Savannah is a town of remarkable women - and always has been. The historic city is teeming with Girl Scout troupes in town to learn about the group’s founder, Juliette Gordon Low. Literary enthusiasts and lovers of the weird and unique turn out in costume for the annual celebration of author Flannery O’Connor.
But some of the Hostess City’s great daughters don’t have monuments or parades. Few Savannahians likely know their names at all. In this week-long series, GPB Savannah introduces five women whose names might be unfamiliar, though their legacies live on.
The second round of the Forgotten Women series concludes with Mother Mathilda Beasley. Beasley is known as the first African American nun in Georgia. She dedicated her life caring for orphans and bravely educating slaves when it was illegal to do so.
The Pentagon announced in December it would open combat positions to women. It marked a major moment in the history of women in the US military - a history that goes back further than many realize. As we look at Forgotten Women in Savannah history, meet Helen Wyatt Snapp: a pilot at Fort Stewart during World War II.
Many have never heard of Milledge but those who have like Kathyrn White, an advisor at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, are intrigued by her accomplishments and booming persona.
She had been a very successful teacher and social worker who had been in all of the black neighborhoods of Savannah," says Hugh Golson, a retired history teacher and a cousin of Stiles Taylor. "And she had a statewide and national reach through her work with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.
She was still in her 20’s and she realized there was a need to get many of the children who were in impoverished neighborhoods in the city," Joly added. "And again in 1897, Savannah was still coal mining a lot and it was very dirty they were very malnourished, so the idea was to get them out of the dirty unhealthy city that Savannah use to be and bring them down to the beach to catch the Fresh Air and have wholesome food and have very healthy activities as well for the spirit as well as the body.
Part of the original group of Jewish settlers in Savannah, after her husband’s death Abigail Minis took over his businesses and started one of her own. She doubled his fortune and became a prominent land owner. Minis also provided funds and assistance to the rebels to help in the Revolutionary War.
“Madame” Freeman was an African-American entrepreneur who owned multiple businesses, including one of the most famous beauty schools in Savannah. Operating before the civil rights era, her beauty school was a hub of social discussions and helped many black women gain financial independence. It inspired women from all over the South to move to Savannah and attend.
Mary Musgrove acted as interpreter to General Oglethorpe, the “founder” of Savannah. Mixed with Native American and European, she spoke both languages and helped promote peace and settle disagreements between natives and colonists. She went on to own several trading posts. Her most famous post was excavated in 2002, revealing much about Native American culture.
Though born into slavery, Susie King Taylor, nee Baker, learned to read and write, first at illegal secret schools in Savannah and later with the (also illegal) help of white children she befriended. She went on to teach many formerly enslaved people, including members of the Union Army’s first black regiment. After marrying a soldier she traveled with that regiment throughout the Civil War. She served as a nurse, cook, and laundress for the regiment, and wrote a memoir detailing her experiences – making her the only one of many black women in similar situations whose story we know firsthand.
A longtime, award-winning educator in Savannah-Chatham schools, Addie Byrd Byers is credited with desegregating Savannah’s public libraries. She helped ensure the city’s black children could have access to those libraries and became the first black woman to serve on the Chatham-Effingham-Liberty Regional Library Board.