A Celebration of Women Writers

"Extracts from 'Possibilities of the Southern States'." by Mrs. Sallie Rhett Roman (1844-1921).
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 535-538.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 535] 



John Bright, the great English commoner, who said: "Those beautiful states of the South! Those regions, than which the whole earth offers nothing more lovely or more fertile."

And, in truth, upon investigation, the agricultural, mineral and commercial advantages possessed by them loom up towering and imposing. To appreciate the length and breadth of these resources, a cursory glance over the past decade is imperative.

In 1865 the states of the South were in a wrecked and shattered condition. Their banking system was destroyed, agriculture was dead, no manufacturing industries existed, capital had vanished, their railroads had been all but completely destroyed, poverty reigned supreme in town and hamlet, and recuperation seemed wellnigh impossible.

Turning from this desolate picture to the present period, we see that the conditions which exist everywhere today throughout that section justify the assertion and the belief that these states must possess great and unusual advantages to have reached within the short space of thirty years a condition of prosperity which points with a confident finger to a triumphant future.

The London Financial Times said recently: "The phenomenal progress of the Southern States since 1881, must be profoundly gratifying to every patriotic American. Within these past ten years they have shown a most marvelous recuperative power." This assertion was made in connection with the location of English capital; hence its importance.

To understand this statement a few figures will suffice: In 1881 the South produced 400,000,000 bushels of wheat, corn and oats. In 1891 the production in that section has grown to 600,000,000 bushels, with a corresponding increase in the cotton crop, and, despite the recent decline in the prices of that commodity, the advance in money and benefit to the Southern States was not less than 200,000,000. Turning toward the carrying power of the South, we see that the mileage of the Southern railroads has grown from 23,000 to 44,000 miles, and that these roads have made far greater strides within the past ten years than other lines, while their reductions for freight and passengers have been greater.

The South's production of pig-iron in 1881 was 400,000 tons. In 1891 its output reached l,000,000 tons. The great Western roads have viewed with some apprehen- [Page 536]  sion the diversion of traffic to Southern ports, for a marked and noticeable increase of exports from these points has there taken place.

In 1881 the value of the produce exported from the Southern ports was $200,000,000. In 1891 it had increased to $300,000,000. The further fact is established that the assessed value of property per capita in 1881 was $142, which in 1891 had advanced to $232, while the capital of the national banks in the South increased within these past ten years from $45,000,000 to $95,000,000.

As the agricultural industries of the Southern States are the foundation of their prosperity, they demand priority of consideration in the present investigation. Among them, cotton, the greatest staple production of the world, stands unquestionably foremost; for the ramifications of interests interwoven in the cotton trade, which embrace the planter, manufacturer, merchant and exporter, aggregate a colossal amount of capital and absorb the energies, ingenuity and genius of millions of men. The importance, therefore, of this textile upon the commercial and financial destinies of all communities can not be over-estimated.

The Southern States of America furnish eighty per cent of the raw cotton consumption of the whole world, retaining for home uses one-third of the quantity produced, the rest going to foreign markets. Of late years capital and enterprise have combined to erect magnificent cotton mills throughout all the Southern States.

Nor could a more sagacious investment be devised, for the demonstration seems plain that if Great Britain (which has no raw cotton at command and must import its raw material from foreign countries, chiefly from the Southern States) finds it profitable to establish and maintain gigantic cotton mills, the South would clearly reap a larger profit by locating and working mills in close proximity to her own cotton fields. Great Britain's supremacy in cotton manufacture is solely owing to the fact that it has been the home of the most improved applications of machinery to that industry. The Eastern mills of the United States, by their present superior equipment, now rival those of Lancashire, while those splendid manufacturing structures being now erected in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, will eventually outstrip both in the near coming years, because of the superior economic conditions which they control.

These Southern cotton mills embody the newest forms of improved machinery, and are located close to the raw material they employ.

Besides the consideration of cheap and contented labor, that of cheap fuel is of the utmost importance for the success of the cotton mill. In Manchester the great cost of extracting coal from the deep beds of the coal mines of England makes the price of that commodity far higher than it is in the Southern States, where limitless coal mines abound, whose surface strata alone is being utilized by easy obtainment and at a small cost.

