Laura M. Towne
"I see every day why I came and what I am to stay for."1 – Laura M. Towne – teacher of freedmen and women in SC
Laura M. Towne, a native of Pennsylvania, came to South Carolina during the Civil War to apply her skills as a teacher to educating freed slaves. Ms. Towne had studied medicine at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania. Although she did not complete a degree because of the advent of war, she developed expertise in homeopathic medicine that proved to be useful for her work in South Carolina.
In 1862, Towne set sail for South Carolina on a commission from the Port Royal Relief Committee of Philadelphia to educate and help improve the lives of freed slaves. Initially, Towne distributed supplies to freed slaves in the area. As Towne traveled around the area, she noted the deplorable physical condition of the freed slaves and took on the medical care of many in the area.
In 1862, Towne and her friend, Ellen Murray, began the “Penn School” for freedmen and women, where enrollment grew steadily. Following Sherman’s “March to the Sea” and subsequently, the end of the war and emancipation, the area around Beaufort and St. Helena swelled with the influx of many freed slaves. A new school was built to accommodate the increased population. Towne dedicated the rest of her life to improving the lives of freed slaves. She was appointed superintendant of the sea island schools and served through the 1870’s.
Towne kept a detailed diary (that is in our library) describing the tumultuous times that followed the conclusion of the War that offered insights into the many challenges she faced in this time in our history. In addition to her educational and medical contributions, she was a temperance supporter and a fierce fighter for women’s rights, especially the right to vote. Known for never backing down from threats to the well-being of African-Americans, Towne remained true to her values throughout her life.
1Letters and diary of Laura M. Towne; written from the Sea Islands of South Carolina, 1862-1884; edited by Rupert Sargent Holland – E185.93.S7 T7 1969
Wolfe, K.J. (1997). Laura M. Towne and the Freed People of South Carolina, 1862. The South Carolina Historical Magazine, 98, (4), 375-405. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27570269 (Includes image)