Reasons for Naming
- Some of the first and most significant woman suffrage activists in South Carolina. Received the first national suffrage charter for the state.
- Women of color whose home established a space for interracial political dialogue during Reconstruction
- Worked as authors, educators, law clerks, and political activists at a time when it was often considered improper for women to do so
Frances Anne, Charlotte (“Lottie”), Katherine (“Kate”), Louise, and Florence Rollin
By Melissa DeVelvis
The five Rollin sisters — Frances Anne (November 19, 1845-October 17, 1901), Charlotte “Lottie” (1847-1928), Katherine “Kate” (1851-March 4, 1876), Louise (1858-1921), and Florence (1861-1934) — were born in Charleston, South Carolina, to William and Margaretta Rollin, wealthy free people of color. The family lived in an elegant mansion, and the daughters attended private Catholic schools in Charleston before Frances, Charlotte and Kate attended the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia.
After the Civil War, the Rollin sisters returned to South Carolina and moved to Columbia. While there, they became active participants in the political and social scene and their home, “the Rollin salon,” became an informal venue for Republican Party leaders during Reconstruction. Lottie and Kate taught in the Freedmen’s Bureau schools and attempted to raise money for a Rollin family school. Lottie was well-known as a clerk in the office of Congressman Robert Brown Elliott and became an active member of the American Woman Suffrage Associates. In 1869, her sister Louise addressed the South Carolina House of Representatives on the subject of suffrage, to little effect. Lottie presided as chair at a meeting that established the South Carolina Woman Suffrage Association at the home of Frances and her husband. Katherine oversaw the submission and adoption of a constitution, and Lieutenant Governor Alonzo J. Ransier and Secretary of State Francis L. Cardozo were in attendance. In 1871, Lottie led a rally at the State House to promote woman suffrage. In 1873, one of the sisters appeared on the arm of the esteemed judge and then-Attorney General Samuel D. Melton, a white man, at the inauguration ball.
Frances, the most prominent of the sisters, was a writer, educator, law clerk and civil rights advocate. She successfully filed a complaint with the Freedman’s Bureau against a steamer captain for refusing her first-class accommodations on account of her race in 1867. He was fined $250. Black abolitionist, high-ranking military officer and emigrationist Martin R. Delany offered Rollin financial support to write his biography, which she completed under the name “Frank” Rollin in 1868. She accepted a clerkship with state representative and later judge William J. Whipper and married him six weeks later. Though the marriage failed, the couple had five children. She was the only one of her sisters to marry. In 1880, Frances and her children moved to Washington, D.C., and took a job with the federal government. She helped her youngest daughter, Ionia Rollin Whipper, finance her degree from Howard University School of Medicine. Rollin moved to Beaufort for the past few years of her life, dying in 1901. Not much else is known about her sisters, who moved with their mother to Brooklyn, New York, shortly after Reconstruction ended in South Carolina after the 1876 election.
Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. “Rollin Sisters.” 101 Women Who Shaped South Carolina. Edited by Valinda Littlefield. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006: 16-7.
“Columbia City of Women Honoree: The Rollin Sisters.” Columbia City of Women.