Monday, May 11, 2015


Georgia’s Second Female African American Dentist

Dr. Annie Yarborough may or may not have been the first African-American female dentist to practice dentistry in the State of Georgia, but she was certainly the second African-American woman ever to be awarded a license by the state.  Dr. Yarborough was the first woman ever to practice her profession outside of Athens, Georgia, where Dr. Ida Mae Hiram hung her out her shingle in 1910.

Born Annie E. Taylor on July 18, 1882 in Eatonton, Georgia, Dr. Yarborough was the mulatto daughter of the Rev. Hilliard Taylor and Anna E. Pennaman.  Her maternal grandfather, Morris Penneman, was a successful farmer and mill right and for his time a large landowner among a small group of former slaves who owned land in post Civil War Georgia.

Annie attended the public schools of Eatonton. After she graduated from high school in 1896, Annie enrolled at the Atlanta University.  Life was difficult for Annie and her family after Rev. Taylor died all too young.    She was educated in the field of education and took her first job in her hometown.    Miss Taylor moved out of town and taught in the Putnam County schools before moving to Jasper, Dodge and Laurens Counties.   In her spare time and between school terms, Annie was quite a successful dressmaker and fancy seamstress.

It was during her tenure in Laurens County that Annie met Dr. Adolphus Yarborough.  They fell in love and married on February 22, 1906.    Adolphus Yarborough learned his dental skills while working as an office boy.   Before he entered Dental School, Adolphus worked as a porter.   He was regarded by many as the best mechanical dentist of his race in Georgia.    Adolphus Yarborough, born in September 1881,  was a son of Nelson and Charley Yarborough and was the first African American dentist to practice in Laurens County.  When they first got married, Adolphus and Annie lived in his father's home on Marion Street in Dublin. 

Annie longed to work beside her husband.  Adolphus' office hours and home visits rarely allowed the couple to see each other, so Annie made up her mind that she was going to become a dentist.  There was only one problem.  There were no black female dentists and Georgia and no black dental schools in the state either.   

Annie had to leave Dublin and move to Nashville, Tennessee where she enrolled at Meharry Medical College.  During her first year at Meharry, Annie was elected to teach sewing and domestic science at Walden University.  In another rarity, Annie was both a student and a teacher at the same time.  

In the spring of 1910, Annie Taylor Yarborough walked across the stage and accepted her diploma as a graduate.  Dr. Ida Mae Hiram, credited as the first female African-American dentist in Georgia was also a member of Class of 1910.    Later that same year Dr. Hiram passed the dental board examinations and joined her husband in their dental office in Athens.    It would be another year before Dr. Yarborough would be officially licensed to practice in Georgia.

Dr. Yarborough was active in the Baptist Church.  She was an outstanding member of the Household of Ruth and the Court of Calenthe.  

The onset of World War I provided new opportunities for dental students and practicing dentists as well.  Black dentists finally thought this may be their chance to expand their practices beyond their own race.  Applications to the newly created Dental Reserve Corps poured in.  Annie Yarborough was one of the first to apply.  On June 6, 1917, just two months after the United States officially entered the war, Dr. Yarborough volunteered for service.  Her two brothers had served in the 9th and 10th Cavalry during the Spanish American War and at the age of thirty four, Annie believed it was her duty to serve her country.  She informed the Army that she was one of the few female dentists in her state (either black or white) and had completed four years of dental education at Meharry College.

Four weeks later, the office of the Surgeon General of the Army issued its standard denial of all women applicants, though the offer was appreciated.  As the war progressed, the policy of no women in the Dental Corps changed. 

During, or shortly after the war, the Yarboroughs divorced.  Annie, with no children, changed her name back to her maiden name and lived in a house at 626 South Jefferson Street in Dublin with her mother and her sister Leola Smith and her husband Henry.

Following the 1920 Census, Dr. Annie Taylor seems to vanish from Dublin.  I could find no records of her.  Perhaps she, like her father, died young.  Maybe she moved to another town.  Who knows?  If you know, contact me immediately.

Dr. Annie Taylor Yarborough was a woman of high integrity, high education and one whom all of Laurens County can rightfully and deservedly be proud of.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Silver Screen Animator

You probably never heard of Jean Karaty unless you lived in the Miami, Florida area. You have probably seen the fruits of her work and don't even recognize this heretofore uncredited artist.  If you knew her like her family and friends did, then you would  know of her outstanding contributions to the world of animated films.  Her fame was fleeting, but following her death on this past Thanksgiving, her work as an cartoon animator has once again come to light to show what a really gifted artist this Dublin native was.
Jean Karaty was born Jean Shehan  on February 22, 1917 in Dublin, Georgia. Jean's  parents, Louis and Sarah Shehan, moved from their Franklin Street home in Dublin in 1924 to Miami, Florida, where they opened a dress shop.  The Shehans, natives of Syria, came to Dublin to join other members of their family who were in the mercantile business.  They were closely allied with the Jepeway family, who came from Lebanon.

