Born in Charleston, Carrie, Mabel, and Anita Pollitzer were artists, activists, and social reformers.
Educators, suffragists, reformers. Born in Charleston, Carrie, Mabel, and Anita Pollitzer were the daughters of Gustave M. Pollitzer and Clara Guinzburg.
Carrie Teller Pollitzer (December 5, 1881–October 22, 1974), the oldest of the siblings, graduated from Memminger Normal School in Charleston in 1901. She studied at, and later directed, the South Carolina Kindergarten Training School in Charleston, where she established public health programs, home visits, kindergarten lunches, and parental-involvement programs. Carrie was active in the community, holding offices in the Charleston Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Free Kindergarten Association. She was a founder and organizer of the Annual Community Children’s Festival in Charleston and served as its director for twenty-three years. A tireless campaigner for women’s rights, Carrie was a charter member of the Charleston Equal Suffrage League and was active in the National Woman’s Party (NWP). On behalf of Charleston’s City Federation of Women’s Clubs, she launched the petition drive that led to the admission of women to the College of Charleston in 1918. When told that $1,200 was needed to effect coeducation, Pollitzer organized a mass meeting at the Chamber of Commerce and raised more than $1,500. In 1973 Carrie and sister Mabel were recognized by the Charleston chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) in appreciation of their “contributions towards women’s equality.”
Mabel Louise Pollitzer (January 11, 1885–April 27, 1979) graduated from Memminger Normal School in Charleston in 1901 and from Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1906 with a major in biology. She returned to Charleston and organized the biology department at Memminger, where she taught for forty-four years. To encourage student interest in gardens, she organized a “Plant Exchange Day” in March 1915. The Civic Club helped sponsor what became an annual citywide event. She instituted nutritious lunches for schoolchildren and formed student honor organizations known as “No Cheating Clubs.” In 1920 she was elected president of the Charleston County Teachers’ Association. In 1929 she obtained legislation establishing the Charleston County Free Library. A charter member of the Charleston Equal Suffrage League, Pollitzer served as its publicity chair for many years. She was South Carolina state chairperson for the National Woman’s Party, cam- paigning first for suffrage and then for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In 1965 Mabel was named to the Hall of Fame of the Charleston Federation of Women’s Clubs. At age ninety-three Mabel was still writing letters on behalf of the ERA.
Anita Lily Pollitzer (October 31, 1894–July 3, 1975), the youngest of the Pollitzer sisters, graduated from Memminger Normal School in Charleston in 1913, earned her B.S. in fine arts from Columbia University in 1916, and received her master’s in international relations from Columbia in 1933. While a student at Columbia, she met Alfred Stieglitz, who became her “mentor in modernism.” It was Pollitzer who showed him drawings by a young, unknown artist named Georgia O’Keeffe. Stieglitz consequently organized an exhibition of O’Keeffe’s works, sparking her successful career as an artist. As a student, Anita became involved in the radical wing of the women’s movement. Beginning in 1918 she held numerous National Woman’s Party offices, including national chair from 1945 to 1949. She represented South Carolina at the International Feminists Conference at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1926 and the NWP at the first session of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. According to her nephew, Anita had dinner with Representative Harry Burn on the eve of Tennessee’s crucial vote on the Nineteenth Amendment (which granted women the right to vote) and convinced him to support the measure. From suffrage she turned to other women’s issues, including the right of married women to keep their U.S. citizenship and their government jobs and for gender equity in the National Fair Labor Standards Act. She fought tirelessly for the Equal Rights Amendment. Anita once told a reporter, “The day of chivalry is past. . . . We want to stand on our own feet.” Pollitzer’s biography of O’Keeffe, A Woman on Paper, was published posthumously in 1988, as was her selected correspondence with O’Keeffe in 1990.
Giboire, Clive, ed. Lovingly, Georgia: The Complete Correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe & Anita Pollitzer. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.
McCandless, Amy Thompson. “Anita Pollitzer: South Carolina Advocate for Equal Rights.” Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association (2000): 1–10.
Pollitzer, Anita. Papers. South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston. –––. Papers. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina,
Columbia. Pollitzer, Gustave M. Papers. South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston.
Pollitzer, Mabel L. Interview by Constance Ashton Myers. Tape and transcript, September 5, 1973. Constance Ashton Myers Collection, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
–––. Papers. South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston. Pollitzer, William Sprott. Interview by Dale Rosengarten and Barbara Karesh Stender. Tape and transcript, September 24, 1999. Jewish History Project, Special Collections, Robert Scott Small Library, College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina.