On Thursday, August 26, 2021, Historic Columbia and The Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN) hosted an event to celebrate She Did Day and announced new honorees for the City of Women project.
The Columbia City of Women project connects Columbia residents of all backgrounds to the rich legacies of undersung women leaders, whose contributions are woven into the fabric of the city. Now, in its third year, the project has continued to uplift the work of women in Columbia’s history. Most recently, the Architecture of Strength, a 17-foot tall monument to honor Columbia’s women was installed at the corner of Main and Gervais streets. Created by Deedee Morrison, this monument stands at the intersection of politics and commerce as a reminder that women should be seen and heard in public life.
A nomination committee accepted submissions from community members, then selected nine new honorees from the past and present day who made a significant and lasting impact on the lives of women and families in Columbia. The project’s goal is to highlight women who help others thrive, push boundaries and create opportunities, stand up for others, lead the charge, create beauty and strengthen culture.
In an interview before the end of her life, one of our honorees Fannie Phelps Adams, reflected on her years of service to the community.
“If you can’t help somebody to be better than what they were when you first met them, especially if it’s someone whom you need to help,” Phelps Adams said. “Then you really aren’t doing what you ought to do.”
Phelps Adams captured the spirit of this project almost a decade before its inception. The women honored by Columbia City of Women spoke out, stepped up, and made a difference in their community.
This year’s honorees include:
Fannie Phelps Adams was a guidance counselor at the historic Booker T. Washington High School and AC Flora during the tumultuous period of desegregation. After Booker T. Washington High was closed, she co-founded the Palmetto Cemetery Association, served on the board of Palmetto Richland Hospital, and was a charter member of Palmetto Richland’s Children’s Hospital.
Clarissa Minnie Thompson Allen was a formerly enslaved woman who wrote Treading the Winepress; or, A Mountain of Misfortune. This work was groundbreaking for its frank depictions of racism, classism, poverty, and violence in the post-Emancipation South. Treading the Winepress would have been among the first novels published by an African American woman in the United States had it not instead been serialized in The Boston Advocate.
Clara Kligerman Baker, a Jewish woman, immigrated to the United States from present-day Ukraine while fleeing violence from the state. She became a business owner who operated a grocery store in a predominantly Black Ward One neighborhood for more than 40 years. The grocery store served as a community landmark that supported the surrounding neighborhood. Kligerman Baker,
Keller Henderson Bumgardner Barron* served as president of the South Carolina League of Women voters, a key moment in her tenure included the desegregation of the League. She was later appointed as a board member for the National League of Women Voters and built their support for the Equal Rights Amendment. She continues her service as an advocate for education and voting rights as chair of the Vote411 initiative in the Columbia area.
Malissa Burnette, Esq* is a practicing attorney and co-founder of Burnette, Shutt & McDaniel who is an advocate for marriage equality and women’s rights. Her most notable cases include that of Tara Bailey, who won the right to play football at Gaffney’s public high school; of Shannon Faulkner and Nancy Mellette, who won the right for women to enroll in state-supported military colleges; and of Colleen Condon and Nichols Bleckley, who brought marriage equality to South Carolina before the US Supreme Court’s ruling.
Bambi Gaddist, PhD* is a leader in public health who championed HIV education in the 1980s when South Carolina was hostile to the subject. She founded the SC African American HIV/AIDS Council, now known as the Wright Wellness Center.
Judge Mildred McDuffie* had a 34-year career with Richland One as an educator, parent consultant, and ombudsmen where she encouraged parents to be involved in their children’s education. In 1994 she won a seat on Richland County Council. In 2001 she was appointed as a summary court judge in magistrate’s court in 2001, where she served for six years.
Hilla Sheriff, MD, MPH was the first female county health official in South Carolina who traveled to mill villages and rural areas during the Great Depression to treat disease. She developed the first premature nursery in South Carolina and opened the state’s first maternity shelter.
Alice Spearman Wright was the executive director of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations (SCCHR) and a champion for integration who dedicated her life to eliminating racism. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, her work evolved to cover illiteracy, workforce readiness, and poverty.
Full biographies of the honorees are available at www.columbiacityofwomen.com