"She always talked about the big hurricanes," her son Michael Karaty Jr. said. And when Jean was nine years old, she saw one of the worst. The 1926 Great Miami hurricane devastated Miami and caused more than 78 billion dollars (165 billion in 2015 dollars) in damages and remains the costliest in U.S. history.

Jean graduated from Miami High in the mid 1930s and set out to find a job during the still dark days of the Great Depression.  She immediately went to work full time in a parent's dress shop. Then, in a moment of destiny, an employee of Fleischer's Studio happened to walk in the shop and noticed Jean's drawings of flowers, animals and her intriguing cartoon characters.

Most people will point to Walt Disney Studios and Warner Brothers' Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes as the cartoons they fondly remember most from their childhood.  But there is a third leading animation company of that golden era of animated cartoons from the 1930s through the 1950s, and that company was Fleischer Studios. 

Fleischer Studios was founded in 1921 in New York City by brothers Max and Dave Fleischer.  While Walt Disney concentrated on human-like animal cartoon characters, the Fleischers  took the lead in developing human ones.  

In 1938, The Fleischers established a studio in what was a swampy farm outside of downtown Miami.  The building, while still in existence, is now occupied by the Miami Police Department.

Jean was eventually hired by the Fleischers.  As an opaquer, Jean was required to produce 1440 cartoon cells for every minute of film.  Jean and her colleagues filled in spaces and traced the cartoonists drawings when required.

"I used to do some drawings, silly things - flowers, animals, cartoon characters,'' Karaty said. "My mother had a dress shop down on Flagler Street and one of the women who worked there told me to get on the bus and go down to the studio. They took one look at the drawings and said to come in to work. I stayed with them for five years."

"It was the lowest job you could have,'' fellow co-worker Jeanette Simon said.  "It was tedious because you had to be so careful, staying exactly in the lines. But the pay was good - I was getting $30 a week. In those days, that was a lot of money,'' Simon told the Miami Herald.

"When we were working on Gulliver's Travels, there were some weeks when we'd stay until 11:00 o'clock at night four days a week,'' said Celido Rodriguez, who worked with Jean Karaty. ``But we were all young and able to do that.''

"I felt very important that I worked there,'' Simon told Nicholas Spangler of the Miami Herald. "It seemed very glamorous.''

Karaty's work was shown in theaters in Miami, back home in Dublin and around the world.  They are still being seen by people  around the world today.``We used to go down to the Paramount Theater on Flagler Street to see the cartoons before the movie started,'' Karaty remembered. "You'd say, `I did that! I worked on that!' and the people around us would say `Shh!' They thought we were just a bunch of rowdies.''

By 1943, the Miami office was closed after high production costs and a struggle between the owners forced the business to move back to New York. 

"On the last day they called me into the executive office and asked me if I would like to go,'' Karaty said. ``I was so excited. But my parents said, `You're not going,' and that was it.  Families were stricter in those days.'' Jean herself turned down an offer to work for Disney Studios in Orlando.

Karaty and her colleagues never imagined how much their work would have on the culture of America.  Few of their original art works were saved.  After they were processed, many treasures were thrown away as trash.  

Jean Karaty lived in the Miami area for the remainder of her days.  Husband Michael Karaty owned and operated a Whiteway Service Station.  He died thirty years before Jean.  

Jean loved playing cards, especially poker at the local Moose Lodge.  She frequently told the story of her trip to Las Vegas, when she found herself at the card table with comedian Red Foxx.  Karaty outlasted the gravelly, foul mouthed star of  "Sanford & Son," who wished her good luck upon his leaving the game.

And so, you now know the story of the little girl from Dublin who helped to bring the legendary comic characters of Popeye, Superman and Betty Boop to the Silver Screen.

Photos of Jean Karaty@Miami Herald.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


The First Lady of the St. Patrick’s Festival

On this 50th Saint Patrick’s Day of Dublin, Georgia’s 50th Saint Patrick’s Festival it is only fitting and proper that we take time to salute the First Lady of the Saint Patrick’s Festival. Although she was deservedly recognized by the Order of the Blarney Stone in 1978, this four-decade-long festival volunteer was never recognized as the Woman of the Year nor as the Senior Citizen of the Year.  As you will see, Anne Everly was the epitome of the old maxim, “Behind any great man, there is a great woman.”  

