The stereotypical woman of the Victorian Age was helpless, much given to "vapors" and "hysteria," sheltered and protected, and -- above all -- empty-headed. The group of women who traveled to South Carolina in 1862 as part of the missionary effort to bring aid to the abandoned slaves of the Low Country prove that nothing could be further from the truth. They were strong, independent, ready to do whatever the job demanded. Some were married, several widowed, a few terribly young, and at least two who were elderly and ill
But there they were -- huddled together on the deck of a ship in a driving rain on their way to South Carolina. There they were -- facing down drunken soldiers, interfering government officials, and greedy cotton agents. They found themselves scrubbing out slave cabins and repairing aristocratic mansions damaged by the war. They distributed used clothing, portioned out government rations, and taught ex-slaves of all ages to read and write. Some came for a few weeks and then went home; some stayed for years. All of them made enormous sacrifices to support the cause of abolition.
Individually we know little about some of them except for their names. From Boston came Mrs. Elizabeth B. Hale and her daughter Mena Hale, Miss Mary Waldock, and Miss Ellen H. Winsor. From New York City came Miss Hannah Curtis, Miss Mary Nicholson,and Mrs. James Harlan. Mrs. A. M. French was traveling with her husband, and Miss Ellen H. Peck was joining her father in Beaufort. Miss Susan Walker had been sent by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to report directly to him about the successes and failures of the group. And rounding out the band were two sisters, Mrs. Walter R. Johnson and Miss Mary A. Donaldson.
Shortly after they arrived in Beaufort, SC, they posed for a group picture on the lawn of Hamilton House, where they were staying temporarily. The photo seems to emphasize both their anonymity and their status as proper northern missionaries, come to offer whatever they could to the slaves left behind after the Union Army had driven the Southern aristocrats from the islands.