Chapin, Sarah Flournoy Moore

ca. 1830–April 19, 1896

Known as Sallie F. Chapin, she became one of South Carolina’s most visible nineteenth-century women leaders...A powerful lecturer, she drew the attention of women and men, and her lectures became the first exposure to women’s public leadership for many of her audiences and followers.

Temperance leader, social reformer. Chapin was born in Charleston, the eldest child of George Washington Moore, an itinerant Methodist minister, and Elizabeth Martha Vigneron Simons. She was educated at Cokesbury, Abbeville District, and married Leonard Chapin, a prosperous Charleston businessman, on August 12, 1847. The couple had no children.

Known as Sallie F. Chapin, she became one of South Carolina’s most visible nineteenth-century women leaders. Chapin’s path to leadership began with home-front activities in Charleston during the Civil War. While her husband served in the Confederate cavalry, Chapin organized and served as president of the Soldiers Relief Society and the Ladies Auxiliary Christian Association. After the war she became an active member of the Charleston Ladies Memorial Association and led the Ladies Christian Association. She authored Fitz-Hugh St. Clair, the South Carolina Rebel Boy (1872), a commentary on southern life that went through two published editions.

Widowed in 1879, Chapin attended a temperance convention in 1880 in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, where she reportedly made an impromptu address that galvanized her commitment to the emerging national women’s temperance movement. She drew the attention of Frances Willard, the leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), an organization that soon became the largest and most influential women’s group in the nineteenth century. In June 1880 Chapin organized the first local chapter of the WCTU in South Carolina in Charleston. Six months later she presented the Charleston City Council with a petition, which was “thirty yards long bound in silk and signed by 5,000 ladies,” to ban the sale of alcohol.

Chapin immediately launched efforts to organize women throughout South Carolina in the temperance cause. By 1882 local chapters had been established in Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, Spartanburg, Blackville, Orangeburg, Union, and Abbeville. She spearheaded the formation of the South Carolina Women’s Temperance Union in 1883, and it became the first state chapter of the national organization in the South. Chapin would serve as president of the state WCTU until her death in 1896. At Frances Willard’s request, Chapin served as national superintendent of the WCTU’s Southern Department, a position she held from 1883 to 1889.

In the 1880s Chapin was the most prominent woman reformer in South Carolina. She visited communities around the state to meet with women and to enlist their active involvement in temperance advocacy. Her activities were widely covered in local newspapers. A powerful lecturer, she drew the attention of women and men, and her lectures became the first exposure to women’s public leadership for many of her audiences and followers.

Under Chapin’s able leadership the WCTU attracted a substantial following of elite white women, with more than fifteen hundred members in 1891. Chapin and the WCTU advocated Prohibition, a temperance curriculum for schools, establishment of a state-supported industrial training school for young women, and an increase in the legal age of consent from ten to eighteen for young women. She met with mixed success. In 1892 South Carolina citizens approved a Prohibition referendum to ban the sale of alcohol, only to have Governor Benjamin Tillman orchestrate a state monopoly to regulate its sale. A temperance curriculum would be approved by the legislature in 1896. In 1891 the General Assembly, in part due to Chapin’s articles and speeches, took over the Winthrop Training School in Columbia and created the Winthrop Normal and Industrial College, a forerunner of Winthrop University. The assembly also raised the age of consent to sixteen in 1896. Chapin was a reluctant supporter of women’s suffrage, initially expressing opposition on the grounds of states’ rights and her concerns that the suffrage controversy would cloud the cause of temperance.

Chapin’s ultimate contribution to South Carolina was her creation of a voluntary association that enabled elite white women to participate in the public life of their communities in the late nineteenth century. She died of cancer on April 19, 1896, and was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.

Mims, Florence Adams. Recorded History of South Carolina Woman’s Christian Temperance Union from 1881–1901. Edgefield, S.C., [1950?].

Willard, Frances E. Woman and Temperance. Hartford, Conn.: Park Publishing, 1883.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Chapin, Sarah Flournoy Moore
  • Coverage ca. 1830–April 19, 1896
  • Author
  • Keywords women's rights, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, social reform
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date September 26, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 20, 2022
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