Anne Middlebrooks Everly’s immeasurable contributions to the Saint Patrick’s Festival began as a matter of coincidence.  Everly had just moved back home to Dublin to raise three small children.  Early in her career at radio station WMLT, a conversation about a Saint Patrick’s Festival began around the coffee table at the station.   

“Right from the beginning, she wanted to be a part of it,” said son Richy Everly.  “Mom was drawn to the idea, desperately wanting to be a part of community endeavors in her hometown.  She was even elected the historian of the festival before it started,” Everly recalled.

In explaining how the festival began, Anne Everly wrote, “The festival was born of a casual conversation in the coffee room of WMLT radio station.  The town’s name - Dublin - was a natural for a Saint Patrick’s festival.  The staff of WMLT set out to structure a festival that would bring fun to everyone, young and old - store up happy childhood memories - and give an identity to our town and county.”

WMLT approached Herschel Lovett, Bill Lovett and W.H. Champion of The Dublin Courier Herald to combine their media resources to found and fund a festival until the community itself could take over.

“The first two years of the festival stayed under the wings of its founders and all expenses incurred were paid by the founders.  Any monies made by clubs and groups sponsoring events stayed in the clubs’ and groups’ treasuries. The first festival’s twenty events were scheduled in the official ‘Calendar of Events,’ wrote Anne Everly.

The festival gave the hardworking single mother an outlet for social activities, including her favorite pastime, bridge. 

Daughter Kay Everly Braddy recalled, “For as long as I can remember, St. Patrick's Day and all of its festivities were a part of her life. She truly loved Dublin and wanted to give back to her community.”

Described as a determined woman, Kay stated that her mother, as one of the founding members of the St. Pat’s committee, was determined to do everything she could to make it the best it could be.

“The festival was her baby.  We used to tease her about all of the St. Patrick’s stuff she kept under her bed. Every March, she would drag it out and start working on it,” Richy fondly recalled.  

Everly asserted, “Based on what she did and what I witnessed, Mom dug into it and was all into what she did.”

In speaking of his mother, who served as a judge in many of the early parades and pageants,” Richly concluded by saying, “She loved all aspects of the festival and would be so proud to see how it has evolved over the last 50 years.”

Not one to claim the credit for herself, Anne wrote in her own history of the festival, “It would not be possible to mention all of the names of the many people who  have contributed to the success of the Dublin/Laurens Saint Patrick’s Festival over the past 32 years.  But there is one name we can’t leave out - Richard “Dick” Killebrew, Dick was WMLT’s news director and Morning Wake Up Man.”  

“Because of Dick, and the many others who have worked to support the Festival, we are still merry making and wearing the green,” she proclaimed.

Anne once wrote, “There is no other event in Laurens County that is as large and as far reaching in community involvement nor is there any other event that has been promoted with such success in a spirit of unity.”
In recalling her service to the festival, Kay Braddy said of her mom, “Many long hours were spent for many, many years as a member of the Order of the Blarney Stone to being in charge of the professional parade floats to serving as the historian. She enjoyed every minute she devoted to the festival and was determined to help make it better and better year after year. I'm sure one of her proudest moments was when Richy was crowned Little Mr. Dublin.” 

For four decades Anne Everly saved every scrap of paper related to the festival.  She was the Historian of the St. Patrick’s Festival from the very first day.  Those treasures were preserved by the Everly family, who donated them to the Laurens County Historical Society. 
Everly’s collection contains several large boxes of clippings, programs, photos, tickets and all sorts of ephemera of all that is Irish about Dublin.  The cataloging of the Anne M. Everly Saint Patrick’s Festival Collection has begun and any and all volunteers who wish to continue Ann’s project are asked to contact the Laurens County Historical Society at (478) 272-9242 or visit the museum at 702 Bellevue Avenue in Dublin.

In 1987, Anne Everly compiled a comprehensive history of the festival during its first thirty-two years.  It is published in the second volume of the History of Laurens County, Georgia.   

And on this Saint Patrick’s Day, daughter Kay can close her eyes and see her mom, who died in 2007,  as “she proudly dons her green blazer as she walks the pearly streets of heaven and shares stories of her hometown, Dublin.”

