Tucker, Cornelia Dabney
Political activist. Tucker was born on October 15, 1881, in Charlotte, North Carolina, the daughter of Harvey Mayfield Ramseur and Mary Cosby Badham. She graduated at the age of sixteen from Synodical Presbyterian College in Tennessee. The following year she moved to Charleston to teach French. In 1899 she married the businessman Robert Pinckney Tucker. The couple had five children. After her husband’s death in 1920 and financial setbacks, she rented out her Charleston home and moved to Flat Rock, North Carolina. She returned to Charleston six years later and began working in an antique shop.
Although she had shown no previous interest in politics, Tucker suddenly began working to oppose New Deal policies. President Franklin Roosevelt’s plan to expand the U.S. Supreme Court led Tucker to launch a personal letter-writing and petition-passing campaign. She set up a small Charleston women’s organization called the Supreme Court Security League, which gathered petition signatures and sent copies to all U.S. senators in 1937. She joined the South Carolina Republican Party and was named chair of publicity, a position for which she was well suited. An attractive woman from a socially prominent family, she succeeded in getting her picture and story in newspapers at a time when women in her position usually avoided public attention.
In 1940 South Carolina was the only state that did not provide a single ballot with the names of candidates of both parties. Instead, voters at the polling place had to state publicly which party’s ballot they wanted and could not split their ticket. Tucker believed that this procedure hurt the Republican Party, and she began a vigorous public campaign to get it changed. She spoke uninvited to the South Carolina General Assembly on the issue, reading her speech while the Speaker and the sergeant of arms tried to remove her. She regularly picketed the State House wearing a banner across her chest demanding the secret ballot. Finally, in 1951 her campaign was successful, after she got the support of women’s groups and the S.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Tucker continued to push her conservative views and remained politically active well into her seventies. She worked for relief for China and against the right of workers to strike during wartime. In 1954 and 1955 she vigorously opposed the Supreme Court’s desegregation decision, which she charged was a Communist plot, and worked to change the procedure for appointing Supreme Court justices. Continuing her opposition to the civil rights movement, Tucker backed legislation to deny state employees the right to join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She lobbied for a requirement that all state high school students successfully complete courses in American government and the free enterprise system before graduation. She supported the John Birch Society and opposed the National Council of Churches, which she believed was a front for Communist activities. She also denounced the 1962 Supreme Court decision against prayer in public schools. Tucker’s picture and her letters to the editor were regular features of South Carolina newspapers. Her personally typed letters and telegrams appeared frequently on the desks of state and national political leaders. In the last two years of her life, she moved to Atlanta to be with her son. She died in Atlanta on October 28, 1970.
Kittel, Mary Radham. The First Republican Southern Belle. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1969.
Workman, William D. “Cornelia Dabney Tucker.” South Carolina Magazine 11 (May 1948): 5, 17.