This story also appeared on Water Online.
No one follows her on social media, yet she’s clearly a woman of influence. She has been described as a person of “keen business discernment,” someone respected for her “good judgment, common sense and foresight.” She is Sarah Charlotte Blair, whose idea to organize an iron pipe foundry in the South led to the formation of AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1905. John J. Eagan – a proponent of the Golden Rule in industry – was the company’s first president.
In the spirit of Women’s History Month, which celebrates the vital role of women in American history, we take a look at Charlotte Blair’s life and career, and her role in ACIPCO’s history.
Charlotte was the first of six children born in 1861 to Sarah T. “Sallie” Workman and Lovick William Rochelle Blair in Camden, South Carolina. After the Civil War, her father was active in the reconstruction effort of South Carolina. He was a newspaper editor and a popular leader of the Greenback Labor Party that advocated currency reform, an eight-hour workday and women’s right to vote, among other issues.
Charlotte was educated at home by private instructors and tutors. She was 18 when her mother died and 21 when her father died, leaving her to help raise her younger siblings including 8-year-old brother James. At age 31, Charlotte became a stenographer for Radford Pipe & Foundry Company in Radford, Virginia, serving as secretary to the company’s president, J.K. Dimmick. This was in 1892, when approximately only 19 percent of women age 16 and older were in the labor force, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The following year, Blair became secretary at Anniston Pipe Works when Dimmick headed the company’s operations in Anniston, Alabama. She later held similar positions with two other pipe organizations until 1900, when Dimmick Pipe Company was formed. Blair was named secretary in charge of sales, becoming the first woman in Alabama to sit on a corporate board of directors. She worked with Dimmick until 1904.
At this time, the need for safe water and sanitary sewer systems continued to grow throughout the nation. So, Blair, acting on her idea to form a new venture, and enlisting the help of her brother James W. Blair of Atlanta, set about raising capital for what would become a very different kind of pipe company.
With six initial investors, including John Eagan, ACIPCO was incorporated on October 9, 1905. At this time in U.S. history, before women even had the right to vote and the typical businessman might have dismissed a woman’s business idea, it is noteworthy that Eagan and others believed in Charlotte Blair’s idea. Birmingham, with its natural resources, access to raw materials and rail access, was chosen as the prime location to build the new plant.
Blair was named corporate secretary in charge of sales. Her brother James was the first treasurer and later established the first Pacific Coast sales office in San Francisco. Charlotte held her position on the ACIPCO Board of Directors until resigning from business in 1909 for health reasons. After that, she lived mostly in California and Atlanta until her death in 1917.
During her life, Charlotte set the stage for ACIPCO to deliver clean water and better health to millions of people through its product lines; and for John Eagan to instill the Golden Rule into a company that he would come to own and, in 1924, give to its employees.
Charlotte is an inspiring example from the Progressive Era, a period of widespread social activism and political reform in the U.S. when the roles and influence of women were expanding for the betterment of public life. In a 1940, internally published “Early History of ACIPCO,” she is listed first among the “certain outstanding personalities, who contributed in a large way to the success of the AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company.”