So on this day when everyone is Irish, it is my turn to salute my fellow historian.  Anne, along with Joann DiFazio,  was one of the first of the women who took little or no credit for the enduring success of the festival.  She was the first of the women who worked tirelessly behind the scenes while the founding fathers were lauded with plaques and awards.  She was Anne M. Everly, “the First Lady of the Dublin Saint Patrick’s Festival.” 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


The Top Secretary of the Army

Carolyn James, of Adrian, Georgia, wasn't the first woman to join the Women's Army Corps during World War II, nor was she the first Georgian out of the some 150,000 women who volunteered to help the war effort in uniform.  But it was this patriotic granddaughter of the founder of Adrian, who made U.S. Military history twice in her 20-year career.

Carolyn Hauser James, a daughter of Thomas Jefferson James II and Inez E. Hauser, was born in Adrian, Georgia on January 21, 1910.  Her grandfather, Thomas J. "Capt. T.J." James, founded the town of Adrian in the 1890s as a base for his railroad, the Wadley & Mt. Vernon, and his massive farming interests.  Not long after her grandfather's death, the James family fell on hard times.  During the years before the Great Depression, Miss James and her family moved to the Miami-Dade County area, where Carolyn took a job as a stenographer in a law office and later in a hotel.
As a divorced mother of a son James Richard Owen, 14, Carolyn decided it was time for her to join the war effort officially.  So at the age of 35, Carolyn enlisted in the Women's Army Corps on March 23, 1945 in Miami.  In the late 1940s, Carolyn worked at Oliver General Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.
The Women's Army Corps provided valuable service to the Army in times of war and peace.  General Douglas MacArthur proclaimed that the WACs "are my best soldiers."  The general added, "They work harder, complain less, and were better disciplined than men." Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable."

As the country returned to war in 1950 in Korea, Carolyn and other stenographers saw an increased work load.  Carolyn was assigned to Tokyo, where she was given the task of devising a system to organize and file correspondence related to the truce meetings which were held in hopes of ending the war quickly.

In her position as administrative assistant to the G-1, Carolyn received the Brown Star Medal for meritorious service to the Far East Command headquarters.  The citation for the medal read in part," for devising an ingenious system of processing and filing high priority correspondence and expedient cross-indexing providing a chronological history relevant to the cease-fire armistice negotiations in Korea."

In the week before Christmas, 1952, James' meritorious achievements led her assignment by General James A. Van Fleet to his 8th Army headquarters in Korea.   Master Sergeant James, the first ever master sergeant in the United States  Women's Army Corps, was joined by Corporal Louise M. Farrell, of Billings, Montana as the first two members of the WACs to be permanently assigned to duty in Korea.

Carolyn James once told her family friends  that while in Korea, she was scheduled to receive the Bronze Star from General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.  She related that she wore her best uniform to headquarters.  Just as she was to enter the building, however, a bird left its droppings all over her uniform, leaving her with a dilemma - see the General in that state, or go back and change and risk being late.  She chose the former, which is perhaps why I never saw a photo of the ceremony, although her uniform blouse shows she wore the medal.

Carolyn, in a January 1953 letter to her cousins, Anne Laura Hauser and Melville Schmidt ,  wrote, "I was transferred to Korea on 18 December, after the Far East Command had made a thorough search for a WAC to fill the position of personal secretary to General Van Fleet, and finally decided I had the desired qualifications - although my tour was about up.  However, when they approached me, I volunteered to extend for six months.  Since there are no other WACs in Korea, Eighth Army recommended that I bring another for company, so I chose a girl who had court reporting experience.  We had the honor of being the first two WACs to ever be permanently assigned to Korea's combat area." 

"Of course, everything considered,  Public Information Office and the other publicity media decided it was good material for WAC recruiting purposes, so for one week prior to our departure, we were constantly being photographed - motion and still; televised, and radio interviewed   Then we were flown over in a special mission B-17, " James continued.

"We were cordially received by all in headquarters here.  They have really done everything to make us comfortable and happy.  We're billeted in a senior officers' billets , which had a portion of the second floor allotted to female personnel - Red Cross workers, the Chief Nurse of the Eighth Army, and us.  We eat our meals here in headquarters in a little spot right outside the kitchen of the Army Commander's mess," the revered sergeant said. 

Sergeant James stated, "My duty hours are quite long -- from 0800 to 2100 and sometimes 2200 (9:00 and 10:00) at night.  However, movements are so restricted and the working conditions are so pleasant, it isn't too bad.  We have a little Korean house girl who takes care of our clothes, which gives us added freedom from outside chores."

With fond remembrances, the Adrian native recorded, "I have certainly enjoyed my short tenure as General Van Fleet's secretary, for he is without doubt one of the finest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  He is a superior field commander, American and humanitarian, and is respected and admired by everyone - Koreans included." 

In summarizing her war experience, Sergeant James stated, "The devastation and misery in this country as the result of this war is indeed heart-rending, but there is much evidence that our government and its people are doing everything possible to alleviate much of the suffering.  Aside from the many government-sponsored welfare organizations, every military unit (including the front-line units) has its own welfare program in the form of aid to orphanages, hospitals, etc.  It certainly increases one's pride in his country and its people to see such a genuine display of generosity toward those less fortunate." 

Carolyn's time in Korea was short as an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, although a 1963 Colorado Springs Gazette article stated that M. Sgt. James has gone to Korea six months before hostilities began in 1950. 

James was assigned as Chief Clerk of the General Staff office at  ARADCOM Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado in the summer of 1956.  In her seventh and last year at ARADCOM, James served as Administrative Officer of the Training Branch, G-3.

With the passage of The Military Pay Bill of 1958, Congress added pay grades of E-8 and E-9. With the new law in effect.  Carolyn H. James became the first in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) promoted to grade E-8, making her the first WAC promoted to master sergeant (or first sergeant).  It was during her tenure in Colorado Springs when Master Sgt. James was promoted to Sergeant Major (E-9) making her the first woman in the history of the United States Army to hold that esteemed enlisted man's rank.  

In 1963, Sergeant Major James was awarded an Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a second Army Commendation Medal.  She was assigned to the Women's Army Corps School at Fort McClellan, Alabama.  A second Oak Leaf Cluster was awarded to before her April 1965 retirement ceremony.   

Carolyn James lived for nearly two and one half decades in Colorado Springs following her retiriement after twenty years of service to the Army.   Sergeant Major James died on May 8, 1991 in local hospice.  

And thus the story of the determined and patriotic lady from Adrian, Georgia, who grew up to serve the country as the top secretary in the Army. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015


The Story of Mattie Hester

Mattie Hester was a combination of Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane and a pony express rider. A headstrong woman in a male dominated world, Hester could hold her own with the strongest of brutes. This is a tale of one remarkable woman and her brief moments of fame. Martha "Mattie" Hester was born about the year 1868. Her parents, John and Mary Hester, lived in the southeastern part of Laurens County on the east side of the river in what is still known as Smith's District.

Mattie grew up in an era when mail delivery was intermittent and slow. Condor was established as a post office in 1878. Two years later, an office was established further south along the River Road at Tweed. Most of the mail coming into Laurens County first came into Dublin for distribution to other places throughout the county. It was about 1890 when Mattie was given the job of carrying the mail from Dublin to Condor where she began her route. From Condor, she traveled south three days a week along the Old River Road to Lothair in what was then Montgomery, but which now lies in Treutlen County.

Female mail carriers were rare. The forty-five-mile route was often isolated. Any miscreant looking to steal cash or a valuable document could easily rob a carrier along the road. But Mattie would not be deterred. She hitched a Texas broncho to her small road cart to allow her to outrun any thieves. Her horse, faster than a hemidemisemiquaver in a John Phillip Sousa march, never failed Mattie.

She always got the mail to its destination on time or well ahead of its scheduled arrival. If she was accosted, Mattie was as fearless as anyone. To insure her safety, she carried a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver in her side pocket. Mattie was considered a crack shot, and no one who knew her would ever contemplate trying to take any mail or in anyway impede her delivery schedule. Lacking no doubt about her ability to defend herself against any highwayman or tramp in her path, Mattie Hester held little respect for members of her own sex who feared to venture out into public without an escort.

A prime example of Mattie's determination occurred during a winter rainy spell. After nearly a week of constant rainfall in the summer of 1890, the creeks and streams along the mail route had swollen beyond their banks. Messer's (Mercer's) Creek, which serves as the boundary line between Laurens and Montgomery (now Treutlen) counties had become a raging torrent. The long bridge, usually dependable for most crossings, was in danger of being swept away at any moment. Its abutments were already gone. Upon her arrival at the bridge, Mattie surveyed the perilous situation. Recognizing the danger ahead, but acknowledging the necessity of the mail being delivered, Mattie decided to plunge ahead. "If there is any possible chance to cross, I intended to cross, even if I have to swim," said Mattie. Mattie whipped the hind of her trusty bronco and plunged into the turbulence. Her horse found itself tangled in a patch of vines in five feet of water. Instinctively Mattie cut the helpless horse from its harness. Battling shoulder deep raging currents Mattie persevered, all the time dragging the cart until she could reach the bridge which by then was cover with water itself, but still standing. She managed to make it across and did her pony. After a moment or two of rest, Mattie hitched the drenched horse to the wagon and resumed her journey, albeit she excusably took nearly an hour to travel the remaining seven miles to Lothair.

