Progress, whether on the national or local level, is often defined by individuals and the causes they seem destined to champion. Mary Camilla Judson—Greenville’s staunchest advocate for the advancement of female education—is certainly no exception. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the academic field was still very much a man’s arena. With little demand for greater female education and the constant reinforcement of household roles, schooling for women was expected to remain on the backburner of the American mindset. But Mary Judson had different plans.
Educated in her hometown of Monroe, Connecticut, by a local Yale graduate, Judson fell in love with academia at a young age and was soon invited to Greenville to study under her brother, Furman University mathematics professor Charles H. Judson. In 1857, after returning to Connecticut to begin her career in teaching, Judson was invited back to Greenville to join Charles at Greenville Women’s College, where he had been appointed president.
Despite the stigma of female academics, Judson fought the status quo as longtime principal of Greenville Women’s College and pioneer suffragette. Tackling and teaching every subject from physiology to French, the young principal believed in shaping the minds and bodies of young women. In addition to organizing and running the school, Judson founded the Judson Literary Society, an early women’s debate team, and donated her life savings to build a campus library later named in her honor. She even went as far as to introduce a calisthenics routine at college graduation, which featured her students in long flowing robes instead of the more traditional corset-based attire.
With a strong belief in equal opportunity, Mary Judson changed the landscape of Greenville’s education system. Transcending the boundary of educator, Judson remains a memorable innovator in Upstate history. M. Judson Booksellers and Storytellers on Main Street is named in her honor.