Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Frances Guignard Gibbes Keith, 1870-1948
By Haleigh Brooks and Megan Anderson, students of Maggy Carmack, Presbyterian College, Clinton, South Carolina.
Frances Guignard Gibbes Keith was a talented if little known South Carolina literary treasure. Born in Columbia on October 12, 1870 to parents Wade Hampton Gibbes and Jane Allen Mason Gibbes, she was not only a prolific playwright and poet but also a pioneer and activist among South Carolina women.
After South Carolina College (today the University of South Carolina--USC) decided to admit women as special students in 1894, Frances was the first to enroll. She also studied under poet and dramatist Josephine Preston Peabody in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She married Oscar L. Keith, a professor of modern languages at USC, in 1911. The couple had one daughter, Frances Gibbes Keith, born in 1913.
Her entry in the 1914 Women's Who's Who recorded that she favored woman suffrage
In a 1939 interview, Keith recalled that she began writing poetry “when I was a very little girl. They... set me up on the piano and I would spout original verse. I always wanted to... but I didn't think I could do it.” While in college, she decided to pursue her childhood passion of writing and published her first work, Book of Poems, in 1902. She published her first play, Jael, in 1922. She would go on to have a prolific writing career as a poet and playwright, winning numerous awards for her work and receiving international acclaim. According to a review in London's Times Literary Supplement (December 13, 1923) she produced works that were “worthy of the Elizabethan tradition of poetic drama.”
Keith was a member of the Columbia Arts Association, the Drama Club, the Quill Club, and the National Arts Club of New York, as well as the Columbia State Society and the South Carolinian Society. For being a woman who was “working in and influencing the movements for progress, for higher ideals, for better living, for cleaner politics, and for social, educational, and religious uplift,” Keith was included in the Women'sWho's Who of America for 1914-1915, which noted her support of woman suffrage.
During World War I, Keith also served as the South Carolina state chairman of the Fatherless Children of France organization helping to find homes for some 900 French orphans. Her keen sympathy for the French was most likely a product of her summer study abroad in that country while attending South Carolina College.
By the time of her death on October 12, 1948 in Columbia, Keith had served her community in numerous capacities as an advocate for the arts, for families and for women.
John W. Leonard, Women's Who's Who of America, A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915. New York: The American Commonwealth Company, 1914. [LINK]
“Mrs. O.L. Keith Dies; Last Rites This Morning,” The State Newspaper, Columbia, SC, October 5, 1948.