Charlotte (Lottie) M. Rollin


The Rollin Sisters of South Carolina

A Profile of Frances Anne Rollin (Whipper), (1845-1901), Charlotte M. Rollin (1847-1928), Katherine E. Rollin (1851-1876), Louise Marie (also known as Marie Louise) Rollin (1855-1921), and Florence N. Rollin (b. 1858)


By Carole Ione Lewis, Independent Scholar

Five remarkable daughters, whose names and deeds were destined to go down in the history of South Carolina and the nation were born between 1845 and 1858 to William A. Rollin (1815-1880) and his wife Margarette (1820-1889).

The Rollin family was part of a community of free mulattos of French and African descent, whose ancestors and close neighbors had arrived with the wave of both white and black immigrants from the island of St. Domingue in the wake of Revolutionary slave uprisings of the 1790s. William Rollin ran a brick and lumber yard in Charleston, South Carolina and owned sloops that transported building materials between the plantations and the city. He owned slaves and employed Irish immigrants in his shipping business.

The couple was residing on America Street when their first daughter, Frances Anne, was born on November 19, 1845. Charlotte M. would follow in 1847. By 1850 the family had moved to the area of St Michael and St Phillip. Katherine E. (Kate) was born there in 1851, and Louise M. in 1855 and Florence N. in 1858. The children learned French at an early age and were raised as Catholics.

Though comparatively wealthy, the Rollins, like other free blacks who formed a "layer" of merchants and artisans between whites and slaves, were counted out of the body politic and technically were forbidden to travel out of state or to seek education. William could not vote, but nevertheless was approached by politicians due to his influence with Irish American voters, some of whom were his employees, and others were fellow Catholic Church parishioners.

William Rollin and his wife were not alone in skirting racial laws, as they saw to it that their girls were well educated in private schools established by and for free people of color in Charleston. Charlotte and Kate attended a fine boarding school, Dr. Dio Lewis's Family School for Young Ladies in Boston and later completed a normal course that prepared them as teachers.

Frances, known as "Frank" to friends and family, recalled her childhood in an autobiographical sketch in 1901. She attended "the parish school in Charleston taught by an old French family . . . . French was taught and I was lisping French long before I could clearly speak English. We had a number of excellent private schools for the education of the free colored people; in fact neighboring cities like Savannah and Augusta sent their well to do pupils to Charleston for instruction."

Frances declined to go to Paris to continue her studies, and was sent to Philadelphia in 1859, where she boarded with a family and attended a Quaker school, the Institute for Colored Youth. One of her teachers there was the suffragist, Sarah Mapps Douglass. Her sisters all had secondary schooling. Louise attended a convent school in Philadelphia, while Charlotte and Katherine attended Dio Lewis's Family School for Young Ladies in Boston and later prepared for teaching by attending a normal school.

Frances returned to Charleston at war's end and became a teacher in schools organized by the Freedman's Bureau and the American Missionary Association. Her sisters, Katherine and Charlotte, followed her lead, teaching freedpeople. Post-war Charleston, under Martial Law, forbade discrimination against blacks; and Frank was the winner of what may be one of the country's earliest Civil Rights suits when in 1867, she successfully sued the Captain of the ferry Pilot Boy for refusing her a first-class seat.

Shortly thereafter, Major Martin R. Delany, the highest ranking officer of color in the Army, engaged Frances to write his biography. It was her goal to "make her mark in literature" and Frank moved to literary Boston to complete her work.

In Boston on New Year's Eve, she began an 1868 diary that has come down to us as the earliest known diary by a southern black woman. A minor celebrity in her own right in Boston, she encountered some of the great luminaries of her time, including noted abolitionists, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison and Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, each of whom mentored her.

During the course of the year, while the Constitutional Convention of South Carolina was meeting back home, including blacks and whites in the first event of its kind, Frank was in Boston completing her book The Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany. She relied upon letters from home to keep her informed.

One of the black members of that Congress was an enterprising lawyer, a widower from Pennsylvania named William James Whipper. Whipper introduced an unprecedented motion on the floor suggesting that women be included in the proceedings. The motion was defeated, but young feminists, Charlotte and Kate Rollin were in attendance, and shared the news by letter with their elder sister in Boston.

That very year (1868), the first edition of Frank's book was published by Lee and Shepard with the name of Frank A. Rollin as author. Her work is the earliest full-length biography by a person of color and a primary resource for scholars researching the man who would become known as the "Father of Black Nationalism."

On her return to Charleston, Frank was caught up in the excitement of Reconstruction. She worked as a clerk to the Judiciary Committee of the South Carolina House of Representatives and accepted work at Whipper's law office in Columbia in the heart of the action. Charismatic Whipper, soon to be a State Legislator, wooed Frank and asked her to marry him. Frank's father raged against it. Whipper was at best, a former Union soldier, a carpetbagger from the North. Her sisters considered Whipper an outsider and where marriage was concerned, beneath their standing as descendants of a patrician French family. Nonetheless, the couple married on September 17, 1868 and were feted by both white and black legislators. They had five children, only 3 of whom survived into adulthood.

During this period Charlotte (Lottie), Kate, Louise and Florence moved to the State capital in Columbia where their residence was on Senate Street close to Jainey Hall the main seat of state government. Lottie worked for a time for legislator Robert Brown Elliott in his capacity as adjutant general of the state militia.

The sisters' intelligence, physical attractiveness and interest in politics, along with their open mingling with white and black legislators, brought them much local and national attention. In 1869 twenty-two year old Charlotte spoke eloquently on the floor of the State's House of Representatives in support of women's rights. In 1871 New York City journalists from the New York Sun and New York Herald wrote lengthy articles with racist overtones, profiling the beautiful and brainy Rollin Sisters.

