Who was M. Judson?

Mary Camilla Judson
Mary Camilla Judson. Special Collections and Archives, Furman University.

When independent bookstore M. Judson opened on Main St in 2015, I was excited to see a unique business with a ton of character that fits in downtown and still stands out as a must-do for visitors.

Turns out, the woman behind the store’s name fits that description, too.

Mary Camilla Judson was the principal of Greenville Women’s College in the 1800s, a teacher of everything from physics to literature, and an all-around trailblazing woman.

Judson was a native of Connecticut, where she wanted to attend Yale but couldn’t enroll as a woman. A passion for educating *everyone* was sparked – she moved to Greenville in 1857 to work as a teacher at Greenville Women’s College.

Her brother Charles Judson had some connections: he was principal at the Women’s College and the first elected professor at Furman (he’s the man for whom Judson Mill + the Judson area are named). Mary Judson taught throughout S.C., and worked in Columbia until Civil War troops approaching made her head back to GVL.

After she taught for a few years back in C.T., Charles asked Mary to come back and help the struggling Women’s College. In 1878, she became Lady Principal. She also pioneered the teaching of calisthenics – her students could shed their corsets to enjoy some exercise + freedom (they even did a calisthenics routine at graduation). 🙌

One of her most lasting legacies might be the Judson Literary Society, where women had debates, wrote papers, and were encouraged to read rigorously.

Their dues of 25 cents a year went towards starting the school library. And when it came time for the school to expand in 1901, Judson donated $3,000 of her life savings towards a new auditorium ($82,713.81 today).

Even after retiring at 83, Mary Camilla Judson lived at the college until her death in 1920 (she is buried in Greenville’s Springwood Cemetery).

We’re pretty sure she would approve of an independent bookstore named in her honor. 📖

Here are a couple shots of the woman herself:

Mary Camilla Judson
Mary Camilla Judson. Special Collections and Archives, Furman University.
Mary Camilla Judson
Mary Camilla Judson. Special Collections and Archives, Furman University.

Click here to read more about Mary Camilla Judson from Dr. Judith Bainbridge, director of educational services + an associate professor of English at Furman University, who’s working on a history of Greenville Women’s College.