Women in North Carolina History You May Not Have Learned About in History Class

Posted by Mary Whitten Warner on Monday, January 27th, 2020 at 10:43am

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Maybe you’re a North Carolina native, or maybe you are just a history buff. Either way, we believe you have to know and appreciate where you come from in order to get where you’re going. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of influential women in North Carolina history who’ve shaped this state we love for the better.

Mary Lapham - Tuberculosis Fighter

From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, tuberculosis was killing one in seven people in the entire country. It was the number one cause of death. Tuberculosis is also an airborne pathogen, which means you can catch it simply by standing too close to someone who is speaking or coughing, especially if they don’t even know they have it yet. To say the least, this was a scary disease to be faced with during this time period, as there weren’t many successful ways to treat it.

Mary Lapham was already a rarity in the early 1900s, as a female physician was hard to find. She came to Highlands, North Carolina to work on her idea for treating tuberculosis. She built wood-framed “tents” with canvas-covered walls where the current Highlands Recreation Complex resides and the area became known as Highlands Sanitarium, or Bug Hill. The “tents” were raised to expose patients to the clean mountain air. Patients from all ages flocked there to receive her treatment for tuberculosis, in the hopes that it would save their lives. Lapham’s treatment worked. It consisted of collapsing the infected lung with nitrogen to allow it to rest. Then, infected patients would sleep in the tents at night to breathe in the frigid air. Over the years, her treatment saved hundreds of lives. Eventually, Bug Hill closed due to one of the buildings catching fire. Lapham eventually left for Europe to aid soldiers during World War I.

Though her stay in Highlands was relatively brief, Mary Lapham and her revolutionary treatment saved hundreds of lives of people who were not expected to live much longer after their diagnosis. This makes her a historical figure in North Carolina who shaped the future significantly.

Tabitha Ann Holton - A Woman of the Law

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In 1854, Tabitha Ann Holton was born in Iredell County, NC to a local Methodist minister and his wife. In 1878, at just 24 years old, she grew up to become the first woman to pass the North Carolina State Bar Exam. She was able to study law through borrowing books from members of the Greensboro Bar.

Due to the pushback she received about being a lawyer, she often declined to make court appearances and left them to her husband and brothers, who were the lawyers she practiced with. Holton often stuck to working behind the scenes in the office, as it was said she wasn’t as bold as a typical lawyer.

Tabitha Anne Holton lived a short life, passing away from tuberculosis in 1886. Though her life was tragically shortened, the pathway she paved for women in North Carolina history is undeniable.

Beulah Louise Henry - Inventor Extraordinaire

Beulah Louise Henry made her impact on North Carolina history and beyond. By the end of her career, she received 49 patents for numerous products recognizable today and she was credited with more than 100 inventions.

Born in Raleigh and the granddaughter of a former North Carolina governor, Beulah Louise Henry was a North Carolinian through and through. She was known to draw sketches of inventions as early as nine years old. Some of the inventions you might recognize are the bobbin-less sewing machine, hair curler, soap-filled sponge, dolls with eyes that close and change colors, an umbrella with detachable covers so women can change the color to match their outfits, and the list goes on. Throughout her career, between her inventions, she was the CEO of two different North Carolina corporations. By the end of her life, she had earned the nickname “Lady Edison” for her innovative spirit and savvy business mind. This woman was a powerhouse that impacted the Tar Heel state for the better throughout the course of her life.

Susie Marshall Sharp - The First Female NC Supreme Court Judge

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Susie Marshall Sharp was destined for a career in law. Her father made the career switch to practice law and later went on to become an elected member of the North Carolina General Assembly. In 1926, Susie Marshall Sharp entered into law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Twenty-three years later, after extensive experience as a practicing lawyer, Governor Kerr Scott appointed Sharp to the North Carolina Superior Court bench, and soon after, she was appointed to the North Carolina Supreme Court, making her the first female Supreme Court Justice in the history of North Carolina.

She was also the first woman to be named chief justice of any Supreme Court. Being the overachiever that she was, in 1974, Susie Marshall Sharp became the first female in the United States to be elected chief justice of a state supreme court as well. In her 17 years on the North Carolina Superior Court bench, Sharp wrote well over 400 majority opinions on cases that shaped North Carolina into the state it is today.

Gertrude Elion - Modern Medicine’s Hero

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Gertrude Elion is actually not a North Carolina native. She began her career in New York City with her research partner, George H. Hitchings. Elion wanted to be a scientist for years before she actually got the chance. Of course, during that time, opportunities to work in scientific medicine were rare.

During the early 1940s, World War II and the absence of men in the workforce provided Elion with a better chance to find her dream job. She was interviewed by Hitchings, who was known to be very open-minded when hiring researchers. He was willing to teach anyone who was dedicated and eager to learn, whether they were a man or woman. The two quickly became partners and in 1970, they moved their company to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. Shortly after, they earned the Nobel Prize for Medicine for their research in drug treatment, which lead to important discoveries in treating diseases like leukemia, chicken pox, cold sores, and even laid the foundation for research in early AIDS treatment.

Elion spent the remainder of her career teaching at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, where she took pride in mentoring upcoming scientists, made up of both young men and women. In 1991, she was honored with the National Medal of Science from President George H.W. Bush.

While Gertrude Elion wasn’t born in North Carolina, she finished out the latter part of her life instilling her knowledge and wisdom into future North Carolina researchers, which makes her a vital woman in North Carolina history.

Landmark Realty Group Can Help You Find Your Next Highlands Home

At Landmark Realty Group, we have a deep appreciation for the women who shape our lives. Every person can look around and point to a woman who has impacted them for the better— whether it’s a mother, grandmother, sister, teacher, mentor or friend. At Landmark, we believe diversity is our strength. We are a team made up of men and women who work together with our individual strengths and differences to help our clients accomplish their goals. Get in touch with us today to talk about how we can use our skills and real estate knowledge to help you in your journey to buying or selling your mountain home.

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