Biographical Sketch of Emma Anderson Dunovant

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Emma Anderson Dunovant, 1866-1956

By James O. Farmer, Jr., Emeritus Prof. of History, University of South Carolina Aiken

Emma Anderson Dunovant, newspaper publicist for the South Carolina Equal Suffrage League (ESL), was born December 14, 1866, in Spartanburg County, S.C. Her father, John Crawford Anderson, one-time postmaster of Spartanburg, was a Confederate veteran and a "Redshirt" during the campaign that overthrew the state's Reconstruction regime in 1876. Her mother, Emma Buist Anderson, was the daughter of a clergyman whose pastorates included the First Presbyterian Church of Greenville. Emma was well educated, but after her 1888 marriage to William Lowndes Dunovant of Edgefield, son of a Confederate general, she settled into the life of a traditional wife and mother.

Indeed Dunovant seemed the antithesis of the stereotypical "New Woman" suffragist. A "homebody" with a handicapped son, she was a faithful member of her church and a moral pillar of her community. In 1906, during a period when the suffrage cause was in "the doldrums," the Woman's Christian Temperance Union held its annual state meeting in Edgefield, and Emma was inspired to join the anti-liquor crusade. In 1910 a well-publicized child custody trial involving Edgefield County's powerful Tillman family dramatized for her the evils of drink and the legal weakness of mothers. (Lucy Tillman might have lost her two daughters to her father-in-law, Senator Ben Tillman) Thus, though it meant "doing contrary to my raising," when the opportunity came Emma joined the South Carolina ESL, probably in 1917.

Dunovant's role as the voice of righteous indignation in the South Carolina campaign was perfect for one with limited mobility but a gift for entertaining, persuasive writing. She began in 1919 by writing folksy but hard-hitting suffrage letters to The State newspaper, signed "Grandmother." When a letter from her former pastor, E. C. Bailey, suggested that woman suffrage would open a Pandora's box regarding gender roles and racial strife, Dunovant responded with arguments familiar to all who were following the suffrage debate, and with religious zeal. This letter showed courage as well, for she replied to her antagonist's race baiting by suggesting that the "race problem" was solvable by other means than blatant white supremacy.

When Congress sent the nineteenth amendment to the states in June, 1919, Dunovant began a weekly ESL column that soon reached readers of twenty-six papers around her state. It optimistically stressed the potential political cleansing power of female votes, hammered the weakness of the anti-suffrage arguments, and posted news about suffrage rallies and petition drives that would demonstrate women's support for the franchise. The column continued until the disappointing, unscuccessful end of the campaign for ratification in South Carolina. When the amendment was adopted in August, 1920 it became the weekly column of the state's League of Women Voters. There, Dunovant celebrated the amendment's ratification and began the voter registration and education campaign that she hoped would begin the "cleansing" of politics. She gave the column up in 1924 when she was honored with the presidency of the state LWV. Through the 1930s and 1940s she wrote articles on public issues for several papers and for Charlotte radio station WBT. Emma Dunovant died June 14, 1956.

Sources:

Emma Dunovant obituary, Edgefield Advertiser, June 20, 1956.

James O. Farmer, Jr., "Eulalie Salley and Emma Dunovant: A Complementary Pair of Suffragists," in Marjorie Julian Spruill, Valinda W. Littlefield, and Joan Marie Johnson, eds., South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010), vol. 2, 144-65.

__________ "'Doing Contrary to My Raising': Emma Anderson Dunovant and the Woman Suffrage Campaign in South Carolina," in Winfred B. Moore, Jr., Kyle S. Sinise, and David H. White, Jr., eds., Warm Ashes: Issues in Southern History at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003), 181-200.

Bryan, Mary. Proud Heritage:A History of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. (Columbia: R. L. Bryan, 1977).

South Carolina League of Women Voters Papers, South Caroliniana Library, Columbia.

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