2021 Women of Achievement: How four Georgians left their mark

Artist Laura Pope Foresteris (left), Mary Givens Bryan, longtime educator Ruby Anderson (far top right) and Allie Murray Smith.
Artist Laura Pope Foresteris (left), Mary Givens Bryan, longtime educator Ruby Anderson (far top right) and Allie Murray Smith.

Their professional paths may be varied: from folk artist to an authority on archives to a veteran English teacher to a longtime postal clerk who was instrumental in her son-in-law’s successful bid for president of the United States. But today they share a commonality: Each is a 2021 Georgia Women’s Hall of Fame honoree through the Georgia Women of Achievement.

Since its start, the Georgia Women of Achievement has recognized roughly 90 women who are considered by GWA as some of the state’s most distinguished women. This year’s newest class of honorees includes Laura Pope Forester, Mary Givens Bryan, Ruby Anderson and Allie Murray Smith, mother of Rosalynn Carter.

GWA, with headquarters in Macon, was established in 1989 through the vision of former U.S. first lady Rosalynn Carter. Its goal is to honor women in Georgia’s history who have made outstanding professional and personal contributions to the state, and — according to the organization — who serve as an inspiration to present-day Georgians.

Each March, during Women’s History Month, women reviewed following a nomination process are added to the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame. Like most everything, the coronavirus pandemic has altered GWA’s plans this year, forcing the organization to honor 2021 inductees during next year’s ceremony. Despite the change, this year’s inductees personify the group’s mission of recognizing “influential trailblazers” of Georgia.

The artist: Laura Pope Forester

Laura Pope Forester, a self-taught artist, may have spent a lifetime in Georgia, but her reach beyond the Peach State was extensive. Forester helped to create an environment for outsider artists — those largely untrained who, thanks to circumstances rather than choice, aren’t connected to the conventional art world. Her Pope’s Museum — her former home in Grady County — attracted visitors from around the nation.

Artist Laura Pope Foresteris being inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame. COURTESY GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
Artist Laura Pope Foresteris being inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame. COURTESY GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Using common objects such as sewing machine parts, Model T wheels and concrete and sand from a local creek, Forester created statues and wall murals. Her works were not featured in art exhibits, but by her death in 1953, she had created some 200 sculptures and murals. A garden she created around her antebellum residence included more than 200 figurative sculptures, including three-dimensional ones. Forester would build an emporium that highlighted achievements of female notables to include the first U.S. senator from Georgia, the first American woman to serve as an ambassador to Denmark and Scarlett O’Hara, the protagonist in author Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind.”

Forester, who was photographed carving a statue in her garden while wearing a fur and tiara — an image taken not long before her 80th birthday and death soon thereafter — featured females in many of her works. This includes Japanese war mothers and a life-size replica of a World War I Red Cross nurse. It’s a work that recognizes women in the Red Cross who served alongside soldiers.

“In addition to her strong patriotic messages, she used her artwork to demonstrate that both men and women standing side by side are what made America great,” said Michelle Dean, executive director of Pope’s Museum Preservation and who nominated Forester for the Women of Achievement honor.

The archivist: Mary Givens Bryan

Mary Givens Bryan saw her start in archives as a clerk, and she would go on to hold administrative positions with the Georgia Department of Archives and History. The LaGrange native served as assistant director and acting director — an appointment by then-Secretary of State Ben Fortson — of what was then known as the Georgia Department of Archives and History.

Mary Givens Bryan, a former state archivist, will be inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame. GEORGIA ARCHIVES
Mary Givens Bryan, a former state archivist, will be inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame. GEORGIA ARCHIVES

Credit: Georgia Archives

Credit: Georgia Archives

Improvements in records management resulted, and Bryan and others began to push for a new building to house 20,000 cubic feet of records stored at the historic Rhodes Hall. That push gained momentum when Rhodes Hall leaked and records stacked to the ceiling were damaged. In 1962, groundbreaking took place on a new facility, and Bryan tirelessly promoted the new building.

The building was nearly complete in 1964, but Bryan passed away during that summer and didn’t have an opportunity to witness the building dedication the following year.

“The new Archives and Records building was in a way a monument to Mary’s tenacity and determination for Georgia to have a state-of-the-art building, said Steve Engerrand, a retired deputy state archivist who nominated Bryan for the honor. “Many of her colleagues noted after her death that she had refused to rest until the building had been completed.”

That particular building, he added, has since been imploded, with the new Georgia Archives now located in Morrow. “If Mary hadn’t gotten started when she did, I really don’t think we would have had an efficient records management program until much later,” Engerrand said.

Mary Givens Bryan and then-Secretary of State Ben Fortson reviewing the construction of the Georgia Archives building, ca. 1963.  This photo was originally published in the Atlanta Journal. GEORGIA ARCHIVES
Mary Givens Bryan and then-Secretary of State Ben Fortson reviewing the construction of the Georgia Archives building, ca. 1963. This photo was originally published in the Atlanta Journal. GEORGIA ARCHIVES

Credit: Georgia Archives

Credit: Georgia Archives

A member of the Society of American Archivists, Bryan became head of the organization’s state records committee, serving from 1954 to 1957. She would serve as the organization’s president from 1959 to 1960.

