She was born Catherine B. Smith in 1834. Her mother was Martha Smith [1800-1849] a full-blooded Indian, and her father was white making Catherine a mulatto. This heritage would later influence her decisions and soften her heart to those around her who were less fortunate. Catherine grew up in the Charleston area and became a very successful dressmaker with a business on King Street. She later met, and it is assumed, married Richard S. Springs a white man and a dry goods merchant who owned a store on Hutchinson Square in Summerville, South Carolina. Interracial marriages were not registered during that time periods, so it is difficult to determine if they actually married. Catherine moved her business to Summerville and became well known for her hats. Catherine and Richard had a son who they named Francis. Richard died in 1889 at the age of 71 willing all of his possessions and property to Catherine for “services for years as a housekeeper.”
A successful business woman in a time period when men predominately ran the businesses and women kept the homes, Catherine became a wealthy land owner. She was extremely generous with her properties. Catherine had a heart for the Summerville Indians and provided space for St. Barnabas Mission on property which years later was a hospital complex. St. Barnabas was a combination clinic, school and church under the auspices of St. Paul’s Church. The mission’s primary goal was to help the Summerville Indians and poor whites who often were overlooked and discriminated against. The Indians were mixed race descendants of local native tribes.
Catherine helped build or gave the property for a number of buildings which still stand today including the Church of the Epiphany on Central Avenue, where a monument was erected in memory of Catherine Springs beside the church, the old post office on Hutchinson Square, as well as the Bank School which provided some of the earliest public education for blacks.
Catherine B. “Kitty” Springs died June 2, 1895. After her death the Austin School in Summerville was built on the land she deeded. She said for “non but a genteel dwelling or cottage and school house”. She also said no trees were to be cut down or destroyed unnecessarily to build it. The Austin School was a historic black school in Summerville history, named for a black man who was a doctor in Summerville.
The graves of Richard and Catherine Springs are located side-by-side at Old White Cemetery on Dorchester Road in Summerville.
1870 United States Federal Census
1880 United States Federal Census
Find a Grave Memorial #25981266
SCIWAY Church of the Epiphany – Summerville, South Carolina