Biographical Sketch of Harriet Powe Lynch

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Harriet Powe Lynch, 1863-1938

By Jennifer Melton, Graduate Student, University of South Carolina

Harriet Lynch was born Harriet Powe in Cheraw, South Carolina, to James Harrington Powe, a physician and Confederate captain, and Josephine Robbins Powe. Census records indicate she was born in either 1863 or 1864. Her family's wealth afforded her numerous educational opportunities. She received a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Master's Degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1896 she was married to James C. Lynch, a Union veteran. However, by 1901, she and James Lynch had divorced, and Lynch returned to South Carolina.

Upon her return to South Carolina, Lynch became involved in a number of women's organizations. She was active in the South Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs, where she was chair of the library committee. In 1915 Lynch helped establish the Chesterfield County Library by donating more than 500 books to its collection. In 1909 she edited and published A Year Book of Southern Poets.

Lynch was also a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). The UDC was dedicated to building and entrenching the narrative of the Lost Cause, the white supremacist ideology that venerated Confederate soldiers, framed the Confederate cause as just and heroic, and sought to obscure the central role of slavery in the Civil War. Lynch served as the historian of the South Carolina UDC chapter and was an active participant in promoting this ideology. In 1909 she edited and published several of her father's writings in a volume entitled Reminiscences and Sketches of Confederate Times by One Who Lived through Them. The selected essays exhibit racist interpretations of African Americans and, along with Lynch's introduction, valorize the Confederacy and the Old South.

By 1914 Lynch had become involved in the woman suffrage movement and was a founding member of Equal Suffrage League of South Carolina (ESL). In 1915, she was elected president of the ESL, the second since its inception. Like many southern suffragists, Lynch initially advocated for suffrage on a state-by-state basis, though she and the ESL would shift tactics in late 1917 to support a federal woman suffrage amendment alongside their push for state-level measures. Lynch actively lobbied other organizations for the cause of woman suffrage, speaking before conferences of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the State Federation of Labor. An avid Democrat, she also spoke before the South Carolina State Democratic Convention to urge the party to adopt a suffrage plank.

With the onset of World War I and US entry into the war, the ESL under Lynch's leadership increasingly supported the war effort. Lynch herself became involved in the Red Cross and the Civic Preparedness Committee of Chesterfield County. Like many other suffragists, Lynch saw links between the war and woman suffrage. In her plea to the State Democratic Convention she argued that the expansion of suffrage to women was a natural extension of the democratic principles for which the US was fighting in Europe.

In 1917 and 1918, as the National Woman's Party gained prominence, some suffragists in South Carolina supported its tactics. The majority of South Carolina suffragists, however, remained supportive of the NAWSA and disapproved of the NWP's tactics. Harriet Lynch was among those who disapproved, arguing in an article in The State newspaper in 1918 that the NWP damaged the suffrage cause. Lynch was particularly furious that some NWP activists had urged women who were already enfranchised at the time of the 1916 presidential election to oppose President Wilson's re-election, following a strategy of holding the party in power accountable to compel it to support a federal suffrage amendment.

In January 1919, Harriet Lynch was succeeded as president of the ESL by Eulalie Salley but remained active in the battle for suffrage and women's rights. This was particularly evident in the controversy over equal pay at Winthrop College where several female teachers demanded equal pay and two were subsequently fired. Lynch wrote to Salley in 1920, urging her to continue to publicize the controversy and support the fired teachers, believing it was their support for woman suffrage that had led to their firing.

Harriet Lynch passed away on September 11, 1938 and was buried in Old Saint David's Episcopal Cemetery in Cheraw.

Sources:

“Best Convention of Thirty-Four Years of its History. Eighty-Five Delegates in Attendance.” The Edgefield Advertiser, October 31, 1917.

The Chesterfield Advertiser, August 24, 1916.

“Chesterfield County, South Carolina, Public Library History,” Accessed May 21, 2018. http://www.libsci.sc.edu/histories/vts/epw19.html.

Hancock, John W. “Jumping on the Bandwagon: The Equal-Pay-for-Equal-Work Controversy at Winthrop College, 1915-1920.” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 95, no. 3 (1994): 243–63.

Harriet P. Lynch Papers, Winthrop University Library, Rock Hill, SC.

“Harriett ‘Hattie' Powe Lynch (1863-1938) - Find A Grave Memorial.” Accessed May 21, 2018. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53687427/harriett-lynch.

Lynch, Harriet. “Letter from President Suffrage League.” The Union Times, April 20, 1917.

Lynch, Harriet, ed. Reminiscences and Sketches of Confederate Times by One Who Lived Through Them. Columbia: The Bryan Company, 1909.

Lynch, Harriet. “What's the Difference: Two Pairs of South Carolinians and the Parts they Played.” The State (Columbia, SC), December 22, 1918.

Lynch, Harriet. “Why I Believe in Women's Suffrage.” The Union Times, March 16, 1917.

Lynch, Harriet. “Why Women Should Vote.” The Pageland Journal, February 2, 1916.

Lynch, Harriet. A Year Book of Southern Poets. New York: Dodge Publishing Company, 1909.

Oral History Interview with Eulalie Salley by Constance Meyers, September 15, 1973. Interview G-0054. Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/G-0054/menu.html.

“Petitions for Divorce.” Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser, October 11, 1901.

“Red Cross Notes.” The Chesterfield Advertiser, November 8, 1917.

“State Convention for Manning and Wilson.” The Bamberg Herald, May 25, 1916.

“The State Convention Ran Along Smoothly on Anti-Blease Lines.” The Evening Index (Greenwood, SC), April 24, 1916.

“State Suffrage League Changes Policy.” The Greenville News, October 22, 1917.

“State Suffrage League Elect Officers.” The Herald and News (Newberry, SC), November 2, 1915.

Taylor, Antoinette Elizabeth. “South Carolina and the Enfranchisement of Women: The Later Years.” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 80, no. 4 (1979): 298–310.

Wilson, Justina Leavitt, ed. Handbook of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the Jubilee Convention (1869 – 1919) Held at St. Louis, Missouri March 24-29, 1919. New York: NAWSA, 1919.

“UDC Convention.” The Herald and News (Newberry, SC), November 25, 1909.

back to top