Tag Archives: South Georgia Women’s History

Clara Varnedoe House, Claxton

Built by Aaron Strickland, this late Queen Anne cottage is the oldest house in Claxton. I’m unable to confirm a date, but it likely dates to the late 1890s or early 1900s. “Miss Clara” Varnedoe,  who served as Evans County School Superintendent from 1929-1940, lived here for many years.

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Filed under --EVANS COUNTY GA--, Claxton GA

Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, Randolph County

Lena Baker (8 June 1900-5 March 1945), the only woman ever executed in Georgia’s electric chair, sang in the choir at Mt. Vernon.

Ms. Baker, a mother of three, was forced into a sexual relationship with her elderly white employer, Ernest B. Knight. It was well-known and frowned upon throughout the county. When Knight realized that Ms. Baker was determined to end the relationship he locked her in his gristmill, as he had done many times before. When she tried to escape, they “tussled” over his pistol which fired and killed him. She immediately turned herself in and claimed the shooting was in self-defense. Not surprisingly, the all-male, all-white jury in the ensuing sham trial found Ms. Baker guilty of capital murder and sentenced her to death. She was executed at Reidsville on 5 March 1945 and buried at Mt. Vernon. That this was a tragic, if typical, miscarriage of justice was confirmed when she was granted a full and unconditional pardon by the state in 2005.

Church members placed a headstone on her unmarked grave in 1998 and family members pay tribute every year on Mother’s Day.

As to the history of the congregation, I’m unable to locate anything at this time.

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Filed under --RANDOLPH COUNTY GA--

Old Webster County Jail, Circa 1856, Preston

This wooden jail was built soon after Kinchafoonee County became Webster County and served that purpose until 1910. It’s among the only antebellum jails still standing in Georgia. Dr. Fay Stapleton Burnett writes: This is the jail in which Susan Eberhart and Enoch Spann were housed from 1872-1873, when they both were hanged for murdering Spann’s invalid wife. This is a tragic tale of justice, mercy, ignorance, poverty and mental illness. 

It was unheard of for a white woman to be executed in 19th-century Georgia, and many, though aware of Eberhart’s guilt, were opposed to it. The case was a media sensation, prompting former Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens to opine in his newspaper, the Atlanta Daily Sun: “the most interesting case of crime that ever occurred in Georgia, and which is certainly one of the strangest in history of crimes.”

Dr. Burnett has just published a book about this case and you can contact her here for information on ordering.

National Register of Historic Places

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Filed under --WEBSTER COUNTY GA--, Preston GA

Sumter County Hospital, 1913, Americus

A group of local women established the Americus & Sumter County Hospital Association in 1908 and after raising funds and community interest in a modern medical facility, they dedicated the Sumter County Hospital in 1913.

Initially a 27-bed facility, it doubled in size after the addition of an annex in 1932. It was in use until a new hospital opened north of town in 1952.

This Prairie style landmark has been abandoned for over 60 years and is presently on the market.

Americus Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

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Filed under --SUMTER COUNTY GA--, Americus GA

Women’s Clubhouse, 1927, Fort Gaines

This clubhouse, with a rear portico overlooking the Chattahoochee River, was shared the Woman’s Club and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

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Filed under --CLAY COUNTY GA--, Fort Gaines GA

Tennille Woman’s Clubhouse, 1922

The Tennille Woman’s Club began as a sewing circle in 1914 but suspended activities during World War I to assist with the war effort on the home front. After branching out to civic involvement the club was incorporated in 1920. They were accepted into the state and national federations in 1921 after certifying that they had no political or sectarian entanglements. Women’s clubs became very active in the last decade of the 19th century and continued well into the 20th. The club is still active today and has shared the clubhouse with various groups over the last century.

Upon its dedication, the facility was christened the Washington County Memorial Clubhouse, in honor of local men who served in World War I.

National Register of Historic Places

 

 

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Filed under --WASHINGTON COUNTY GA--, Tennille GA

Caroline Miller House, Baxley

Though largely forgotten today, Caroline Miller (1903-1992) was once a best-selling author. Her novel Lamb in His Bosom, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1933, was critically acclaimed as one of the best first works of the Southern Renaissance. Miller was also the first Georgian to be so honored.

Born in Waycross to Elias and Levy Zan Hall Pafford, Caroline married her English teacher, William D. Miller, soon after graduating from high school. They moved to Baxley soon thereafter. While raising three boys in this rental house, Miller wrote short stories in her spare time. Aiming for authentic regional dialect and material, she ventured out into the surrounding countryside and talked with many old-timers, documenting the idiomatic speech and folkways of the Wiregrass region, which she would later incorporate into Lamb in His Bosom. As it depicted poor whites who didn’t own slaves, it was a departure from the romantic South of literature. It is widely regarded as one of the best available sources for this largely overlooked culture today. Margaret Mitchell even considered it her favorite novel about the South.

The Millers divorced in 1936 and Caroline married Clyde H. Ray, Jr., in 1937. The couple moved to Waynesville, North Carolina, where Caroline gave birth to two more children. In 1944 she published her second novel, Lebanon, which didn’t receive the praise or success afforded Lamb in His Bosom. Though she would continue to write prolifically, she chose not publish later manuscripts, largely to avoid the attention and scrutiny of the critics. She died in North Carolina in 1992.

Today, the house is owned by the Friends of the Caroline Miller House.

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Filed under --APPLING COUNTY GA--, Baxley GA