This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.
Charlotta Lottie Rollin joined the American Woman Suffrage Association and during Reconstruction, she influenced state politics, according to the Suffragists Memorial.
Born in 1849, Rollin worked for Black Congressman Robert Brown Elliott and spoke on the floor of the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1869 in support of universal suffrage.
By 1870, Rollin chaired the founding meeting of the South Carolina Woman’s Rights Association and in 1871, led a meeting at the state capital to advocate for woman suffrage.
With her sisters Frances, Kate and Louisa, she was active in promoting woman suffrage at both the state and national levels.
In a 2019 profile of forgotten foremothers and lesser-known heroines in the fight for women’s rights, Kathryn S. Gardiner wrote about “The Misses Rollin.” The profile was published by the League of Women Voters.
Northern reporters from The Sun and The New York Herald brought all their assumptions into the parlor of the Columbia home of the Rollin sisters of South Carolina. By the 1871 newspaper interviews, the reputation of the Rollin family was already well known.
Southern politicians and intelligentsia gathered at their salons, which were casually referred to as “The Republican headquarters,” and they were highly influential in the Reconstruction South. Just the same, these contemporary white journalists were shocked by the intelligence, gentility, and poise of Frances Ann, Charlotte, Katherine, Louisa, and Florence.
Their mother has been lost to history, but their father, William Rollin, was a member of the “colored aristocracy” and a native of Santo Domingo (modern day Dominican Republic).
He prioritized the education of his daughters, preferring a French curriculum.
The eldest, Frances Ann, gained public attention in 1867 when she pursued a discrimination lawsuit against a boat captain who refused her first-class passage.
In her legal battle, she was aided by Major Martin Delany, an African-American abolitionist, journalist, physician and soldier. The lawsuit was ultimately successful and Delany commissioned Frances Ann to write his biography.
This publication, “Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany,” was published under the name Frank Rollin, as publishers decided the public was not ready for a book authored by an African-American woman. (Notably, “Frank” was also Frances’s nickname.)
Second-born Charlotta “Lottie” Rollin shared her oldest sister’s passions, Gardiner noted.
“We all believe in women’s rights and have had the assistance of the best and purest, and not the noisiest, of our sex,” Charlotta once told the New York Herald, Gardiner reported.
In March 1869, Charlotta argued for women’s suffrage before the state house of representatives, making the case that the Constitution did not define voters as male, therefore women should be permitted.
In December 1870, Charlotta organized a “Women’s Rights Convention,” serving as chair with her sister Katherine as secretary.
Charlotta founded South Carolina’s branch of the American Woman Suffrage Association.
While the pursuit of suffrage faced opposition from both white and Black men, Charlotta’s dedication did not waver.
“We ask suffrage not as a favor, not as a privilege, but as a right based on the grounds that we are human begins and as such entitled to all human rights, said Charlotta, according to Gardiner’s reporting.
“All of the Rollin sisters were active in South Carolina’s AWSA and were part of a strong push in 1872 for a state constitution amendment for suffrage,” Gardiner wrote.