Biography of Eulalie Chafee Salley, 1883-1975
James O. Farmer, Jr., Emeritus Professor of History, University of South Carolina Aiken
Eulalie Chafee Salley, president of the South Carolina Equal Suffrage League and among the most prominent of her state's moderate woman suffragists during the 1910s, was born in Augusta, Georgia on December 11, 1883. Her father, George Kinloch Chafee, was in the kaolin clay business, and her mother, Marguerite Eulalie Gamble, was a talented pianist. She grew up on a plantation near Augusta and in Aiken, South Carolina. She was privately educated and attended Virginia's Mary Baldwin College and Converse College in Spartanburg, SC, each for one year. In 1906 she married Julian Salley, an attorney who was then the mayor of Aiken. They had two children.
Salley's interest in woman suffrage began when she learned about a much-publicized 1910 child custody battle pitting Lucy Dugas Tillman against her father-in-law, U.S. Senator Benjamin R. Tillman of nearby Edgefield County. When Ms. Tillman left her husband, B. R. Tillman, Jr., over his drinking, the Senator and his son arranged for B.R. to deed their two daughters to his parents under a century-old state law. Lucy Tillman ultimately prevailed in the state Supreme Court, but there was widespread outrage over the realization that a mother could lose her children this way. To Eulalie Salley, the case proved the need of women to exercise citizens' rights at the ballot box.
Salley was joyfully unconventional, especially for her time. Her anti-suffrage husband had little choice but to "allow" her independent spirit free rein, especially after she opened what became a very successful a real estate office in 1915, likely the first of South Carolinian of her sex to do so. Now financially independent, she drove her car on suffrage trips and rode trains to regional and national NAWSA meetings. She was anything but a homebody, never needing to cook, clean, or even supervise her children, and late in life told an interviewer that if she could start over she would not marry. Her innovative fund-raising methods brought much publicity to the Aiken County Equal Suffrage League. She once took part in a mock prizefight, and no doubt alarmed many by distributing suffrage flyers from a bi-plane as it buzzed Aiken's business district.
Salley met and captivated national suffrage leaders like Carrie Chapman Catt, from whom she had to hide her cigarette smoking, and Anna Howard Shaw, and was always a favorite speaker at conventions far and wide. In 1919, as president of the SCESL, she teamed up with Emma Dunovant of nearby Edgefield, whom she appointed publicity chairman. With Salley footing the bill and sending her "ammunition," Dunovant wrote a weekly suffrage column that appeared on the "society" page of The State newspaper and over twenty others. Their efforts were to no avail, as their state's legislature defeated the federal suffrage amendment, but after Tennessee's vote added it to the Constitution in August, 1920 they continued working for women's rights through the League of Women Voters.
Bull, Emily L., Eulalie (Aiken, SC: Kalmia Press, 1973).
Edgar, Walter, ed., The South Carolina Encyclopedia, (Columbia: USC Press, 2006), 831.
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.