A century ago, Laura Bragg became the first woman in the nation to lead a publicly funded history museum
The museum director at her Chalmers Street home in 1928
In Charleston, the 20th century took a great leap forward with the September 1909 arrival of Laura Mary Bragg, who ushered in a brave new era.
Born October 9, 1881 in Massachusetts, the graduate of Simmons College was hired in 1909 as a librarian at The Charleston Museum. Eleven years later, Bragg made national news by becoming its first female director and the first woman to lead a public funded natural history and arts museum in the country.
Not content to merely record civilization, she wanted to change it. A dedicated suffragist, Bragg opened the segregated museum to African Americans; created an educational system of “Bragg boxes” that brought nature and history into primary schools; founded the city’s first free public library; and mentored many who went on to distinguished careers in the arts and sciences, including Dr. Robert Furchgott, the Nobel Prize-winning pharmacist. As a friend of DuBose Heyward and Josephine Pinckney, she helped found the Poetry Society of South Carolina, launching the Charleston Renaissance, which helped pave the way for the city to become an art and tourist mecca.
Bragg went on to serve museums in Massachusetts and Virginia before returning to the Holy City. Until her death on May 16, 1978, she remained the center of the city’s salon culture.
History Lesson: Tour The Charleston Museum's exhibit on Laura Bragg