Old Town Rock Hill, South Carolina
The Winthrop "Troublemakers"
Nettie Wysor, Eva Raymond Hughes, Alice Moudy, Charlotte Richardson, Lillian Crane, Minnie Snellings, Helen Osborne, Miriam S. Meyer, and Bertha Loomis
The early decades of the 20th Century were a time of profound activism by women worldwide in support of redefining the roles of women in modern society. In the U.S., this period is chiefly remembered for the women's suffrage movement, which resulted in the ratification of the 19th Amendment and women's right to vote. During this period, however, women were demanding and achieving equality in other spheres too.
South Carolina, unfortunately, was not in step with the times. It would not ratify the 19th Amendment until 1969.
In 1915, 44 female department heads at Winthrop College petitioned the college president. D.B. Johnson, and the Board of Trustees to redress gross inequities in compensation between male and female faculty members. Three years later and having received no response, 28 protestors pressed the issue again. A year later, 12 department heads again implored the trustees for a just response.
In 1919 the Board of Trustees finally answered. While it supported the "correctness and justice" of equal pay for equal work, "the services rendered by men and women heads of departments of Winthrop are not equal, and we cannot pay the same salary to all heads of departments."
"Winthrop's female faculty refused to accept this answer. They continued to press the president and Board of Trustees to equalize male and female faculty pay. ”
Winthrop's female faculty refused to accept this answer. They continued to press the president and Board of Trustees to equalize male and female faculty pay. In a November 1919 letter, they stated: "Our earnestness and determination in the matter are born of longstanding injustice and cannot be staved by traditional opposition." They implored the board: "May we not depend on this Board of Trustees to champion – not women, but the right?"
The answer to the women's pleadings came like a thunderbolt on April 30, 1920. The Board of Trustees fired Wysor and Hughes, among the most senior of the petitioners, with a combined 38 years of service at Winthrop. Moudy was placed on probation. On May 17, Moudy, Richardson, and Loomis resigned from Winthrop "on account of the injustice" done to Wysor and Hughes.
The events at Winthrop sent shockwaves across South Carolina and the nation. Newspapers in Columbia, Charleston, and elsewhere reported the "Trouble at Winthrop." Women's suffrage organizations and women's clubs in Rock Hill and around the state raised loud protests against the Board of Trustees' actions – to no immediate avail.
Within three years, however, salaries of men and women faculty at Winthrop College were equalized. Justice was achieved. Dozens of women faculty members had successfully challenged the white male leadership and the college and the state's entrenched social and economic biases.
In the process, five brave women sacrificed their careers to achieve justice that other women came to enjoy. Despite this success, the fight for economic equality of men and women in the workplace remains a topic of fierce debate into the 21st Century.