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19th Amendment at 100: Aiken's Salley was a leader in women's suffrage movement

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The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted American women the right to vote, was ratified 100 years ago this month.

At the forefront of the effort to gain political equality was an Aiken resident, Eulalie Salley, who was prominent in the movement at the local and state level.

Salley also was well known nationally among suffragettes. She traveled widely, spoke at major conventions and met and mingled with the cause’s other leaders, including Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw.

Many people were appalled by Salley’s work as an activist, and even her own husband, Aiken mayor and lawyer Julian B. Salley, often was not supportive.

“We made lots of enemies and men were just furious,” said Eulalie Salley in a 1973 oral history interview that can be found at “Some of my best friends turned completely against me, but I didn’t care. There were men who just thought that a woman who was a suffragist wasn’t decent. As one main said, ‘How can you sit at a table with a suffragist?’ You were lower than a prostitute.”

Salley was born in Augusta. Her father was in the kaolin clay business. Her mother, a talented pianist, was a product of “one of the finest finishing schools” in Baltimore, Maryland, according to

Rheumatic fever crippled Salley as a child. While recovering from her illness, she needed crutches to get around and she also drove a cart pulled by goats.

Aiken's women leaders reflect on 19th Amendment's 100th anniversary, Eulalie Salley's role

After being educated by governesses and private tutors, Salley attended Mary Baldwin College in Virginia and Converse College in Spartanburg for a year each.

She got married in 1906 and had two children.

A much-publicized custody battle in 1910 sparked Salley’s interest in women’s rights. Accounts differ about what actually happened.

One said Lucy Dugas Tillman left her husband, B.R. Tillman Jr., a son of a U.S. senator and South Carolina governor, because he was drinking. Another said she was ill when the younger Tillman deeded away his two daughters to his parents.

Salley was shocked and upset that a man could do such a thing.

Not long afterward, she saw an advertisement for the South Carolina Equal Suffrage League, or SCESL, in a newspaper and joined the organization.

It was “the best dollar that I ever spent,” Salley said.

Around 1912, Salley teamed up with several other women to found the Aiken County Equal Suffrage League, and she was its first president.

Salley became the SCESL’s president in 1919.

Following the 19th Amendment’s ratification, on Aug. 18, 1920, she was involved in the launch of the South Carolina League of Women Voters and later served as a regional vice president.

In the push for women’s voting rights, Salley was an aggressive, relentless and creative campaigner.

Even though she was an enthusiastic participant in door-to-door canvassing to find new supporters, she also spread the word in much more flamboyant ways.

Salley once scattered suffrage pamphlets over Aiken while riding in an airplane, and she also took boxing lessons so she could perform as a “Gold Dust Twin” in a prizefight-style fundraiser.

During the 1973 oral history interview, Salley talked about a woman whose husband had told her he would kill her if she became a suffragist.

She didn’t listen, and one day, when Salley saw the woman, her eyes were red and she had bruises. She said her husband had beaten her up.

The woman asked Salley what she should do.

“Well, it’s plain enough if he was my husband,” Salley replied. “I would either shoot him or poison him.”

Subsequently, Salley read in a newspaper about how the man had died after drinking a glass of buttermilk his wife had given him.

The next time Salley and the woman met, Salley congratulated her on her “good fortune.” When the woman again asked for her advice, Salley told her to leave town quickly.

“She left,” Salley said. “I haven’t seen that woman since. She killed that man as sure as day.”

Salley’s husband was horrified when he heard what had happened

“He said, ‘Well I’m your husband and I’m an attorney, but I’m going to refuse to defend you because you are going to be tried for accessory after the fact,’” Salley remembered. “‘Well,’ I said, ‘if I am tried and convicted and serve a sentence, that will attract every woman to my cause all the more because I’m sacrificed for a noble cause.’”

In addition to making significant contributions to the women’s suffragist movement, Salley was successful in the real estate business.

Following her death in 1975 at the age of 91, an obituary in the Aiken Standard described her as South Carolina’s First Lady of Real Estate.

“At one time or other, she has sold almost every large piece of property in Aiken,” the story stated. “Mrs. Salley also sold many large hunting preserves in the Low Country and was well known in that area.”

Many of Salley’s satisfied clients were the wealthy residents of Aiken’s Winter Colony.

Her slogan in the real estate business was “we do everything for you but brush your teeth.”

Longtime Aiken City Councilwoman Lessie Price met Salley years ago and even though their encounter was a brief one, it left a lasting impression.

“She obviously had a bit of wit and a lot of courage as well,” said Price, who also is Aiken’s mayor pro tempore. “She was very confident, very self assured. I wish I had gotten to know her better because I would have learned a lot from her.”

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