Brenda Seright Williams’ tours begin on the porch of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, where guests learn about the author’s mother, Julia, who ran the home as a boarding house. Photograph by Alex Menkin
Her Side of the Story
Follow in the footsteps of the women who shaped WNC with Herstory Asheville tours
written by Anna Malone
Brenda Seright Williams loves sharing stories of local women who pushed through barriers. She talks about Leni Sitnick, Asheville’s first female mayor, Edith Vanderbilt, the matriarch of the esteemed family that started foundations and schools in the area, and Sarah Gudger, who experienced slavery first-hand. Williams started Herstory Asheville women’s history walking tours in 2009 as an outlet for these often-untold tales.
“The purpose of the tour is threefold,” Williams says. “First, I want the people to enjoy the stories. Second is honoring the women who have done amazing things. And the third reason I offer this tour is to inspire people to go out and do something that somebody said was impossible.”
The Texas native moved to Asheville with her children in 2006, and began leading ghost tours for a local operator while freelancing in public relations and conducting research for Herstory Asheville. “These women were groundbreakers,” she says, “but many of their stories were hard to find because their achievements weren’t recorded.” She poured over old letters and diaries, and conducted about 100 interviews to gather content for the tours. “Talking with these women, many in their 80s and 90s, really spurred me on. They were so excited that someone was going to tell their stories.”
The authenticity of the interviews is the reason she conducts all the tours herself. “I can’t convey those interviews to a hired guide,” she says. “I can make a script, but it wouldn’t be the same quality.”
Williams has a stockpile of 42 accounts that she pulls from, sharing 14 during each 90-minute walk. One of Williams’ favorite stories tells of Lillian Clement, the first female attorney in the state to go into practice by herself and also the first female state legislator. “She won by the largest landslide in North Carolina history,” says Williams. “And that was before the ratification of the 19th Amendment.”
Williams occasionally offers ghost tours of the historic Grove House, and plans to launch a new women’s history tour in the River Arts District this summer.
Walk in Her Footsteps
$18, $10 for ages 14 & younger