contributions, the women of North Carolina, like their sisters in other states, appear but rarely in history books produced during the first two centuries of our nation’s life. What has passed for “American history” is largely the story of white European men … To correct history’s slight, the Globe Pequot Press (Guilford, Connecticut) initiated the More Than Petticoats series to begin recognizing each state’s outstanding women. Ms. Cohn’s sixteen women represent North Carolina. Though she laments, I had to omit countless women … every bit as remarkable as those I featured, North Carolina is well represented by her choices.
The History of Nursing in North Carolina recognizes Mary Hooks “Polly” Slocumb for aiding wounded Patriots at the Battle of Moore’s Creek (1776), the South’s first conflict of the Revolutionary War. At the Battle of Graham’s Creek four years later, three male Patriots and Susan Twitty (aged 17) routed 20 Loyalists.
As her eight nephews joined Confederate forces, Abigail “Aunt Abby” House vowed to nurse them if wounded or arrange for a proper burial. The scores of other soldiers she assisted lauded Ms. House as their Angel of Mercy. Likewise, soldiers benefiting from the supplies and information that Emeline Jamison Piggott smuggled in her voluminous skirts glorified her as their human supply train. To protect her family from a brutal owner, Harriet Ann Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, lived for seven years in a 9 x 7-foot space above an outdoor storeroom.
Credit for the University of North Carolina, America’s first state college, surviving the Civil War’s aftermath goes to Cornelia Phillips Spencer. Outraged by carpet baggers desecrating her beloved school, Ms. Spencer initiated a six-year campaign of letters and articles that … scorched the usurpers to the academic throne with her fiery wit, labeling them “Incomparable incapables [sic].” Convinced that women’s hope for a better future depended on educating girls, Sallie Southall Cotten, championed the Congress of Mothers, forerunner of the Parent-Teacher Association. Appointed executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of Asheville YWCA in 1922, Adela F. Ruffin expanded the one-room facility to an eight-room house. Her dynamic ventures in assisting men and women, of all ages, during 1920s and 1930s … revolutionized black life in Asheville. Annie Wealthy Holland, With her natural poise and grace … served effectively as a liaison between black teachers, white superintendents, parents, and the predominantly white community. A determined educator, Charlotte Hawkins Brown expanded her first schoolroom, a renovated blacksmith’s shop, into the Alice Freeman Palmer Memorial Institute, North Carolina’s only school offering courses in African-American history. Dr. Mary T. Martin Sloop, working with her husband in the Blue Ridge Mountains, endeavored to improve all aspects of their patients’ lives, especially education. From her student dormitories emerged today’s Crossnore Academy.
Dr. Annie Lowrie Alexander, believed by many to be the South’s first female physician, countered Charlotte officials’ apathy about hookworm, typhoid, malaria, and cholera epidemics with a successful campaign to educate civic groups and school officials who, in turn, trained the public and students. Cherokee Maggie Axe Wachacha, at age 10 … began learning the skills of midwifery from her aunt and the art of herbal healing from her grandmother. For lifelong devotion to healing her people the Cherokee Nation deemed her a “Beloved Woman” and Newsweek Magazine, in 1986, declared her as … one of one hundred American heroes.
Harriet Morehead Berry veered her conviction that … the health of a society depended on the well-being of its members, not on the wealth of a few … into roads maintained by the State of North Carolina, not each county. Politicians mislead by her frail appearance quickly realized that Ms. Berry … was a formidable, inspiring force at a time when women were not even allowed to vote. Equally proficient in politics, Buncombe County’s Lillian Exum Clement Stafford, North Carolina’s first … woman lawyer without male partners and first female state legislature, guided 16 of her 17 proposed bills into law.
By age 14, Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten (sometimes spelled Cotton) played … standards, rags, and dance tunes on … guitar and banjo. She not only wrote her own songs, but could play almost anything by ear.
Married at age 15, she abandoned music to raise her family. Then, through fortuitous circumstances 57 years later, Ms. Cotten launched a career that won recognition by Musician magazine as among The 100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century.
You may enjoy Remarkable North Carolina Women, Reading Friends, as a good read or as the first step to serious research. Ms. Cohn succinctly presents the women’s endeavors with just enough historical background to highlight the importance of their successes, a commendable result in a book under 200 pages. Study aids include a map and a Bibliography, the work of an author concerned about the veracity of her facts.
As the Globe Pequot Press intended with the More Than Petticoats series, Ms. Cohn’s book contributes immensely toward correcting North Carolina’s history.
Award-winning author Scotti Cohn specializes in history and science-based children’s picture books. Her ancestors include residents of Orange and Rowan Counties in North Carolina; she lived in the mountains of Western North Carolina for more than 20 years. Scotti’s books for Globe Pequot Press also include It Happened in North Carolina and Liberty’s Children: Stories of 11 Revolutionary War Children. She has also written three children’s picture books for Sylvan Dell Publishing. In addition to writing, her interests include music, animals, languages, and jewelry design. She and her husband live in upstate South Carolina.
View from My Catio
Buddy, T.C.P.E. (Tuxedo Cat Par Excellence)firstname.lastname@example.org
As you may recall from last month, I am teaching Tooley the fine art of assisting Roy in reading the morning newspaper. As you can see, Tooley, with my guidance, learns quickly. If Roy seems unaware of our presence, he is. Poor dear is “morning impaired.”