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  • Writer's pictureNancy Rogers

An Interesting Girl With a Terrible Name

Malvina Sarah Black Gist Waring has to be one of the worst names you could come up with. However, Mrs. Waring, who she eventually became, was a remarkable woman, during a time that it was challenging for women to make an impact beyond her family.

I learned about Malvina when I conducted tours of Elmwood Cemetery in Columbia, SC. Malvina was on my route, so to speak, and her grave was one of my favorite stops. Her headstone is lancet shaped (inspired by a knights lance) and it contains a large Celtic Cross

At the bottom of the memorial, there is a bronze Daughters of the Republic wheel, symbolizing Malvina’s involvement in that organization. In the center of the headstone is a notation that reads: A Gifted Woman With a Heart of Gold, and on the back of the stone, it reads: To A Peerless Stepmother of Sixty Years.

Malvina was born in SC in 1842. At eighteen, she married a young man named William Gist, the son of William Henry Gist, the 68th Governor of South Carolina. Governor Gist was one of the signers of the SC Ordinance of Secession in 1860.

Two weeks after Malvina’s marriage to the young Mister Gist, already a Major in the Confederate Army, Major Gist was killed during a skirmish the day before the Battle of Chickamauga. His body was never recovered. Gist was 23; Malvina was a widow at 18.

But this is where the story gets interesting. Malvina was living in Columbia at the time and instead of embracing widowhood, she decided to join the war effort. It’s thought that she lived on Gervais Street in Columbia at the time. Gervais Street is like Main Street in most towns.

Anyway, she lived near the Confederate Printing Plant, also know as the Confederate Note Plant on Gervais Street, and she landed a job with the treasure department, cosigning Confederate currency, primarily $10 and $50 bills. I tried to find a picture of one of the bills she signed, because I’ve heard that they are extremely sought after among collectors, but I couldn’t find one.

Columbia eventually became too dangerous for Malvina and her family—the Yankees were on the doorstep, so they joined thousands of other displaced people in Richmond, Virginia. Food was scarce, Malvina wrote in her journal:

“I wish I had been taught to cook instead of how to play on the piano. A practical knowledge of the preparation of food products would stand me in better stead at this juncture than any amount of information regarding the scientific principles of music. I adore music, but I can't live without eating—and I'm hungry! I want some chicken salad and some corn muffins! These are the things I want; but I'll eat anything I can get.“

After the war she married Clark Waring, an industrialist from Columbia and died in 1930 at the age of 88. Remember the “Peerless Stepmother” notation? That was written by Clark Waring’s son by a previous wife, who was raised by Malvina. By all accounts, the gifted Mrs. Waring triumphed at everything, including writing a book about her war experiences.

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