Susan “Sudie” Miller Furman was born on 18 January 1868 to Dr. John Howard Furman (1824-1902) and his second wife, Susan Emma Miller (1832-1892). Her father was the son of Dr. Samuel Furman, professor at Furman Theological University, and the grandson of Dr. Richard Furman, Baptist preacher and advocate for the American Revolution. After the untimely death of his first wife, Catherine Eliza Carter, John Furman married Susan Miller in 1854. In 1859 the Furmans removed from Georgia to Cornhill plantation at Privateer near Sumter, where Dr. Furman practiced medicine and oversaw farming operations. In addition to the two children from his previous marriage, John Furman fathered four children by Susan Miller—Catherine Eliza “Kate” Furman, Charles James McDonald “Donald” Furman, Richard Baker Furman, and Susan Miller “Sudie” Furman.
Sudie Furman studied at the Charleston Female Seminary and worked both as a missionary and a nurse before her marriage to Eugene Whitefield Dabbs on 7 March 1910. Dabbs owned a three-thousand-acre farm near Mayesville, served in the state legislature and as president of the South Carolina State Farmers Union, and for twenty-five years was a Sumter County school trustee. Although Sudie and Eugene had no children of their own, he had four children from his previous marriage—James McBride Dabbs, Eugene Whitefield Dabbs, Jr., Elizabeth Dabbs, and Sophie Dabbs. Sudie Furman Dabbs died in January 1931.
Among the earlier items included in the collection is personal and business correspondence that relates to the Furmans prior to Sudie’s marriage. There are also items from the Dabbs family, including some that date from E.W. Dabbs’ single-term stint at the University of South Carolina. Letters relating directly to Sudie Furman start with that of 6 December 1880 in which her brother Donald wrote to describe his experiences at Greenville Military Institute. Other correspondence from the early period provides details of Sudie’s visits to her Uncle Evans as well as the management of her father’s farm and other business matters.
Sudie entered the Charleston Female Seminary on Wentworth Street for the fall term of 1884. In a series of letters to family and friends she described her experiences—the classes she took and the grades she received, the difficulties she encountered in studying, church services she attended in Charleston, and other noteworthy events. Among the incidents that captured her schoolgirl’s attention was “the funeral procession of that negro that was shot the other day: I never saw such a sight before; as far as I could see up and down the street it was one black string [of] negroes. The people seem to be afraid it may cause a good deal of trouble between the whites and the blacks” (4 October 1885). She also told of a sightseeing excursion to Ft. Sumter in a letter of 9 May 1886. After a visit by her father, Sudie wrote on 13 May 1885 to express concern for his appearance—how he had “lost all self-control and how broken down and worn out you were...and I could not do anything to help you.”
After Sudie withdrew from the school in 1886, correspondence suggests that she traveled widely while visiting relatives and friends. Beginning in 1890 she became involved with the Mary Hanley Society of Bethel, a Women’s Mission Society located at Society Hill. An associate, Eliza Y. Hyde, wrote in 1891 to express her satisfaction that Sudie was interested in missionary work—“There is no more satisfying and inspiring work than that of spending one’s days and hours in labors of love for Jesus, and it makes my heart so happy that another dear young girl should be so earnest in Christian service.” Miss Hyde subsequently wrote to Sudie and commended her efforts to send material aid to missionaries overseas—“These are always welcomed by missionaries to be used in inducing the heathen children to attend Sunday School...and before long South Carolina will be indeed an army trained, and marching onward to noble deeds for the Master” (9 November 1891).
At this same period of time, Sudie Furman began a running correspondence with several missionaries stationed around the world, and the resulting letters give insight into the situations faced by Americans serving on the mission field in a number of other countries. Ida Hayes, for one, wrote from Saltillo, Mexico, discussing the reaction by Roman Catholics to the presence of Protestant missionaries. “Of course the Catholics hate us,” she reported on 22 November 1893, asserting that “as a proof of this all the window glass is broken out of the windows of our church on the side next to the street.”
The longest-running communication with a missionary, however, was with Florence N. League, a Baptist mission worker stationed in various areas of China. In letters written between 1895 and 1902 Mrs. League expressed her dissatisfaction with the management of missionaries overseas, the conditions in which she worked—poverty, rebellions, and foreign wars—and the state of the people she was trying to convert to Christianity. Concerning the management of missionaries through societies rather than through church sponsorship, Mrs. League wrote on 8 September 1895—“The church is really the only G.M. society there can possibly be, because a Gospel Missionary can only be one supported by a church.” Writing again on 24 March 1896, Mrs. League expressed frustration with the methods used to attract converts to Christianity—“The establishment of schools and hospitals by missionaries has done more to hinder the progress of the gospel in China than all the prejudices of heathenism....The school fosters the idea that Christianity is a system to be learned only in books.” In a similar vein, Mrs. League wrote of her associates in Shanghai, 6 July 1896—“we met a great many missionaries in Shanghai and the whole of their talk seemed to be about schools, hospitals and paid workers. There was little talk about real evangelistic work.” During the crisis of the opium wars in China, Mrs. League remarked on the difference between the work of the gospel and that of business with regards to China. She wrote on 26 October 1900—“It seems almost wicked to hear Christian people talk of giving up their efforts for the spread of the Gospel in China while the merchant, the mining and others after money are planning to redouble their efforts.” Mrs. League decried the agricultural conditions in China that resulted in the peasants’ increasing reliance upon the cultivation of the opium poppy. Writing on 3 October 1896, she noted—“there is hardly sufficient land to raise food for the people, the Poppy from which opium is extracted, seems to be cultivated more and more. It makes one’s heart sick.”
