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Margarette Richards Papers

"Scattered all over this state and around the country are former piano students of Miss Richards--teaching privately and in public schools, playing professionally, and contributing to the musical life of their communities," wrote Annie Martha Spell Hills in a letter to The State, 20 June 1968, shortly after Margarette Richards retired, as professor emeritus, from the music faculty at Columbia College, where she had been teaching since 1931. "A great many of them went to Columbia College because of the desire to study with her; none of them left without a great deal more than the knowledge of music. To all of us she became a dear and trusted friend, ready with sound advice for us and providing an example of integrity and character which is hard to find in these days of turmoil and uncertainty."

Among the one and one-quarter linear feet of letters, programs, clippings, photographs, and miscellaneous notes and records which detail the life and work of Margarette Richards (b. 1901) is a commemorative scrapbook presented to her on 2 May 1967 when, following a duo-piano concert she had presented with colleague Walker Breland to raise scholarship money to be awarded by the college's Sinfonia Club (which she had founded in 1961), she was surprised with the announcement that the scholarship fund henceforth would bear her name. Typical of the substance of the letters in this volume are these lines from Mary Risher Tatum, 17 April 1967--"The music lessons I had with you at C.C. were the high points of my life at college, and in those sessions, you taught me far more than Bach or Beethoven. The love of beauty in all things and the desire to accomplish a task to the best of one's ability are the things I remember most." "Thank you for being strict, hard, and not letting me get by with slovenly, incorrect playing," wrote another former student, Maude Felder Coffey, 27 April 1967. "As a piano teacher, I would like in some way to be the kind you are. Thorough, exact, correct, but still kind and sweet." And a few years later, in a letter written to the South Carolina Arts Commission in support of her nomination for the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award, 17 November 1982, Columbia College professor Selden K. Smith described her as a professional musician but with "catholic" interests--"She has labored to improve the cultural level of South Carolina but with equal fervor she has supported progress in human relations, economic conditions, public education, moral climate, and political integrity. She has taken her citizenship in state and nation seriously. Her peripheral vision is only matched by her person charm and appealing wit."

One of the nine daughters of Governor (1927-1931) John G. and Bettie Workman Richards, this Liberty Hill native has held a lifelong interest in political life and public issues. Among the most interesting units in the collection is a group of sixteen letters, [1908]-1915, from her father's political ally Senator B[enjamin] R. Tillman, Jr., with whom she began corresponding as a little girl. In the course of his replies to Margarette's "newsy little letters" (17 May 1912) Tillman told her about his own family and farm operations in Edgefield County, talked about his political responsibilities and travels, corrected her writing style, advised her on proper conduct and manners, and offered reflections upon the human experience in general. In a letter of 1 March 1910, in the aftermath of his father's stroke, Tillman wrote of him--"When he was really in danger and we thought he was going to die, he seemed almost willing to smile and joke at it. Now when he knows he is going to live and we hope going to get well, he feels grateful and thankful, for the goodness of God, for the love of his friends, and life and that makes it harder to control his feelings." He added--"Men are funny things aint they? Laugh when they are in danger and then cry when they get out of it. All men are not that way. Some of them have not got the same kind of conscience that Senator Tillman has and then some are weak." In a letter of 10 July 1913 he remarked upon the way she spelled her first name--"`Margarette' is your own way, contrived, I suppose, by some thought or suggestion to you from the word we see in the papers every day--`suffragette.'" After saying that the merit of a letter was its personality, he went on to state--"Your letters are always indicative of your character, and I appreciate your writing because you show your perfect love and trust in me so much that I am obliged to appreciate such letters." In a postscript he added--"I love you, dear child, very much, and I want to see you grow up to be as fine a woman as your mother is and all your sisters who are grown."

Years later, in a letter of 12 December 1968, Columbia attorney R. Beverley Herbert revealed to her that her father had told him "a lot about Senator Tillman" and that the governor had characterized him as having had "a quality of native strength more than any man he had known and sometimes it seemed he could take ordinary men in his hands and crush their bones."

Other letters here mirror the contiguous reality of private experience and public life. Writing home from Switzerland while on a trip with her sister Bettie, 26 July 1935, Margarette confesses at one point to being "exhausted by too much beauty," and then goes on to observe--"We could see the troops mobilizing every where. Otherwise, we wouldn't have known war is coming on. I hate so to think of war." The details of an ominous situation closer to home decades later are confided in a letter to her from [The Rev.] John [G. Gibbs], 13 March 1958, when he relates the circumstances of his precipitous departure as minister of her home church, the Liberty Hill Presbyterian Church, as the result of "an urgent Session meeting" in which he was "informed that our lives and property were in danger from the KKK."

Further evidence of her public concerns is found in a letter of 17 November 1980 from R. Wright Spears, then president emeritus of Columbia College, when he wrote to remind her of her role in a matter concerning the social history of the college and of Columbia--"My mind keeps going back to one significant incident at Columbia College in which you were a moving force--the appearance of Miss Myrtle Hall in Cottingham Theater. Was she not the first black artist to appear publicly in S.C.?...This took vision on your part, a spirit of fairness, and perhaps some nerve. I recall so well how you encouraged all of us at the college to proceed with this." And in an open letter penned on behalf of the Liberty Hill Garden Club, 20 April 1988, relating to the destruction of the forests of South Carolina and of the dogwood trees along the state's scenic highways, she wrote--"Is there no way to curb this shocking destruction? Are the paper companies in absolute control of our state's conservation rights?" She concluded--"We call on all the garden clubs of this great state, our governor, and representatives to unite in putting an end to this wanton destruction."

In addition to the large segment of material relating to Columbia College, with letters from former students and faculty members, is the sizable component reflecting her close family connection. Letters from a wide circle of kin include those from her parents, sisters, cousins J. McDowell Richards of Columbia Theological Seminary and opera singer William Workman, and her nephew, baritone John Richards McCrae, with whom she concertized. The collection contains Workman family history, as well as miscellaneous items relating to Liberty Hill and the Richards home there. Two taped conversations record Margarette Richards' recollections of life in the Governor's Mansion.

Among the items of special interest is a program from Camden's 1984 MAD Festival presentation of Gian Carlo Menotti's one-act opera for young people, "The Boy Who Grew Too Fast," inscribed to "Miss Richards" by the composer. Part of the reason she has been held in such high regard by students and professionals alike is their sense of the keenness of her aesthetic judgment and her precision of observation. Samples of these are indicated in a letter she wrote to her parents from New York, 28 March [1938], in which she conveyed her impressions of a live studio broadcast by the Toscanini orchestra that she had been privileged to attend the night before--"They are musicians--all artist soloists picked from all over the world--95 of them. The studio seats 2000 and the whole audience instinctively kept as still as mice--awed by such perfection....until you hear that orchestra you can't realize what a pinnacle man has attained."

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