Women’s History Month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society, celebrated every year in the month of March. This year, we want to take the time to reflect on some of the most influential women in our community’s history. Join us in celebration of some of Milledgeville’s most prominent women of the past.
Mary Flannery O’Connor was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist. She wrote two novels and thirty-two short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries. She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a sardonic Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings, most of which were influenced by her home in Milledgeville, Georgia — Andalusia Farm. Andalusia served as the home of Flannery O’Connor from 1951-1964, while she was battling a diagnosis of lupus and creating some of her most influential and distinguished works. While living in Milledgeville, Flannery attended Peabody High School, where she worked as the school newspaper’s art editor and from which she graduated in 1942. She entered Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College & State University) in an accelerated three-year program and graduated in June 1945 with a social sciences degree. While at Georgia College, she produced a significant amount of cartoon work for the student newspaper. The Milledgeville community will always remember and celebrate Flannery O’Connor and her influence in the literary world.
Sallie Ellis Davis
Sallie Ellis Davis was born in Baldwin County, Georgia, circa 1877. She was the child of an African American woman and a native Irish man. She was responsible for educating hundreds of African American children not only in academics, but also in life skills. After completing studies at the Eddy School in Milledgeville, she attended Atlanta University, graduating with a normal school degree in 1899. Sallie Davis started teaching at the Eddy School before graduating from Atlanta University. Her half-century tenure included teaching as well as serving as the school’s first African-American principal. Despite the physical and economic restrictions faced by the school throughout its existence, she possessed the fortitude to offer her students a larger view of themselves and instilled within them a sense of pride. The Sallie Ellis Davis House is now open for walk-up tours so that visitors can learn more about her life and legacy. Sallie Ellis Davis is as much a role model for youth today as she was in the first half of the 20th century. Her wisdom and dedication have transcended time, and our community will never forget her influence.
Photo via William Ferris
Alice Walker is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist born in Eatonton, Georgia (just a few miles up the road) in 1944. She wrote the novel The Color Purple (1982), for which she won the National Book Award for hardcover fiction, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, among many other works. An avowed feminist, Walker coined the term “womanist” to mean “A black feminist or feminist of color” in 1983. Today, you can check out Heritage Hall at Georgia College to learn more about Walker and her legacy. Although Alice Walker isn’t from Milledgeville, but rather our neighboring city of Eatonton, her influence has always reached across county lines and impacted both of our communities. It is certain that Walker’s childhood influenced her works, and we are thankful to celebrate her success and connections to Milledgeville.
If you spend enough time in Milledgeville during the haunting season, you’re bound to hear whispers of the legend of Dixie Haygood. Her stories have been passed from generation to generation and remain an important part of Milledgeville folklore. Born in 1861 in Milledgeville, Dixie Haygood, who performed under the name Abby Abbott, was a stage magician who enamored crowds with her magic tricks. Haygood’s act consisted of holding a billiard cue in one hand while a group of men tried to force the billiard cue to the ground but were unable to do so. While she never disclosed how her powers worked, she became known as a magician and top vaudeville entertainer. Her performances took her around the world, from our small town Georgia to New York City. to a very successful 6 week run at a London theatre and beyond. Called “The Little Georgia Magnet,” she inspired other women to pursue performing magic and even had a magic act named after her. Haygood’s stories are still passed down today through locals and events like our annual Haunted Trolley tour. She died on November 21st 1915 and her gravesite can be seen today in the Memory Hill Cemetery.
Photo via Georgia College
Sandra Deal is an American education activist and former public school language arts teacher. As the wife of Georgia’s former governor, Nathan Deal, she served as the First Lady of the U.S. State of Georgia from 2011 to 2019. As Georgia’s First Lady, her commitment to literacy and education can be seen across the state. While a student, Sandra Deal (then, Sandra Dunagan) graduated from Milledgeville’s own Georgia College. As an alumna, Sandra Deal has continued to have a great impact on the college. The Sandra Dunagan Deal Education Scholarship was created in 2008 and is awarded to students from Georgia who pursue an early childhood education degree at Georgia College. In 2017, Georgia College unveiled the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy, this institute’s aim is to provide professional development, or training, to early elementary teachers so they may help their students read on grade level by the time they reach third grade. Visit Heritage Hall at Georgia College to experience even more about Sandra and her influence. There is no doubt that Georgia’s First Lady, Sandra Deal, has had and will continue to have a lasting impact on Milledgeville and our community.
All of these women and so many more have had an undeniable impact on Milledgeville and our surrounding region and we simply cannot celebrate Women’s History Month without acknowledging the incredible women of Milledgeville’s past, present, and future. Because of “Her Story,” Milledgeville is what it is today.