In my new book “Hidden History of Aiken County,” I describe the first meeting of Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto and the Native American ruler of the land that would one day become South Carolina.

The young queen, known to us today as the Lady of Cofitachequi, made a most memorable entrance onto the stage of history when she approached the European invaders on a waterborne vessel “that reminded one early commentator of Cleopatra and her barge.”

This self-confident young woman is also the first figure profiled in the landmark three-volume anthology entitled “South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times” (University of Georgia Press), edited by Marjorie Spruill, my friend Valinda Littlefield and Joan Marie Johnson.

Spruill is this year’s guest speaker for the annual Pickens-Salley Symposium at USC Aiken, and her presentation will focus on some of the remarkable contributions to our state’s history made by the 54 women profiled in these three books.

Volume one contains 18 essays beginning with the Lady of Cofitachequi in the 1560s and ending with South Carolina women who played significant roles during the Civil War.

The latter group includes one of the most notable residents of the Pickens-Salley House, Gov. Francis Pickens’ third wife, the redoubtable Lucy Holcombe Pickens.

Volume two covers Reconstruction through 1920. It begins with abolitionists Laura Towne and Ellen Murray, who established the Penn School on St. Helena Island for the education of former Sea Island slaves – the Gullah people of South Carolina – and ends with Matilda Evans, the first African-American licensed to practice medicine in the state.

Evans was born in Aiken and educated at the Schofield School. That institution’s founder, Quaker activist Martha Schofield, made it possible for Evans to further her education first at Oberlin College and then at the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia. She eventually established her groundbreaking medical practice in Columbia.

Volume three takes the reader up to the present day, concluding with a profile of South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Jean Hoefer Toal, the first woman to serve on the state’s highest court.

Even before co-editing “South Carolina Women,” Spruill, who holds the rank of professor of history at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, had already carved out a considerable reputation as an authority on U.S. history, particularly the continuing struggle of women for their equal rights as citizens and breadwinners.

She herself has written or edited five books on the women’s suffrage movement. Perhaps most notably she put together the companion volume to the 1995 PBS documentary entitled “One Woman, One Vote,” which traces the ups and downs of this mass movement from Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s landmark speech at Seneca Falls in 1848 – to which President Barack Obama made a direct reference in his most recent State of the Union speech – to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Spruill’s current book project focuses on today’s women’s rights movement with particular emphasis on “the mobilization of social conservatives in opposition and the (resultant) impact on American political culture.”

Tentatively entitled “Women’s Rights, Family Values, and the Polarization of American Politics,” the book is based, in part, on Spruill’s personal interviews with a number of key players in this evolving narrative, including Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Gloria Steinem and Phyllis Schlafly.

The annual Pickens-Sally Symposium, which is free and open to the public, is set for this coming Wednesday, March 6, at 7 p.m. in the Etherredge Center on the USC Aiken campus. For more information, call Dr. Deidre Martin, vice chancellor for University Advancement, at 641-3448 or email her at

The Pickens-Salley Symposium is named for two remarkable women who were both residents of the Pickens-Salley House, now located on the USCA campus.

The only woman to have her image emblazoned on Confederate paper currency, Lucy Pickens, was the First Lady of South Carolina during the first years of the War Between the States. An advocate of women’s rights, Eulalie Salley was one of the first women to become a licensed real estate broker.

Both women left their mark on our state and the house that now bears their names.

Built in 1829 as the Pickens family residence and first called Edgewood, the house was purchased by Eulalie Salley and her husband Julian in 1928 and moved from the town of Edgefield to a 15-acre site on Kalmia Hill in Aiken in 1929.

It remained in the Salley family until the late 1980s, when local developer Ronald Bolton bought the property and donated the house to USC Aiken.

In 1987, the house was moved in three sections to the USCA campus and reassembled on a circular drive opposite the Etherredge Center and it is now occupied by a number of administrative offices.

A recipient of the prestigious Carolina Trustee Professorship in 2008, Dr. Tom Mack holds the G.L. Toole Chair at USC Aiken. His latest book “Hidden History of Aiken County” (Charleston, SC and London, UK: The History Press) is available at local retail outlets and online.