But the difficulties of climate, distance, labor and fuel are all obviated in the states of the South. Holding, therefore, these splendid advantages, the states of the South will naturally seek for a widening foreign market. This she will surely find beyond her European trade in China and Japan and the islands in the Pacific, when direct communications will be established with those countries through the cutting of the isthmus which unites the two Americas, which engineering feat has now become the imperious commercial necessity of this age. The states of the South, commanding a short and direct route, with her inexhaustible forests at hand wherewith to build the necessary shipping for this trade, would supply this rich and prolific market with their varied products and manufactures. Nor could any section or outside power successfully compete with them; for a closer proximity gives, necessarily, a supremacy none may dispute.

The history of the Suez Canal, which has poured millions into the coffers of England, and that of the Sault Ste. Marie's Canal, on the great northern lakes, gives the basis for the assumption that the tonnage of vessels passing through annually would average nine million at a low estimate.

By opening this canal, breaking bulk in transit, a matter of immense monetary [Page 537]  importance, would also be eliminated; and the coasting trade for small craft among those rich and fertile countries lying to the south along the Pacific, which embraces most valuable product, would grow to enormous proportions and would belong exclusively to the Southern States.

Indeed, the condition attendant upon the throwing open of direct and easy communication, through the Nicaragua Canal, is so supremely and undeniably advantageous that they justify the prediction that San Francisco on the Pacific, and New York on the Atlantic, will thereby command the markets of the world, while the ports of the states of the South must proportionately grow and prosper under the splendid impetus of expanding trade to become shortly great and important commercial centers.

The Southern group of states has an area of eight hundred thousand square miles, with a population of a little over nineteen million. Running through their center extends the southern Appalachian region, along whose northwestern slope stretches a continuous and unbroken coal-field of incalculable value, heavily timbered, with a productive soil and a healthful and cool climate. Lying toward the east spreads another strip of high, mountainous country, rising over two thousand feet above sea level. These ranges are covered with dense forests of varied and most valuable wood, and are prolific in slates, fine clays, marbles, ores, copper and other minerals, with a wealth of iron which only equals its colossal wealth in coal. Piled up in the center of these Southern States lies this magazine of enormous natural resources, greater far than those ever possessed by Great Britain, and surrounded by more than a half million square miles of lands whose fertility and productiveness is beyond computation.

It is incontestable that here is the section which offers the most advantageous sites for economical iron-making, for the needed materials lie close at hand, and economy in transporting this raw material gives to the manufacturer of iron enormous advantages over competing branches of that industry, located as they are at great distances in the North and West. The irresistible logic of circumstances has been recognized, and Birmingham, the iron city of the South, has grown into importance and wealth through her blast-furnaces and great iron industries, while others are being erected in various localities to make of the South, as Mr. Edward Atkinson says, "the future situs of the principal iron production of the world." And it may be pertinent to add that the recent splendid invention, called the Basaic process, for making steel of iron containing phosphorus, will unquestionably turn the scale for steel manufacture in favor of the South, by throwing open to her the possibility of furnishing at a lower cost, for the Southern railroads, whose extension and ramification over vast areas establish an inexhaustible market, those steel rails now manufactured by the steel mills of Pennsylvania and Illinois, and furnished by them to the Southern railroad companies.

In the Flat Top Region, in the great Kanawha Basin, in the Warnor Field, and elsewhere throughout these states, where coal mining has but recently been inaugurated, the coal trade amounts to millions of tons yearly, and gives employment to thousands of men, besides furnishing an enormous volume of paying freight to the railroads. The coal fields of the South, by their extent and depth, are practically beyond the limits of definite measurement, and the coal trade, yet in its infancy in that section, bids fair to spread far beyond the limits of this country.

It may be added in this connection, that Mobile and Pensacola are now making extensive improvements in their harbor facilities to accommodate the greatly increasing export trade of coal to Mexico and Central and South America, brought by railroads for shipment from these ports.

These rich timber districts are vast in area and extensive in variety. Here the yellow and white pines, the white, black, Spanish and chestnut oaks, the chestnut, walnut, hickory, poplar, cherry and laurel intermingle their luxuriant foliage and mutely testify to the keen-sighted lumberman and manufacturer of the West and East, that the lands which produce so superb a growth will likewise furnish the means to satisfy a most laudable ambition–that of becoming, through their agency, a successful and wealthy citizen. [Page 538] 

There are two other salient features in Southern industrial life which may not be overlooked, for their importance imperiously and justly clamor for attention. Over a far stretching area of country to the southwest of Norfolk lie a series of highly prosperous truck farms, under the most improved methods of culture, whose varied products furnish the inexhaustible markets of the large cities of the East. Running back from the old and sedate "City by the Sea," Charleston, and encased between the broad sweeping waters of the Ashley and the Cooper, extend a succession of truck farms, admirable from the perfected culture.

