We just celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 and it was great to see people post on social media about the amazing women in their lives.
People posted photos of their moms and sisters and wives, friends, bosses and girlfriends, and talked about how these women have shaped and influenced their lives and it was very cool to see women acknowledged and celebrated.
In keeping with that ...
My friend Mary Sib Banks recently made me aware of an important organization called Georgia Women of Achievement. It was founded by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and inducted its first honorees in 1992. It celebrates and honors Georgia women who have displayed outstanding leadership and service in such fields as the arts and humanities, business, education, government, politics, health care, sports and journalism.
I think it’s very important for our young children, especially our young girls, to grow up seeing strong female role models in their homes, their schools and out in the big wide world. So when I learned about this organization and website I thought it was a great teaching tool as well as a celebration of many of the women who have shaped our state in ways we cannot even imagine.
Over the years, the organization has honored more than 80 women including Dalton businesswoman, activist and philanthropist Dixie Bandy; Cartersville activist, author and politician Rebecca Felton; Columbus nurse and activist Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Wilkes-Hart County’s Nancy Morgan Hart who’s the only woman to have a Georgia county named after her as well as authors Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Conner and Carson McCullers.
More local inductees to the Georgia Women of Achievement include Rome’s own Martha Berry and Ellen Axson Wilson as well as Murphy-Harpst Founders Sara McClendon Murphy and Ethel Harpst of Cedartown.
Each year the organization inducts new honorees to its Hall of Fame. This year, honorees were Leila Alice Daughtry Denmark, a pioneer in pediatric medicine as well as Mary Dorothy Lyndon, the first female graduate of the University of Georgia (1941).
If you go online at their website, www.georgiawomen.org, you can click on their Hall of Fame page and you can see all previous inductees, where they’re from in Georgia and you can read their bios. I clicked on a few of the woman who I’ve never heard of and I was amazed at some of the incredible achievements I saw by women from our state. These were women who managed to achieve the most remarkable things, many at a time when being a woman was thought to be a disadvantage. Many achieved great things while being a woman of color at a time when they weren’t afforded many of the same rights and advantages that others were.
I’ll tell you what. The website and the information it contains about Georgia women would be a fantastic resource for history and social studies teachers to show their students. Every single one of these women would make a great topic for a research paper or a history project.
Heck, any of those women would be a great inspiration for “Dress Like a Superhero Day.” They’re that remarkable.
And even if it’s not in a formal setting, just reading about these women yourself or reading to your kids about them could make a huge difference in how they see women. Each woman’s entry in the Hall of Fame contains a photograph of her and a bio about her achievements. Their stories are all unique.
You can read about Mother Matilda Taylor Beasley of Savannah — Georgia’s first African-American nun. Or you can read about Susie Baker King Taylor a former slave turned Civil War nurse who from 1855-62 demonstrated great courage by attending four underground secret schools in Savannah when it was illegal to do so under the Georgia slave laws. She later went on to educate hundreds of other runaway slaves on St. Simon’s Island and was an appointed teacher by the Union Army, becoming the first federally funded teacher in the state of Georgia. She opened three schools for African-American children and adults in Georgia, fought for African-American women’s wage labor and economic independence in Savannah and toward the end of her life, wrote and self published her memoir, “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops.”
My God. How is a woman like that not the subject of her own chapter in Georgia school history books? How are any of these women and their achievements not celebrated more often?
If you have some time, please visit the website. Learn about the organization and these women. Tell your kids about them. Tell your little girls about them. Tell them that these women did great things and they can too. These women have earned their place in history, many at great cost.
And the best part is, they’re all Georgia women. They come from our hometowns. They come out of Tifton and Valdosta and Atlanta and Newnan and Cedartown and Augusta and ROME. They are our mothers and grandmothers. Their work and their fight should inspire us all to make a difference in our communities, in our state and beyond.
Severo Avila is Features Editor for the Rome News-Tribune.