Mattie's duties at home and the pittance of a salary she received from the Postal Service led to her resignation as a postal carrier. One might think that this fiercely independent, pistol packing and hard charging woman might have a manly image. To the contrary, Mattie was described a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution as "a beauty of a real southern type, wavy black hair, deep blue eyes, beautiful figure and complexion with the whitest teeth imaginable." "Her jaunty air and pretty face never failed to attract the attention of strangers, as she rattled swiftly by in her cart, never looking to the right or to the left, but attending strictly to business," the reporter continued. I

n addition to her admirable qualities of dedication to her work and striking beauty, Mattie was considered to be an astute businesswoman. Following her father's death at a relatively young age in 1890, Mattie took over the management of the family farm. Mattie took part in all phases of the farming operation, from cultivation to planting and from harvesting to marketing to the highest bidder, the latter of which were among her greatest talents. Always looking for a way to improve the income from her home place, Mattie ventured into the woods behind her house and saw money in the trees. She cut some of the trees and personally assembled them into a raft. In the process she had to wade throughout the swamp, sometimes with water up to her waist. Mattie's brother took over at that point and piloted the timber raft down the treacherous waters of the Oconee and Altamaha rivers to the port city of Darien, where the logs were sold at a handsome profit. The venture became so lucrative that Mattie saved a few of the trees and invested some of the income into constructing a split rail fence around the Hester farm. By the best count available, Mattie cut about five thousand rails during her first five years of managing the farm. Mattie spent her spare time teaching young people how to shoot. She also a talent for penmanship and drawing.

Mattie's marksmanship came in handy when someone needed defending. On an early December evening in 18906, a Mr. Palmer was giving a dance party in his home in the Martha community near Tweed. Mattie's entrepreneurial abilities included the sale of spiritous liquors. It was said she sold her stock freely among the male party goers, many of whom found themselves under the influence of Mattie's liquor. As more and more whiskey was consumed, tempers began to flare. Mattie found herself engaged in a heated argument with Henry McLendon. Maggie drew her pistol and shot her antagonist. Mattie's brother rose to her defense, but was brutally beaten about the face with a pair of brass knuckles. Alfred Shell, a steam mill owner, was also shot and seriously wounded.

Mattie seemed to disappear after that. Was she forced to leave the community? If so, where did she go? Did this beautiful and fiercely independent woman ever marry? Maybe one day we will know. 


A Pioneering Politician

History was made in Georgia 60 years ago this week.  The State of Georgia could claim that two women had served the state in the United States Congress.  Moreover, Gov. Thomas Hardwick, a one time resident of Dublin, had appointed Rebecca Latimer Felton to a seat to fill out the remaining term of the late Senator Thomas E. Watson  in the United States Senate in 1921 as a show of support for the rights of women to vote.

Florence Gibbs was elected in the fall of 1940 to fill out the term of her late husband, Congressman W. Ben Gibbs.   Helen Douglas Mankin won a special election in 1946, with strong support from African American voters, who voted en mass for the first time.

But it was on January 3, 1955 when Iris Faircloth Blitch, took her seat in the Congress as the first woman from Georgia to serve in Congress after being elected in a regular election.    This political activist from the railroad village of Normantown in northern Toombs County had already made her mark in Georgia politics.

Born in the southeastern region of East Central Georgia  on April 25, 1912, as the second youngest of the eight children of James Louis Faircloth and Marietta Rigdell Faircloth, Iris was forced to live with her older sisters when she became an orphan at the age of nine.  Her father's family were natives of Emanuel County.

Blitch graduated from a high school in Hagerstown, Maryland before returning to Georgia to attend classes at the University of Georgia.  She left school to marry Brooks Blitch, a pharmacist from Homerville, Georgia.

With a passion to educate herself, she immersed herself into reading about history and current events and taught herself to become a newspaper writer.    Blitch found her niche in politics and joined the Democratic party, the only viable party in Georgia at the time.

Blitch suffered a narrow defeat in her first political campaign in 1940, losing by slightly more than 25 votes for a seat in the State House of Representatives.  She won her first election in 1946, capturing a seat in the Georgia Senate.  Senator Blitch switched to the other chamber of the Georgia legislature when she was elected to the Georgia House in 1948.  After failing to win reelection in 1950, the attractive, brunette legislator returned to the Georgia Senate in 1952.

Iris Blitch's being a woman led to her being named as a National Committeewoman  from Georgia from 1948 to 1956 to the Democratic National Committee. Blitch also served in a similar state capacity from 1946 to 1956.

In the off-year election of 1954 during Dwight Eisenhower's first term as president, Blitch decided to do the unthinkable - to run for Congress in the Deep South, where women were systematically excluded from nomination by the Democratic party politics.  And she won,  defeating the incumbent, William M. Wheeler.

As the first female in the history of Georgia to win a regular scheduled election for a seat in Congress, Blitch,  entered office on January 3, 1955 and served for ten years, representing the 8th Congressional District, which encompassed counties from Southeast Georgia.  While in the Congress, she served on the Public Works Committee and the National Resources Advisory Council.

Because of her debilitating arthritis, Representative Blitch retired in 1964  and moved to Saint Simons, Georgia, repeatedly turning down repeated requests to run again primarily because of her husband's illness.

A congressional web site writer wrote, "Representative Iris Blitch of Georgia embodied a peculiar mixture of progressive feminism and southern conservatism during her long political career, which included four terms in the U.S. House. As a Georgia state legislator she pushed women's rights concerns. In the U.S. House, while displaying considerable legislative ability, she hewed to more traditional lines, advocating on behalf of agricultural interests in her rural district while denouncing federal efforts to enforce civil rights in the South. Over the span of her career, Blitch earned a reputation as a quick tongued legislator who enjoyed the give and take of debate."


Iris Blitch on "What's My Line?

Majority Leader Carl Albert of Oklahoma remarked, "I have never known anyone more persistent in her devotion to duty. I have seen her sit here on the floor attending to every item of duty when she was ill and in pain. She is a real soldier."

Iris Blitch shocked her colleagues in 1964, when she changed her party alliance and joined the Republican party.  Of the party's 1964 Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, Blitch remarked, "In my political lifetime only one leader has come forward to give the American people a choice between a more centralized state and the complete dignity of the individual."

Originally a supporter of segregation as were nearly all members of her party in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, Iris Blitch became more tolerant of the rights of African Americans in supporting Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, who became the first Georgia governor to do so in the 1970s.

In 1988, Iris Blitch, who once remarked that she always had politics in her blood,  moved to be closer to her daughter, in San Diego, California, where  Iris  died on August 19, 1993.  She is buried in Pinelawn Cemetery, Homerville, Georgia.

As much as things have changed in national and state politics in the sixty years after Iris Blitch took her seat in the United States House of Representatives, the more things have stayed pretty much the same.  Georgia, with her fourteen seats in the House and two seats in the Senate,  is without a female representative.   Since Congresswoman Blitch left office fifty years ago, only Cynthia McGivney and Denise Majid have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  The total number of women who have served Georgia in the House of Representatives and the Senate is six, second in the Deep South only to Florida (no longer considered the Deep South by many) which boasts of 11 women.  So the question remains, when will another Iris Blitch step forward and change the face of politics in Georgia?

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Baseball’s Barnstorming Belles

A century ago,  baseball teams with women players were somewhat of a novelty.  The all-women teams, with the exception of one or two essential male players, made a nearly modest living traveling throughout the country, playing in big cities and little towns against all  male teams, usually a squad formed from local boys and young men.  Such was the case with the Indianapolis Star Bloomer Girls, who traveled through Georgia in the spring of 1914, stopped in Dublin for a contest against our local team.

“Bloomer Girls” teams were formed in different parts of the country from New England to the Mid West.  The teams were not all women. Many hired a male player, “a topper”  to pitch or catch.  Among three of the most famous toppers, some of whom wore wavy wigs, were Hall of Fame infielder Rogers Hornsby, who would return to Dublin with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1933,  Smoky Joe Wood a star pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in the years before World War I and another Hall of Fame pitcher, Grover Cleveland Alexander. 

Named for Adelaide  Bloomer, a woman’s rights activist, the Bloomer Girls began in the 1890s and lasted for more than four decades when women’s professional baseball teams disbanded in the mid 1930s.  The Girls, who originally wore loose-fitting bloomer pants  before switching to more traditional baseball pants, helped to introduce night baseball games in the early 1900s.  Used to playing at night, the blinding glare of the arc lights often gave the Bloomer Girls a decided advantage to their daylight playing competitors. 

After spending the winter training in Cuba, the Bloomer Girls, managed by Frank Schmalz - the brother of former Cincinnati Reds owner George Schmalz,  began a grueling schedule in February 1914, playing first in New Orleans and then playing on most days across the Deep South.  