Passing through the wealthy and prospering State of Georgia, from east to west the traveler's attention is attracted by the continuous succession of handsome farms which cover the gently undulating lands and form a pleasing and charming panorama; while the orange groves of Florida need no comment to recall their beauty and their moneyed advantages. Nowhere on this continent does truck-farming and fruit-growing offer so uniformly good and profitable results as among the Southern States.

After cotton, the product giving the most lucrative returns to the cultivator is the sugar-cane of Louisiana, whose wealth of vegetation and salubrious climate make it truly the Garden Spot of the South. Grown in rich alluvial soil, in a most healthy region, by a population thoroughly educated concerning its culture, the cane-fields of Louisiana present one of the most beautiful sights in the world. The splendid luxuriance of this crop, the waving grace of its billowy green rows, when swept by the gentle breezes, under the radiant light of a glowing Southern sky, must needs enchant the beholder. The cultivation and manufacture of sugar give remunerative employment to a large and industrious population, and brings millions of dollars annually into the State of Louisiana, which circulates abroad for the perceptible benefit of all.

Through the old and historic states of Virginia and South Carolina, whose annals contain names which will ever adorn American history, down through the prosperous states of Georgia and Alabama, through Louisiana, glorious in her unrivaled fertility, and through the undulating plains and vast expanse of Texas, whose wealth and power in the coming years may not be measured, arise prophetic voices from field, forest, mine and workshop, telling of all that a sagacious and mighty population will accomplish in the near future, when the glorious possibilities of the states of the South will be stirred into life by the gigantic breath of extended commerce, enterprise and capital.

"These beautiful states of the South," swept by the ocean and mountain winds, nursed by the glowing sun and gentle rains, what a glorious invitation you grandly tender the stranger to seek rest and contentment amid your fertile plains and teeming valleys; how sublime has been the struggle of your people for what they deemed was their constitutional right! how undaunted their attitude and how unsurpassed their fortitude amid the upheaval of their colossal ruin! And now that the glimmering dawn of a stupendous future is faintly spreading its transcendent glow of prosperity abroad over the great Southern States, the throb of a pulsating triumph beats in the hum of the factory, glows in the smelting furnace, and ascends in the soft twilight hours from the rich furrows of her incomparable fields, while the salt-sea waves, as they rock her shipping and dash against pier and wharf, add their exultant voices in prophecy of the coming prosperity they so plainly foresee.

May the advancing wealth, which will crown with a fitting reward the efforts, ambitions and genius of this people of the South, never diminish those high and true aspirations which have hitherto adorned her annals and made of her citizens, in prosperity and in adversity, a lofty and noble race.

Standing today amid the magnificent achievements of the great Northwest, a visitor to this imposing World's Fair, in the name of the South I tender the warm hand of her true and steadfast friendship to her noble host, applauding her successful efforts to demonstrate the power and capacity of the American people. And I render heartfelt thanks to this gracious audience for their courteous attention to this most imperfect showing of the grand possibilities of the states of the South.

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Mrs. Alfred Roman is the daughter of Hon. Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina. She was born in Washington, D. C., while Mr. Rhett was serving his state as senator in the United States Congress. Mrs. Roman's mother was the daughter of Chancellor De Saussure, originally from Lucerne, Switzerland. Mrs. Roman was educated at home by an accomplished French governess. Her knowledge of French and music is most thorough. She married Col. Alfred Roman, a son of Gov. A. B. Roman of Louisiana. Their permanent residence was in New Orleans, Colonel Roman being Judge of the Criminal Court of that city. That eminent gentleman died in the early fall of 1892. Mrs. Roman is a member of two brilliant literary clubs, and a weekly contributor to the New Orleans Times-Democrat. Mrs. Roman was reared as a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, but after marriage she embraced the creed of her husband, and became a Roman Catholic. Her postoffice address is No. 92 Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans, La.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Mary Hitchcock.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom