Power to the throne
Fifteen distinguished ladies were selected to go on what was called a “Power on the Throne” tour at the Pickens-Salley House, and I was one of them.
Development Officer Judith Goodwin, who led the tour, quoted Wes Moore, “You are their hope; you are the rockstars here.”
I never knew what went on in the House. All I knew was that it looked old. I thought maybe it was on campus to give the University age, a historical aesthetic. But it’s not just a university centerpiece as it holds over a dozen positions in advancement services.
The tour not only showed the people who who work there, including our first female chancellor, Dr. Sandra Jordan, but Goodwin also gave us some background history, most of which is covered in the DVD Goodwin gave out as a parting gift.
The documentary is titled “Edgewood: Stage of Southern History.” Goodwin narrates the documentary, serving as the voice of the house, which intermittently says, “I have a memory… I have a story… I have a name.”
During the tour, Goodwin said, “Stories of men have been told, but stories of women have not been told.”
Goodwin noted that the documentary had an all-female production team, which isn’t different from the mostly female faculty in the House today, both echoing its feminist history.
The Pickens-Salley House was built in Edgefield, S.C. in 1829 on Cedar Fields Plantation and was home to two remarkable women: Lucy Holcombe Pickens, the only woman to be featured on Confederate currency, and Eulalie Chafee Salley, a leader of the suffrage movement.
Aside from those two women, Lucinda, Pickens’ slave, lived there with her. Pickens taught Lucinda how to read and write. They had a close relationship. The documentary mentions how important Lucinda was to the family. When the documentary was premiered at the school, descendants of the slaves were invited as honored guests.
“The smiles and the tears, for all of us to see them as VIP, to hear the shouts and the cheers, it was significant for them to remember,” said Goodwin.
This was an important feature of the tour because we were told before meeting at the House that slave labor would be emphasized. The history was taught to us while we stood on the front porch because in the South, the front porch is the life force of the house. There’s nothing like sipping sweet tea from a mason jar and looking out over the yard.
Afterward, we entered through the big, wooden doors and were shown all of the offices. I was amazed to see the antique furniture, memorabilia and portraits. What surprised me most was that of the name badges sitting on the desks, maybe two belonged to men. It was a sight to see that the operations were being ran by predominately women. Pickens, Salley and Lucinda probably wouldn’t want it any other way.
Several faculty members in advancement services accompanied the students on the tour and introduced themselves and what they do for the school and also introduced the other women who were steadily working at their desks in the House. One of the last stops on the tour was Jordan’s office. Upon entering, Jordan hilariously said, “This is where I do my nails.”
Following a brief description of what she does and a short question-and-answer session, we entered the living room to continue our conversation with Jordan. While eating cucumber sandwiches and sipping lemonade from crystal wine glasses, Jordan told us some of the adversities she’s faced as a woman leader, such as being stalked and being rejected by male counterparts, saying she’s always kept her tears within her office walls.
“Don’t deny what it is to be a woman,” said Jordan. “Know who you are and have skin like a sewer pipe.”
She told us to use our innate womanly gifts, such as paying attention to detail and being empathetic, thinking with our hearts.
Jordan said, “Know what swords you’re going to die on, and know which ones to compromise.”
Following Jordan’s wise words of advice to the female students sitting around the table, we applauded her and exited back into the gorgeous day that it was. I think everyone in attendance felt a little more capable. We were women empowering women.