Throughout the month of March we have the honor of celebrating women across the world and from every century in history! Today we are sharing with you some women we are currently recognizing at the Columbus Museum in the Troublemakers and Trailblazers exhibit! Who are some women that you would say have made or still are making history? Share in the comments below!
The push for women’s suffrage in Georgia got its start in Columbus in 1890, when Helen Augusta Howard founded the Georgia Woman Suffrage Association. Just twenty-five years old, the unmarried Howard had grown up in a wealthy family that did not approve of her unconventional behavior and views on women’s rights. Howard spearheaded the women’s suffrage movement across the state, culminating in 1895 when a meeting of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Atlanta drew participants from twenty-eight states. After the meeting, Howard brought celebrated suffragette Susan B. Anthony to Columbus to speak. Howard’s early efforts inspired other local advocacy, including a regular suffrage column in the Columbus Ledger and the organization of the Muscogee Equal Franchise League, which both first appeared in 1913.
Born in Columbus in 1917, Carson McCullers spent her childhood exploring local neighborhoods, from riverfront mills and bustling downtown businesses to wealthy suburban houses with large lawns, to the ramshackle housing of white and black industrial workers. This curiosity gave McCullers a keen eye for descriptions of her hometown in her Southern Gothic novels and short stories, including The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding, and Reflections in a Golden Eye. McCullers once told a friend, “I must return home periodically to renew my sense of horror.” Though she might have slightly exaggerated her concerns, McCullers wrote eloquently about alienation and loneliness, reflecting her own feelings of being an outsider in the South. The author’s unflinching eye toward social issues of gender, race, and class illuminate the struggles of many of the region’s residents. Throughout her career, McCullers’ thinly veiled representations of Columbus did not always endear her to some locals, who regarded her as a scandalous malcontent who had abandoned her hometown to mock it. Later in life, when the Columbus public library asked her to donate her papers, McCullers refused because the library was not open to African Americans. Today, the author’s hometown celebrates her literary contributions.
Julia Collier Harris joined her husband in covering news events and writing witty editorials. Her most significant contribution came during the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial that challenged the teaching of evolution in public schools. Both Harrises traveled to Tennessee to write about the 1925 case, which they compared to an anti-evolution bill that had come before the Georgia state legislature the year before. She also became an advocate of the public library and a champion of a city-wide juvenile court and welfare bureau to help families. The journalistic success of Julian and Julia Harris inspired other citizens, especially a young African-American doctor named Thomas Brewer who would soon become the city’s civil rights leader.
Members of the Nancy Harts, an all-female militia unit named for a Revolutionary War heroine, marched out to meet the Union troops and negotiate the town’s peaceful surrender. Other communities throughout the country organized female military units for local self-defense, but the Nancy Harts remain unique because they trained and drilled until the end of the war and engaged with enemy troops as an organized regiment.
Gertrude “Ma” Pridgett Rainey created a distinctive style of female blues singing that brought her fame as the “Mother of the Blues.” Born in Columbus in 1886, she made her debut in a talent show at the Springer Opera House at the age of 14. Soon Rainey began touring in vaudeville and minstrel shows like the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and Tolliver’s Circus and Musical Extravaganza. Ma became a popular Paramount recording artist in the mid-1920s. Though Rainey achieved notoriety through her flashy stage persona and sparkling necklace of gold coins, the brassy tenor of her voice and the risqué subject matter of her songs challenged the traditional model of male-dominated blues. When Rainey retired from performing in 1933, she returned to Columbus and used her years of business experience on the road to purchase and manage two theaters. However, she lived in relative anonymity until she passed away from heart disease in 1939 at the age of fifty-three. When Rainey’s brother filled out her death certificate, he ignored her history as a performer and business owner and instead wrote “housekeeper” as her occupation. Though not everyone embraced Rainey’s groundbreaking career, in more recent years scholars have rediscovered her intriguing success story.
The world of architects was dominated by men until the early twentieth century, when a few pioneering women began to enter the profession. Henrietta Dozier became the first southern woman to be admitted into the American Institute of Architects (AIA), a well-respected professional organization. While designing buildings in Atlanta, Dozier became active on the AIA board and advocated for the licensing of architects in Georgia. In 1909, she completed extensive renovations on a house at 1336 Third Avenue in Columbus, associated with prominent businessman John Blackmar. The woman known as “Harry” moved to Jacksonville, Florida, to establish her own practice in 1916, but not before leaving her mark on architecture in Georgia. While Henrietta Dozier was finishing her architecture degree, Ellamae Ellis League was born to a middle-class family in Macon. Six generations of her family had been architects and League proved a quick study for the correspondence classes she took from the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in New York City. After a year of study in France, League returned to Macon and opened her own firm. Though most female architects of the 1930s and ‘40s focused on houses, League worked on a variety of public and government buildings as well as houses. Her connection with the Macon-based Bibb Manufacturing Company led to her work in the mill community of Bibb City located within Columbus.