Founded in Spartanburg in 1912, the New Era Club lasted only a short time but was significant as the nucleus of South Carolina’s first statewide women’s suffrage organization. Earlier suffrage efforts accomplished little, and white southerners generally considered the movement to be a threat to southern culture and a challenge to idealized notions of female behavior. Many white southerners also associated women’s suffrage with feminism and abolitionism, which made the movement even more of an anathema. But by the turn of the twentieth century, as pro-suffrage actions increased across the country, South Carolina women rallied again, this time successfully.
White and middle-class in its makeup, the New Era Club began disguised as a study group. Thirty Spartanburg women founded the club, they said, “to stimulate interest in civic affairs and to advance the industrial, legal and educational rights of women and children.” They met twice monthly to discuss education, public health, and domestic interests. But they also sponsored a section in the Spartanburg Herald featuring prosuffrage articles by Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and Hannah Hemphill Coleman, president of the South Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs. In January 1914 the New Era Club publicly declared its true purpose as a suffrage group by joining NAWSA. Soon after, Charleston and Columbia had suffrage clubs. In May 1914 all three clubs, totaling more than four hundred members, united as the South Carolina Equal Suffrage League. By 1915 there were twenty-five branches across the state. Although it failed to convince the General Assembly to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, the league nevertheless contributed its voice to the national ratification movement that succeeded in 1920.
Herndon, Eliza. “Woman Suffrage in South Carolina: 1872–1920.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1953.
Taylor, Antoinette Elizabeth. “South Carolina and the Enfranchisement of Women: The Later Years.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 80 (October 1979): 298–310.