As a result of her contacts with missionaries overseas and her association with the Women’s Gospel Missionary Society of Bethel Hill, Sudie Furman determined to embark on missionary work in Cuba and served there from 1903 to February 1904, ultimately terminating her endeavors due to difficulties with her superior. Before Sudie left for Cuba, Harriet Goldsmith wrote on 17 September 1902 commending her decision to enter missionary work—“you are sure to accomplish [God’s work] in this life work you have chosen and to which you have been called.”
After she returned from Cuba, Sudie Furman worked as a nurse, beginning her nursing career at the Baker Infirmary. In later years she served as a board member for the Graduate Nurses Association of South Carolina, an agency through which she sought to standardize requirements for women becoming nurses in South Carolina and thereby to assure their recognition in the nursing profession throughout the United States.
The content and nature of the collection changes with the courtship and marriage of Sudie Furman and E.W. Dabbs. Although Sudie remained vitally interested in missionary work and nursing, her focus came to center around the lives of her husband and his children. The courtship began in March 1909, following the death of Eugene’s first wife, and culminated with their marriage a year later. Addressing Sudie on 1 March 1909, Dabbs alluded not only to the death of his wife—“only those who have gone through a similar experience can measure the depth of the gloom, nor conceive the extent of the awful wrench when a man’s better half is taken from him”—but also to what he anticipated would be a pleasurable meeting with her in Columbia. The first evidence, however, of the longstanding relationship between Eugene and Sudie, whom he later referred to as “the dear friend of my young manhood,” is found in a letter that Dabbs wrote on 10 May 1892 to console Sudie upon the death of her mother.
After their marriage, there are few letters written by Sudie Dabbs. Rather, the correspondence consists in large part of letters from E.W. Dabbs who was working for the South Carolina Farmers Union and traveled extensively to speak in various states. There are also letters to Sudie from the children and Dabbs kinfolks. James McBride Dabbs wrote to his stepmother from the University of South Carolina regarding classes, music lessons, and other student activities. Concerning the quality of college food, young James related a humorous account in his letter of 4 October 1913—“The other day the light-bread was pretty tough. One fellow said, ‘This is sophomore bread.’ “Why,’ said another. ‘Because it was “fresh” last year.’” A letter from E.W. Dabbs, 15 June 1914, regards the graduation of Eugene, Jr., from The Citadel—“Capt. John Morre told me he regarded Eugene as the finest man in the Citadel and that Capt. Gaston said he was without a doubt the finest military man in the corps.” Both James McBride Dabbs (317th Infantry Division) and Eugene Dabbs, Jr. (324th Infantry Division) served in the American Expeditionary Force during the First World War and wrote home to their parents regarding their experiences overseas. A letter from James written in December 1918 discusses his prospects for returning home—“will stay back here as a reserve until there is no chance of trouble breaking out in Germany, and I doubt it.”
In addition to the letters of the Dabbs children, there are letters from R.M Furman, the son of Sudie’s half-brother John and his wife, Annie Furman. After John Furman suffered a stroke, Sudie was instrumental in bringing R.M. Furman and his mother from England to America. She sponsored the education of R.M. Furman, paying for his schooling at Locust Grove Institute in Georgia. This began a prolonged correspondence between Sudie Dabbs and R.M. Furman. He wrote on 1 April 1919 from Locust Grove in reference to the discipline received at the school—“The cadets form a fine feature here...and although I do not feel any warlike emotions it does me a lot of good for discipline is the keynote and that helps in character formation.” After leaving Locust Grove, he entered Furman University, again with financial help from Sudie Dabbs. Writing on 18 September 1919, Furman commented on the stark differences between the two schools—“Everything here is so different to Locust Grove that in comparison this place seems to be a palace of ease and luxury, the rooms, buildings, dinning hall with its snow white covers and gleaming silverware makes me feel that I will burst into poetic verse in my excitement.” And again on 12 November 1920 he addressed what he perceived as one of society’s major injustices—“in their materialistic selfish cycle of pleasant luxury they are really unhappy; for, to be really happy one must not be out on a joyride, but upon an errand of mercy, doing something for somebody else.”
Among other items of interest is a letter, 14 March 1921, from the Secretary to the President, George B. Christian, Jr., indicating that Sudie Dabbs had written on 11 March. The papers, however, contain no record of her letter to the President nor any indication of what it entailed. The remainder of the letters from 1922 to 1926 are primarily from Eugene to Sudie and discuss events on the family farm, weather, and crop news. In addition to correspondence the collection contains a variety of other materials relating to the Furman and Dabbs families, among them financial records, account books, and printed materials collected by family members.