Catherine "Kitty" Springs
She was a milliner, a wife, a business owner, a land owner, and a mystery today, if not in her own time.
A free person of color, she married a white man nineteen years her elder. They lived openly in Summerville in the mid-1800s, surely an unusual occurrence according to Dr. Ed West in his presentation on entrepreneurs at Third Thursday at the Summerville Dorchester Museum.
Her name was Catherine Smith until she married Richard Springs, but everyone called her Kitty. Born in 1834 in the St. Stephen area, she was one-half full-blooded Indian on her mother’s side.
An ambitious young woman, Kitty moved to Charleston and opened a clothing and millinery shop.
She was very good at what she did, so good that she moved to Summerville to create another successful clothing business there. According to West, researchers believe Kitty and Richard worked and lived in the area of Second North and Cedar Streets.
Over time Kitty bought a considerable amount of land around where the current county offices and Hutchinson Square are located — also unusual for a woman of color in the 1800s.
She became a philanthropist in 1880, when she donated property for a school and chapel to serve disadvantaged children, particularly American Indian or bi-racial.
But her most famous and visible contribution to Summerville is the little white church with the red door, the Church of the Epiphany on Central Avenue, across from the Timrod Library.
They are still together, buried side by side in the Old White Meeting House and Cemetery on Dorchester Road. Her story continues to fascinate and inspire people today just as much as it did then. Perhaps one of the new schools could be named for this outstanding woman.
Dr. West is a well-spoken historian for Dorchester County as well as the town of Summerville. A member of the museum board, he is a frequent speaker as part of the museum’s series on local people and historical events.