Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Historic Preservation (MHP)



Committee Chair/Advisor

Amalia Leifeste

Committee Member

Katherine Pemberton

Committee Member

Naomi Doddington

Committee Member

Brian Turner


The subject of this thesis is women commissioning buildings using loans they obtained as part of An Act for Rebuilding the City of Charleston. The Act, which passed after the fire of 1838, made $2 million dollars in loans available to all Charlestonians to rebuild the city after the fire wiped out hundreds of buildings on the peninsula. As a result of the way the act was structured, at least ten women, including a formerly enslaved woman, received loans and built houses and commercial buildings using those funds. This thesis examines whether the loan program opened the door for women to apply for mortgages at an increased rate, and whether an increased rate was sustained after the loan program ended. It also looks at when the Act occurred, and whether that timing meant that it contributed to the momentum of the evolution of property rights that resulted in passage of the Married Women’s Property Act in South Carolina. Research and analysis ultimately indicate that these hypotheses proved to be untrue. Instead, the data offers a snapshot of the microcosm of women and the built environment in Charleston, and women’s participation in the real estate and financial markets at that time.

The documentation surrounding the loans and buildings makes it possible to study and discuss the women who utilized the loan by looking more deeply into their backgrounds. Data analyzed include: studies on women’s property rights; deed, property, and probate records; historic newspaper articles; city directory entries; and research about fires in Charleston and relief efforts. Quantitative data was also compiled by using deed records recording the mortgage applicants to the Bank of the State of South Carolina from 1800-1880 and comparing the number of male and female lessors through the years. The finding was that there was a proportional increase of both male and female lessors obtaining mortgages from the Bank of the State of South Carolina, and that increase in female lessors returned to pre-Act levels once the Act’s loan program ended. This thesis discusses the history and effects of women’s property rights in conjunction with women’s effect on the built environment through an examination of the landscape of women’s property rights in 1838, the way they manifested in Charleston’s built environment under the fire loan of 1838, and the biographies of six of the women who built using the loan. It also discusses the Act that made the loans possible, and the different types of fire relief in Charleston that preceded it.



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