Eastman was the first stop on the Georgia schedule for the Bloomer Girls, who billed themselves as the “Lady Champions of the World,”  on April 20, 1914.   One thousand or more baseball fans and curious spectators witnessed the Eastman Boys jump out to an early 5-0 lead at the end of three innings.  The Bloomer Girls committed eight errors in the game, but managed to pull within two runs with a three-run six inning. Eastman’s catcher Wright had a big day with three hits, while Eastman starting pitcher, Henry Skelton, held the Girls in check for most of the game. 

The Star Bloomer Girls traveled from Eastman to Dublin by train for a game  on the afternoon of April 21, 1914.  Under fair, warming skies the teams took the field, most likely at the 12th District Fairgrounds at the corner of Telfair and Troup Streets.  There may have been as many as 1500 fans on hand to see the game.

Although no specific accounts of the game have survived, the Dublin boys scored single runs in the first and third innings before plating four to take a commanding 6- 0lead in the bottom of the 5th inning.  With outstanding fielding, the Dublin boys held the Girls to a single run in the top of the 8th, taking an easy 7-1 victory with the pitching of Whetor.  Margaret “Peg” Cunningham,  the left-handed, nineteen-year-old,  star pitcher for the Girls,  started for the Bloomers until she was relieved by Loyd, who pitched well in relief.  The Dublin boys boasted that they had the second greatest victory by a Georgia team against the Bloomers, only a single run behind the boys from LaGrange. 

Margaret "Peg" Cunningham and Minnie Fay Phelan, Feb. 1914

Among the girls playing in Dublin that day were: Selma Wanbaum, an eight-year veteran at first base,  “Happy” Murphy, the team comedian and second baseman with six year’s experience, and third baseman Elizabeth “Lizzie” Fargo.  Playing left field was “Carrie Nation,” aka Mae Arbaugh, who reportedly played in 6,486 professional baseball games (and at least 4600 as reported by Baseball Magazine in 1931.)  If true, Arbaugh would have surpassed Pete Rose for the most games played by a professional baseball player. 

Marie  Dierl took center field and Watsworth, right field. Minnie Fay Phelan, sister of Chicago Cub infielder, Art Phelan, and the Girls’ right handed pitcher, once pitched a 3-2, 14-inning complete game against the men of Syracuse.  Jack Reilly, a semi-pro player, was the sole male member of the team and usually played the key stone position at shortstop.  

Margaret Cunningham was regarded as the best female pitcher of her day.  Seems that Margaret learned how to pitch under the mentorship of Ed Walsh, a Hall of Fame pitcher, who played with the Chicago White Sox for most of his career and who still holds the all time record lowest (1.82) career ERA.  One of Cunningham’s greatest pitching victories came in 1913 when she defeated Louisville, Kentucky’s male team 2-1 in an 11-inning complete game victory.  
The next stop on the swing through Central Georgia came on the 22nd of April in a game between the Star Bloomers and Hawkinsville. 

On the 24th, the Girls traveled to Macon to play an All Star team made up of members of the Central City League.  Margaret “Peg O’ My Heart” Cunningham started the game in front of more than a thousand men and their wives.

At the end of three innings, Cunningham, obviously exhausted from pitching too many innings on too many days, cried out, “Oh, my!  I am tired.  Take me out!”   With their star pitcher on the bench, things weren’t looking up for the Bloomers, who were playing their fourth straight day of baseball, all on the road and far, far from their homes.  

With three men playing against the powerful Macon team, the Bloomer Girls’ Mr. John came into pitch, holding the Macon nine scoreless for the rest of the game.  The Girls fought back scoring  one in the 6th inning and two runs in each of the next two stanzas to squeak by the Macon men, 5-4.

The next day, the girls traveled to Atlanta to face the Atlanta Federals, a semi-pro team, whom they upset in front of a stunned crowd.  

The Bloomer Girls continued their swing through Georgia in May playing teams from Columbus, Talbotton, LaGrange and the Bibb Mills team from Macon.  Bloomer boosters claim that the Bibb Mills team had to import players to keep the girls from sweeping the two-game series from Macon men. 

By the time the Star Girls made it to Montgomery, Alabama, they had won five games  in a row. Managers of the men’s capital city’s team scoured the countryside for men with semi-pro experience to prevent further embarrassment to the ego of the men of the “Yellowhammer State.”   The Montgomery team assembled a team which they deemed to have “the best amateur infield in the state.”    The bought and paid for  team won, but the Bloomer Girls kept right on playing throughout the summer and throughout the nation, playing as many as two hundred games a year.

Those who saw the “Star Bloomer Girls” went away believing that baseball’s  barnstorming belles in dark uniforms with a big star on the front were not just novelties, but an aggregation of good baseball players who could hold their own with the best men that any city or town could send out to beat them.