In December 1870 Lottie chaired the founding meeting of the South Carolina Women's Rights Association with Kate as Treasurer and with Governor Scott and many noted legislators including Whipper in attendance. The meeting was documented by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in their History of Woman Suffrage. Charlotte spoke at the event:

"It has been so universally the custom to treat the idea of woman suffrage with ridicule and merriment that it becomes necessary in submitting the subject for earnest deliberation that we assure the gentlemen present that our claim is made honestly and seriously. We ask suffrage not as a favor, nor as a privilege, but as a right based on the ground that we are human beings and as such, entitled to all human rights."

Lottie and Kate continued to lobby for women's suffrage and attempted to raise money for a Rollin Family School. They sought loans against collateral of their land. But as the Reconstruction period of hope for an integrated society began to rapidly dissolve, and the Ku Klux Klan began to make steady inroads into South Carolina, the tide began to turn and the sisters' circumstances became more and more difficult.

By 1873 Lottie had sold her Barnwell Street house and Katie was behind in her mortgage. Their earnings from clerical duties were not enough to keep them going. By 1875 Katie Rollin had defaulted on the Senate Street mortgage and the Richardson Street property had been sold. She and her fiancé, white congressman, George Francis McIntyre, moved to Florida for a time, but Katie was ill. She returned to Brunson, South Carolina where on March 4, 1876 at the age of 25, she died of consumption. Katie was buried in the Brown Society Graveyard in Charleston.

In an unpublished biographical sketch, Frances described her experience of Reconstruction in South Carolina. She recalled: "I . . . daily came into contact with the most prominent men of the State black and white of both political parties and I can honestly say at this distance from those stirring times, that with all the errors growing out of the lack of experience in Legislative matters, the colored leaders are worthy of the highest praise . . . . from 1868 to 1876 I was prosperous and happy[.] In the latter year the treachery of Rutherford B. Hayes to the Republican governments of the South caused their overthrow and with it my personal and political aspirations in the Southland vanished as completely as the filmy realities of a dream.

In 1880, William Rollin, ill and despondent, and estranged from his wife and family members, who were a part of a world unfamiliar to him, died in his Lee Street home.

1880 also saw Margarette Rollin and her daughters, Charlotte and Florence, leaving South Carolina for Brooklyn, New York. The sisters had expressed a desire to be close to the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, who was preaching in Brooklyn. They may have been able to fulfill that wish. No record has yet been located to shine light on Louise who would have been 22 years old in 1880.

In 1882, Frank and her family, leaving behind a climate of escalating Ku Klux Klan violence and political turmoil, much of it centering on her husband, moved to a safer location in Washington, D.C. William Whipper had a law practice and Frank worked first in the Land Office and then as a transcriber for statesman Frederick Douglass in the office of the Recorder of Deeds. She continued to write articles under a pen name and remained in Washington for over two decades, in a house on 6th Street, N.W. Frank saw all the children through Howard University, and (in the case of Ionia), Howard Medical School.

In 1882 Frances lost a legal battle that had been pending back in South Carolina. In it, she had attempted to prove herself her father's legal heir. Her opponent was her mother, Margarette. Both women, due to lack of funds, were forced to drop the suit and subsequently, all of William Rollin's prime property in Charleston was lost.

For a time, Margarette, Lottie and Florence supported themselves in Brooklyn by running a boarding house on Crospey Avenue. Charlotte found work teaching and eventually became a school principal; Florence taught piano. City directories found Margarette residing at 2 Union Place and 310 Park Place in Brooklyn in 1886 and 1889, respectively. Margarette Rollin died at the age of 64 in Brooklyn on July 23, 1889.

In 1889, Frances Rollin Whipper, in poor health, returned to Beaufort, S.C. where Whipper, ousted from state politics and vilified by politicians, served as a Probate Judge. She died at home there on October 17, 1901 at the age of 56 and was buried in the AME Churchyard. "Death of A Cultured Colored Woman" read the headline in TheState (Columbia) newspaper (19 October 1901, p. 2). Sister Marie (also known as Louise) died in Brooklyn in December 1921. Sister Charlotte (Lottie) died in Brooklyn in March 1928.


Federal Manuscript Censuses for Beaufort, SC, 1880 and 1900 for William and Frances Whipper. Accessed online with Ancestry Library Edition.

Find-a-Grave death record, Lottie M. Rollin, Brooklyn, 1928. This record also provides death dates for Margarette and Louise Marie. Accessed online with Ancestry Library Edition.

Frances Rollin, Diary, January 1868, 6 pp. Collection of Carole Ione Lewis.

"Frances A. R. Whipper," unpublished typescript, autobiographical sketch in the Daniel Murray Papers, microfilm, reel 8, frames 944-960, August 1901. Accessed in the Doe Library, University of California, Berkeley.

"Death of a Cultured Colored Woman," The State (Columbia, SC), 19 Oct. 1901, p. 2.

"The Queens of the South," New York Sun, 28 March 1871, p. 1.

"South Carolina," New York Daily Herald, 13 June 1871, pp. 15-16.

"South Carolina: Woman's Rights," New York Times, 3 April 1869. p. 7.

Charlotte Rollin, "Woman Suffrage Movement," The Woman's Journal, 25 Feb. 1871.

Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., "'The Remarkable Misses Rollin': Black Women in Reconstruction South Carolina," South Carolina Historical Magazine, 92:3 (July 1991), 172-88.


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