Sallie Southall Cotten

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Sallie Southall Cotten (June 13, 1846 — May 4, 1929) was an American writer and clubwoman, based in North Carolina. She helped to organize the North Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs. She was the organization's fifth president, and wrote the federation's anthem, as well as a history of the federation.

Early life and education[edit]

Sallie Swepson Sims Southall was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia, the daughter of Thomas J. Southall and Susanna Sims Southall. She was raised in the home of an uncle in Murfreesboro, North Carolina. She attended Wesleyan Female College (which closed during her time there, in the tumult of the American Civil War) and Greensboro Female College, graduating from the latter in 1863.[1]


In her mid-forties, Sallie Cotten accepted an appointment from governor Elias Carr to serve as one of North Carolina's managers at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. "I had never traveled much, and felt utterly unprepared," she confessed to the Charlotte Observer, "but I soon felt at home...and I found that the years of home duties had fitted me for the fields of larger service."[2] She decided to focus on books written by North Carolina women for her part of the exhibit, spent four months in Chicago, and received a medal for her contributions.[3] This work and the travel involved led her to greater involvement with the women's club movement, and in 1902 she helped to organize the North Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs. She was the organization's fifth president (1912-1913), and wrote the federation's anthem.[4]

What Uncle Dorcas told Little Elsie, Sallie Southall Cotten, 1923

She was one of the organizers of the National Congress of Mothers (later the National Parent-Teacher Association), and was an officer of the national organization from 1897 to 1906.[5]

In 1925 she published The History of the North Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs, 1901-1925, with the opening line "What has been known as the Woman's Movement was a revoltuion — bloodless but not purposeless." Among her other publications were The White Doe (1901),[6] an epic poem about Virginia Dare, which she often presented in public readings;[7] and What Aunt Dorcas Told Little Elsie (1923), a collection of "Negro folklore stories" which reflected the condescending racial attitudes of a nostalgic white Southerner in her time.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Sallie Southall married Col. Robert Randolph Cotten in 1866. Her husband was a Confederate Army veteran.[9] The couple lived in Wilson, North Carolina, and later at "Cottendale," their 1000-acre plantation in Pitt County.[10] The couple had nine children together; three of their children died in childhood. She was widowed in 1928, and moved to Massachusetts, where she was welcomed as "the Julia Ward Howe of the South." She died there, in Winchester, Massachusetts, in 1929, aged 83 years.[5]

Her papers are archived in the Southern Historical Collection at Chapel Hill.[11] There are dormitories named for Sallie Southall Cotten at University of North Carolina at Greensboro[12] and at East Carolina University.[13] There is a highway historical marker about Cotten in Pitt County, near the site of her former home.[14] The Junior Woman's Club of Raleigh offers a Sallie Southall Cotten Scholarship for North Carolina students.[15]

A book-length biography, Sallie Southall Cotten: A Woman's Life in North Carolina, was published in 1987.[16]


  1. ^ "Sallie Southall Cotten, 1863", Greensboro College.
  2. ^ "Sallie Southall Cotten (1846-1929): Ideal Woman of the New South" in Scotti Cohn, More than Petticoats: Remarkable North Carolina Women (Rowman & Littlefield 2012): 72. ISBN 9780762776535
  3. ^ William Stephenson, "How Sallie Southall Cotten Brought North Carolina to the Chicago World's Fair of 1893" North Carolina Historical Review 58(4)(October 1981): 364-383.
  4. ^ Margaret Supplee Smith, "Sallie Southall Cotten: Organized Womanhood Comes to North Carolina" in Michele Gillespie and Sally McMillen, eds., North Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times (University of Georgia PRess 2014): 213-240. ISBN 9780820340005
  5. ^ a b Elizabeth H. Copeland, "Sallie Southall Cotten" in William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (University of North Carolina Press 1996).
  6. ^ Sallie Southall Cotten, The White Doe: The Fate of Virginia Dare (J. B. Lippincott 1901).
  7. ^ Michael Harkin, "Performing Paradox: Narrative and the Lost Colony of Roanoke" in John Sutton Lutz, ed., Myth and Memory: Stories of Indigenous-European Contact (UBC Press 2011): 103-117. ISBN 9780774840828
  8. ^ Jonathan D. Sarris, "Biographical Summary of Sallie Southall Cotten (1846-1929)" East Carolina University Student Affairs.
  9. ^ James Elliott Moore, "Robert Randolph Cotten" in William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (UNC Press 1996).
  10. ^ Mrs. Al. Fairbrother, "Mrs. Robert R. Cotten" Sky-Land Magazine 1(11)(January 1915): 734-736.
  11. ^ Sallie Southall Cotten Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  12. ^ Sallie Southall Cotten Residence Hall, UNC-Greensboro.
  13. ^ Franceine Perry, "Sallie Southall Cotten: A Voice for Women" Daily Times News (November 19, 1975): 70. via Newspapers.comopen access publication - free to read
  14. ^ "Sallie S. Cotten" marker, North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.
  15. ^ Sallie Southall Cotten Scholarship, Junior Woman's Club of Raleigh.
  16. ^ William Stephenson, Sallie Southall Cotten: A Woman's Life in North Carolina (Pimlico Press 1987). ISBN 9780943287010

External links[edit]