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History: Belle Baruch joins county Women's Hall of Fame
By Nikki Best
There are many ways to describe Belle Wilcox Baruch. Pilot. Friend. Daughter. Equestrian. Soldier. Scientist. Philanthropist. Her latest descriptor is an honor that comes more than half a century after her death. The Georgetown County Women’s Hall of Fame officially inducted Baruch this week at its annual luncheon held at Pawleys Plantation.
“It just seemed like the right time,” Beth Stedman, Georgetown County chamber of commerce president said.
Stedman was involved with the Women’s Hall of Fame from the beginning. Seven years ago while working at Clemson, she and colleagues realized that there was very little knowledge about women leaders in the state.
“We felt like through having a women’s hall of fame specific to Georgetown County, we would be able to celebrate those women,” she said.
Baruch’s honor comes on the heels of the Smithsonian Institute’s feature of SCETV’s documentary Between the Waters and last year’s recovery of part of Hobcaw Barony’s stolen art collection.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Albert Baruch Mercer, cardiologist, Belle W. Baruch Foundation trustee and the great-nephew of Bernard Baruch. Mercer splits his time between his home state of Kentucky and the Lowcountry. There’s just something about this beautiful place, he says.
“It’s not just the land, it’s the people,” Mercer said.
Mercer’s keynote speech attempted to condense Baruch’s 64 years into about 30 minutes. He highlighted her service in the Signal Corps during World War I and her work in Naval Intelligence during World War II. She was active in women’s suffrage and the League of Nations. She was tall, strong and physically gifted, he said. She was a woman ahead of her time in many ways.
“She did her part,” Mercer said. “Her greatest gift was Hobcaw Barony.”
In his speech Mercer lamented that the property’s “human beating heart” was slowed when Baruch was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1962, but through the work of the foundation Hobcaw Barony is serving its intended purpose.
“It’s alive again,” he said.
Hobcaw Barony is the 16,000 acre property located south of Pawleys Island, that Baruch left to the foundation of her own name. It is the “natural laboratory” and permanent home to research programs from Clemson University and University of South Carolina. It also provides historic tours to the public and children’s programs for education.
The Georgetown Women’s Hall of Fame inductee is chosen through committee each fall and the induction is held each March, in conjunction with Women’s History Month.
The hall of fame inducted its first honoree in 2011. Past winners include: Elizabeth Allston Pringle (2011), Eliza Lucas Pinckney (2012), Genevieve Willcox Chandler (2013), Mabel Leffingwell Mercer Hamilton (2014), Ruby Middleton Forsythe (2015) and Anna Hyatt Huntington (2016).