Journalist. Phifer was born in Spartanburg on August 25, 1879, the daughter of Washington Hardy and Rebecca Carson. Both parents died when she was a toddler, so she was raised by her grandmother, an aunt, and an uncle. She attended Converse College, graduating in 1898. After teaching school for a year, she married the Spartanburg hardware store owner Moulton Phifer in July 1899. The couple had seven children. Phifer was an active member of Spartanburg’s Episcopal Church of the Advent.
Once all her children were enrolled in school, Phifer became a journalist. She began as society editor for the Spartanburg Herald, a position she held for nearly twenty years. She continued to write a weekly column for the paper well into the 1950s. She also worked as a freelance journalist, interviewing literary figures for Holland’s Magazine and writing gardening articles for various other magazines, including House Beautiful.
In the 1930s the Phifers moved to a farm in a rural section of southern Spartanburg County, where Mary developed a large garden. Eventually she opened a cannery to produce her own peach sauce, which was marketed at specialty stores in New York City and around the country. The business closed during World War II due to a shortage of labor and sugar.
During World War II a Spartan Mills executive asked her to edit its new employee newsletter, entitled the Beaumont E. She also produced a series of radio programs during the war. “Miss Mary” became famous among the Beaumont mill operatives for her lively interviews with workers and her “Phiferisms,” the morale-boosting aphorisms she published in the newsletter. Among them was one that described her own philosophy: “I am an old lady who has looked at life a long time, and have learned that happiness dwells most securely with those who work. Taking it by and large working people are the happiest people in the world.”
Phifer retired at the end of the war and devoted her time to gardening, canning, weaving, and her family. In 1951 Converse College awarded her its Mary Mildred Sullivan Award for her service to the community. Throughout her retirement Phifer continued to write and to speak to community groups. She published her own memoir and a biography of South Carolina bishop Kirkman George Finley. She was also elected an honorary member of Delta Kappa Gamma, an organization of women educators. Phifer died at her home near Clifton on February 20, 1962, and was buried at Greenlawn Memorial Gardens.
Dodge, Susan. “Mary Hardy Phifer.” In The Lives They Lived: A Look at Women in the History of Spartanburg County, edited by Linda Powers Bilanchone. Spartanburg, S.C.: Spartanburg Sesquicentennial Focus on Women Committee, 1981.