Savvy. Smart. Determined. Passionate. These are but a few of the adjectives we could use to describe the accomplished College of Charleston alumnae that have for nearly 100 years crossed the Cistern and exited Porters Lodge, diploma in hand, ready to change the world.
As the Year of Women – CofC’s year-long celebration marking the centennial anniversary of the first admission of female students to the College in 1918 – comes to a close this month, we highlight eight trailblazing alumnae who have made a difference from the Lowcountry to the stars above and everywhere in between.
Pierrine St. Claire Smith Byrd ’22
As the first woman to graduate from the College of Charleston, Pierrine St. Claire Smith Byrd proved to everyone that women could not only excel at the College, but play an integral role on campus. She graduated first in her class and received the prestigious Alumni Medal. During her time at the College, Byrd served as the president of the Co-Ed Club, captain of the women’s basketball team, secretary of the Athletic Association, co-ed representative of the Honor Committee and editor-in-chief of the College’s yearbook, The Comet. She also worked on the College’s magazine for three years and served on the student class government for four years.
After earning her A.B. degree from CofC, Byrd went on to teach at Memminger High School in Charleston. She also blossomed as an expert gardener in Greenwood, S.C., winning several awards for her camellias and roses and earning the distinction of the Greenwood Federation of Garden Club’s first Woman of the Year (1968) as well as the Carolina District of the American Rose Society’s Silver Honor Medal winner (1969). The pink miniature roses in the Sottile House garden are Pierrine Smith Byrd Roses and were given to the College by her friends.
Mary Stewart Allan ’28
Upon graduating from the College of Charleston with a degree in Classics, Mary Stewart Allan made use of her job as a “Broad Street secretary” in a law office to study law every chance she could. It paid off in 1933, when she took and passed the bar examination, becoming the first woman admitted to the South Carolina Bar. She completed a master’s degree in social work at the University of Chicago in the late 1930s and used her professional education as a volunteer social worker throughout the Great Depression. In 1949, she organized Charleston’s first Legal Aid Society.
Dr. Patricia Carter ’37
Dr. Patricia Carter, who graduated from the College with a degree in Latin, was the first woman to practice obstetrics/gynecology with surgical specialty in Charleston. Objecting to the premise that “women make better nurses,” Carter graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina, interned in Philadelphia, completed her residency at Philadelphia’s Misericordia Hospital and did postgraduate training in gynecology with an emphasis on cancer and surgery at Bellevue University in New York City. After serving as chief of the OB/GYN department at Roper St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, Carter was appointed chief of staff. She was the first woman physician to be a member of the Roper St. Francis Board of Directors. When asked how many babies she delivered during her 30 years of practice, Carter said, “I stopped counting at 5,000.”
Linda Dingle Gadson ’72
Linda Dingle Gadson made history as one of the first women of color to enroll at the College of Charleston. Gadson along with Carrie Nesbitt Gibbs, Angela Brown Gilchrist and Audrey Dingle Cooper became the first black women to graduate from the College when they walked across the Cistern to receive their diplomas in 1972. After earning her degree in political science, Gadson made a career in the nonprofit world, climbing the ladder to become executive director of Rural Mission Incorporated on Johns Island, which aims to support low-income residents on Johns Island, Wadmalaw Island, Yonges Island and a portion of James Island.
Arlinda Locklear ’73
Arlinda Locklear is a recognized expert in Native American law, representing numerous tribes on wide-ranging issues. An ancestor of the Lumbee Indians, Locklear, who majored in political science at the College before earning her law degree from Duke University, has spent more than three decades fighting for federal benefits for the tribe. In 1983, Locklear became the first Native American woman to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, and she has twice served as lead counsel in cases in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of tribal parties. She continued to serve as counsel for the Lumbee until 2010.
Jennifer J. Miller ’84
As a business administration major at the College in the early 1980s, Jennifer J. Miller stumbled into the field of public service and local government when she took a public administration course. She liked the subject and later excelled in various positions within Charleston County government, including budgeting and payroll, emergency management, planning and zoning and human resources. When Hurricane Hugo struck the Holy City in 1989, Miller played a role as the coordinator of the Raise the Roof Recovery Program. In 2017, Miller became the first female county administrator for Charleston County. After more than 30 years working in local government, Miller still cares deeply about her work in local government, noting, “If public service is your passion, which it’s mine, this is a place where you can make a difference.”
Tabetha “Tabby” Boyajian ’03
In 2012 data for a mysterious star landed on Tabetha “Tabby” Boyajian’s desk. Neither she nor her fellow colleagues could explain the star’s bizarre light frequency. Dubbed “Tabby’s Star” in the media, Boyajian has led the research on the perplexing star, publishing a paper in 2015 on the light phenomenon of the star. In 2016, she gave a TED Talk explaining why it might be possible there was a massive alien structure that could be causing dips in the star’s light. Boyajian, who earned a bachelor’s degree from CofC in astronomy, holds a master’s degree in physics and a doctor of philosophy in astronomy from Georgia State University. She is currently a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Louisiana State University.
Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton-Buchholz ’04
A native of the South Carolina upstate community of Little Africa, Ebony Jade Hilton-Buchholz earned three bachelor’s degrees at the College – in biochemistry, molecular biology and inorganic chemistry – before going on to earn a medical degree from the Medical University of South Carolina in 2008. She made history in 2013 when she became the first African American female anesthesiologist at the Medical University of South Carolina. From the age of 8, Hilton-Buchholz knew she wanted to be a doctor, and she vigorously pursued this goal. In addition to her position as an associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Virginia, Hilton-Buchholz is also co-founder of GoodStock Consulting, a health care consulting group; a children’s book author; a public speaker; and community activist.