To say Belle Wilcox Baruch stood tall in multiple ways and initiatives might still sell the preface in describing her lifetime a tad short.
The late philanthropist’s Belle W. Baruch Foundation – begun in 1965 – has ensured the preservation of Hobcaw Barony, on U.S. 17 between Pawleys Island and Georgetown, for research and education across 16,000 acres of various ecosystems.
Baruch (1899-1964) will be the seventh inductee for the Georgetown County Women’s Hall of Fame. Join a luncheon in her honor, noon-1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club, 70 Tanglewood Drive, Pawleys Island, off U.S. 17. Tickets are $35; check on ticket availability by calling 843-546-8436, or email email@example.com.
Dr. Albert Baruch Mercer, a cardiologist in Charleston and Owensboro, Ky., great-nephew of Bernard M. Baruch – Belle’s father, a Wall Street financier who advised several U.S. presidents and had bought the land from which the barony has grown – is the keynote speaker.
Lee Brockington, a historian, author, and longtime senior interpreter at Hobcaw Barony (Make reservations for all tours and programs at 843-546-4623 or hobcawbarony.org), shared some highlights about Belle Baruch and how her vision and outreach to make a lasting difference around the world still percolates from a corner of Georgetown County.
Q: Mary E. Miller’s book, “Baroness of Hobcaw: The Life of Belle W. Baruch,” published by The University of South Carolina Press, given to me as gift in 2010, made for instantly ravishing reading about a lady who probably could not be more accomplished, self-driven, and well-rounded with her global travels. For you, a historian plying and promoting the acreage she called home, what are some newer, defining discoveries about aspects in her life?
A: “Self-driven” describes how she became who she was. People will be surprised what a diverse philanthropist she was. ... She was an avid volunteer, with the American Red Cross, Women’s Radio Corps, and U.S. naval intelligence (and that spans World Wars I and II). ...
She also donated a great amount of money to French orphanages after World War I, and to Bellevue Hospital in New York, a teaching hospital ... where she dedicated a rehabilitation wing in honor of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, a good friend, and one of the first patients there was Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella. ... She also helped hospitals and clinics for polio patients on an individual and group basis, and in France, she contributed to, and helped organize sports competition for people with disabilities, such as in fencing and track and field, akin to today’s Special Olympics. ... She also was a philanthropist for assisting the blind, chief among them, the National Federation of the Blind. Even at the end of her life, she donated her corneas to science. ...
In South Carolina, she established a school for nurses, shortly after her mother’s death in 1938, ... and Belle later donated property that was sold, from which that revenue was used to build the first hospital in Georgetown, in 1950 ... She donated generously during her life, and in her will, also left funds for Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church.
Q: On your walks by the former stable site at Hobcaw Barony – which must have been a palace for Belle’s horses – what emotion or imagination runs through your mind in envisioning its heyday of use?
A: Although horses come to Hobcaw Barony each year for special programs – such as trail riding with your own horse, and horse shows – the stables stand empty. They were designed by an architect, and Belle did not allow construction to begin until she was back from Europe, in residence in the house on the property. ... They had electricity, running water, beautiful wrought iron door hinges – all top of the line. Belle had been around horses since early childhood, and she always made sure the eight champions she rode were well cared for.
Q: What ties between Belle Baruch and her greatest equestrian partner, Souriant III, an Anglo-Arabian whose remains are marked with such a touchingly worded stone – “MY GALLANT HORSE AND FAITHFUL FRIEND” – at Hobcaw Barony, bear repeating?
A: Souriant’s grave is halfway between the house and stables, where she could see the stone from above, in her home. ... He was a gelding, who was born in 1923 and died in 1956.
When I stand in the stables and think of Souriant, who carried Belle into competition in Europe against Hitler’s and Mussolini’s military officers, I stand in awe of all of that she accomplished, as a American, an American woman, and an American woman with a Jewish last name. ... She was fearless in competitions on that horse, and it hardly occurred to her that she was a different gender from the other competitors.
Q: How might have Belle Baruch’s height – eventually reaching 6 feet and 2 1/2 inches – affect her with each quest she conquered?
A: It was it a help, and a hindrance, socially, because she was taller than almost every man who ever approached her in the hopes of beginning a conversation or relationship. She was tall and assertive in an era where for her particular social set, women were diminutive and demure. It could have been a detriment to her, just because of the self-consciousness of her physicality, that she was so strong.
Q: With the life of Anna Hyatt Huntington remembered at the hall of fame induction last year, then Belle Baruch this year, how do these back-to-back, blockbuster honorees’ respective legacies of Brookgreen Gardens and Hobcaw Barony prove that they helped shape not only Lowcountry history, but national and world history?
A: The Georgetown County Women’s Hall of Fame recognizes just these kind of women who have made a lasting impact on the county, state, and in many ways, the world. ...
Ella Severin, a former trustee for the Belle W. Baruch Foundation, once said, “Mark my word: Brookgreen Gardens and Hobcaw Barony will like two oases in a sea of development.” ... In the 1990s, after Hurricane Hugo, the area underwent rapid development, and some of those new residents are the greatest supporters, and I want to say, volunteers, at both Brookgreen Gardens and Hobcaw Barony.
Contact Steve Palisin at 843-444-1764.
If you go
WHAT: Georgetown County Women’s Hall of Fame induction luncheon
FOR: Belle Wilcox Baruch (1899-1964) – whose legacies include Hobcaw Barony, north of Georgetown
WITH KEYNOTE SPEECH BY: Dr. Albert Baruch Mercer, a cardiologist in Charleston and Owensboro, Ky., great-nephew of Bernard Baruch.
WHEN: Noon-1:30 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club, 70 Tanglewood Drive, Pawleys Island, off U.S. 17.
HOW MUCH: $35
VISIT HOBCAW BARONY: All tours and programs by reservation only – 843-546-4623 or hobcawbarony.org.