Suffragist, editor, author. Young was born in Georgetown on March 10, 1842, the daughter of William Wallace Durant and his second wife, Julia. Shortly after Virginia’s birth, the family moved to Marion District, where her father became a prosperous planter and active politician. At age sixteen Virginia married Benjamin H. Covington. During the Civil War she began writing short stories and novellas under various pseudonyms for magazines such as Southern Field and Fireside and The XIX Century. In 1874 she moved with her husband to a farm in DeSoto County, Mississippi, where he died in 1879. Returning to Marion, she married Dr. William Jasper Young of Fairfax on December 22, 1880.
Young’s career followed the pattern of many suffragists. After active participation in Baptist missionary societies, she joined the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1886. Suffrage appealed as an avenue to temperance goals. Young moved onto the national reform stage by writing magazine articles and lecturing at temperance forums across the country. After writing columns in several state newspapers, she became the editor of the Fairfax Enterprise, becoming its sole owner in 1899. Her weekly was said to be like Mrs. Young, a “charming medley of politics, women’s rights and good natured wit and humor.”
In 1890 Young and Adelaide Viola Neblett founded the South Carolina Equal Rights Association (SCERA), which became an affiliate of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). As president of the SCERA from 1892 to 1895, Young worked to break down prejudices against southern women among northern suffragists and at the same time tried (futilely) to win the vote in South Carolina.
Young found an ally in Abbeville legislator and editor Robert R. Hemphill. In 1892 he introduced a joint resolution to the General Assembly granting women the right to vote and hold office. The resolution was rejected. Young then petitioned the legislature for her personal enfranchisement. When a constitutional convention was called in 1895, Young and the SCERA campaigned vigorously for a woman-suffrage amendment. In an address to the convention, she advocated a strategy first put forward by northern suffragists. Enfranchising women with a property or educational requirement would assure white supremacy without the oppressive Jim Crow laws being proposed to disenfranchise African Americans. The amendment to enfranchise women with $300 worth of taxable property went down to defeat 121 to 26.
Young’s proposal in 1896 to allow women to vote in presidential elections found no support. The SCERA fell into disarray. NAWSA leaders criticized Young for not developing a more broad-based movement. She suffered from criticism at home for sullying women with politics. Voting rights for South Carolina women came through federal amendment in 1919.
Young also wrote three novels. Beholding as in a Glass (1895) and A Tower in the Desert (1896) were essentially vehicles for her temperance and suffrage messages. The third, One of the Blue Hen’s Chickens (1902), reflected her interest in the “positive thinking” movement called “Mental Science,” which was popular among suffragists. Young died at her home in Fairfax on November 2, 1906, as one of the best-known women in the state.
Taylor, Antoinette Elizabeth. “South Carolina and the Enfranchisement of Women: The Early Years.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 77 (April 1976): 115–26.
Ulmer, Barbara Bellows. “Virginia Durant Young: New South Suffragist.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1979.