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Middleton Place

A Woman Rice Planter

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by Elizabeth Allston Pringle

A Woman Rice Planter offers insights into a broad spectrum of Southern life after the Civil War. As an account of a woman's struggle for survival and dignity in a distinctly male-dominated society, it contributes significantly to women's history. For observers of the black experience, it affords opinionated, but nonetheless revealing, views about African American folklife. It presents a rich portrait of a distinctive place—the South Carolina Low Country—in a troubled and generally undocumented time, a portrait made all the more vivid by the fine pen-and-ink sketches of Charleston artist Alice R. Huger Smith.
Elizabeth Allston Pringle grew up on the antebellum rice plantation of her father, a former South Carolina governor. Once the owner of seven plantations and 15,000 acres, her father, at the time of his death, was bankrupt. Left to struggle for income to regain the property and position the family held prior to the war, Pringle turned to writing and eventually published a column on Southern culture in the New York Sun under the pseudonym Patience Pennington. In 1913 she collected and reshaped these newspaper columns and compiled them into one volume, A Woman Rice Planter. Her descriptions of the vagaries of rice planting, of her relationships with former slaves and the first generation of free-born African Americans, and of her life in the early Reconstruction period are important to our understanding of the prevailing attitudes and persistence of the Old South in the New.