Bryan, who went to live with her aunt and uncle in Decatur after her mother died before her third birthday, graduated from Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville. She went on to attend Crichton’s Business College in Atlanta, followed by additional studies at Emory University and evening classes at the then-Atlanta division of the University of Georgia.

The teacher: Ruby Anderson

Oconee County native Ruby Anderson was a teenager — just 17 years old — when she began a 43-year career in education. In 1913, some 20 years after her birth, she accepted a position at Athens High School to teach English.

In some cases, Anderson had an opportunity to teach three generations of a family before she retired at 71 in 1964. She wouldn’t walk away from teaching entirely though, as she’d serve as a substitute teacher for a number of years following retirement. A former student, then-Athens Mayor Julius Bishop, along with the Athens City Council, declared the day she retired as Miss Ruby Anderson Day.

Longtime educator Ruby Anderson taught students in Georgia for more than 40 years. She is being inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame. CONTRIBUTED
Longtime educator Ruby Anderson taught students in Georgia for more than 40 years. She is being inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Her mark in education continues today, as Anderson left a bequest to the University of Georgia College of Education to establish the Ruby Anderson Scholarship Fund. The fund provides a graduate scholarship at the master’s or doctoral level to students primarily from Oconee and Clarke counties who have at least five years of teaching experience at one or more secondary schools in Georgia. The student should have evidence pointing to an intention to make a career in secondary education, according to UGA.

Denise A. Spangler, dean of UGA’s Mary Frances Early College of Education, nominated Anderson, whom she describes as having had a remarkable teaching career and being “extraordinarily devoted to her students. In today’s’ world,” said Spangler, “where teachers are playing a critical role in the academic and mental health of youth, it seems prudent to recognize and honor teachers who have made a difference.”

Spangler says UGA is able to award roughly $15,000 in scholarships each year from the fund.

A letter recently posted online is raising questions about whether the University System of Georgia's reopening plans for the fall semester is being steered by finances and not the health and safety of its students and employees. (Ken Wolter/Dreamstime/TNS)
A letter recently posted online is raising questions about whether the University System of Georgia's reopening plans for the fall semester is being steered by finances and not the health and safety of its students and employees. (Ken Wolter/Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

For Anderson, it wasn’t recognition she sought, but that didn’t stop her work in the classroom from earning her honors and awards. She reportedly was the first teacher to have her name inscribed in the Georgia Teacher Hall of Fame. A recipient of the PAGE STAR teacher award, in 1963, Anderson was named Athens Woman of the Year in Education. A member of national honor societies in education, which included Phi Beta Kappa, Kappa Delta Pi and Delta Kappa Gamma, she was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Educational Policies Commission of the National Education Association, which worked to “fill the gap between thought and action in American education.”

The presidential mother-in-law: Allie Murray Smith

A single mother of four children ages 4 to 13, after her husband died of leukemia, Allie Murray Smith went to work — sewing and at times working in a grocery store and a school cafeteria and as a postal clerk. This native of Plains, who would sew wedding dresses for local brides-to-be there, made sure not to touch money her late husband, Edgar Smith, had left behind for their four children to attend college.

And all would attend, and graduate: her oldest, Eleanor Rosalynn — who’d go on to serve as first lady of Georgia and first lady of the United States — William Jerrold, Murray Lee and Allethea.

Allie Murray Smith, mother of Rosalynn Carter and native of Plains, Ga., became the single mother of four children in the 1940s. She is being inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame. CONTRIBUTE/FAMILY PHOTO
Allie Murray Smith, mother of Rosalynn Carter and native of Plains, Ga., became the single mother of four children in the 1940s. She is being inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame. CONTRIBUTE/FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/FAMILY PHOTO

Smith spent 29 years of employment with the Plains Post Office. In 1975, she found herself facing a mandatory retirement at age 70 — leading her to take a part-time position at a flower shop. She’d soon take on one of her biggest roles — that of helping in the U.S. presidential campaign of her son-in-law, former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, who would be elected the 39th president in 1976.

Carter described Smith, who died in 2000 at the age of 94, as “one of the greatest mothers-in-law who ever lived.”

Smith’s youngest grandchild, Edgar M. Smith, a Savannah-based attorney, says he feels “lucky to have been around her so often. She used to eat supper with us almost every night, and I would just listen to her tell stories.”

Allie Murray Smith, mother of Rosalynn Carter and native of Plains, Ga., became the single mother of four children in the 1940s. She is being inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame. CONTRIBUTE/FAMILY PHOTO
Allie Murray Smith, mother of Rosalynn Carter and native of Plains, Ga., became the single mother of four children in the 1940s. She is being inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame. CONTRIBUTE/FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/FAMILY PHOTO

He added, “I am amazed that she was a single mother of four young children during the 1940s— and I don’t think she had one complaint about it.” Smith described her as a “quiet force” who “never wanted the spotlight.”

“She would simply get things done, and she didn’t even want to be recognized for it.”

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