Remember when: Women who led us

Published 2:20 am Saturday, May 13, 2017

“Mamma Mia!” It’s Mother’s Day weekend and time to salute a few of the great women in Andalusia’s past! That is almost an impossibility to remember all of the many mothers and women who made contributions in the history of our fair city, but let me begin by quoting some excerpts from one of Andalusia’s historians, G. Sidney Waits, Jr. in his book, “Sketches of early Covington County and Andalusia, Alabama History – From the Halls of Montezuma.”

“I have heard it said ‘the best man for the job is a woman.’ With the advent of ‘Women’s Lib’ and changing times, the average woman is more prominent in today’s history than doing chores about the house under the difficult conditions of the past. And yet, when we look back in our Andalusia history, we can count many outstanding women and many achievements by women (who rarely but sometimes worked outside the home). They have played a great part in our growth and development, and I would like to recall a few thoughts about the women in our past right here in Andalusia.”

“The Civics Club which began in 1908 was the original society of its kind in our community. It was founded by women for the purpose of serving this municipality as best it could. It contributed significantly to community life with its civic projects.”

“Before Kiwanis and Rotary or any of the other civic clubs, practically all civic accomplishments were organized by or handled through the Civics Club. It might be truthfully said that no club in the state did more for its town.”

Mrs. J. D. K. Spain was first president of the club. Under her administration, its organization was completed and its work given great impetus…Civic improvement was always its central theme.”

“Included among its outstanding achievements were:

“The placing of domestic science equipment in the grammar school; the purchase of the first curtain for the stage of the Church Street High School auditorium; sponsoring the idea of a public (landscaped) square in the center of the city; sponsoring the annual clean-up campaigns which resulted in Andalusia several times winning the state and district prize as “Cleanest City;” staging a Liberty Loan parade during WWI to put Andalusia’s quota over the top; the observation of Arbor Day with appropriate activities; the sponsoring of National Baby Week with clinics: the observation of Better Home Week with public demonstrations; and the planting of trees and shrubbery   on the school grounds in cooperation with the PTA.”

“From the old newspapers, there is an account of the Parnassas Club founded in 1930 drawing its membership from the younger contingent of local ladies with Mrs. Don Sessions as president, a talented vocalist and pianist….Miss Clyde Simmons, who recently received the M. A. degree from Columbia University, was chairman of the program committee. (Miss Simmons taught at AHS for more than 40 years!)”

“The Mentor Club is remembered for its ‘fun’ luncheon where their creative members did a take-off on ‘Gone With the Wind’ staged at the beautiful old Colonial home of the Avant family on Sanford Road.

Wife of Star News editor, Mrs. Oscar Duggar, served as the first librarian in town when The Study Club of Andalusia organized in 1913 established the first library in 1920 in the old Masonic Hall. Mrs. Ethel Darling Chapman and her mother, Mrs. Nora Graham Darling were both interested in literary matters and instrumental in the early efforts to establish a public library.”

Mrs. Trammel Henderson or ‘Miss Ara’ as we all called her, was a natural leader of young people, especially the girls. She did not have children of her own, but she organized the Camp Fire Girls and later a Girl Scout troup.” (The Three Notch Museum houses some artifacts of the Camp Fire Girls.)

Mrs. Ellie Snead Prestwood, mother of James Prestwood, wrote several musical pieces which were published in sheet music form and is remembered for originating the Andalusia High School Alma Mater in 1928.”

Mrs. Z. D. Studstill sponsored a baseball game on a vacant lot near her house every afternoon after school. She would sit in a wicker chair on her side porch and referee the game. The winners were awarded a pass to the picture show at the Fox Theatre the following Saturday, silent movies at the time that is!”

Hyacinth ‘Mom’ Ellis built the Gables Apartments. She served faithfully as the City Clerk during the Scherf years and into the Mayor Baldwin term. She had a keen interest in the social, civic, and cultural affairs in the city.”

Mrs. Grace Ellis Larson, daughter of “Mom” Ellis, became the “unofficial” but “official” hostess to travelers who lodged at The Gables Hotel on Church Street. Her unforgettable buffet lunches and dinner parties will be remembered for years to come. She welcomed hundreds if not thousands to Andalusia including World War II Navy boys who came up from Pensacola on weekend visits to date the pretty Andalusia girls!

“An outstanding musician of yesteryear was Mrs. Josie Lyons who served as Music Director at the Methodist Church.”

Miss Ada Sentell and Erin Avant Gantt ran the women’s department at the Covington Stores on the square doing the buying and selling on the women’s side of the store.”

Mrs. Ada Bruce, sister of Emmette Foreman, founder of Foreman Funeral Home, was employed in the early telephone system as ‘Central’ operator – Number please!”

Mrs. Ruby Helms organized the Colonial Dames of the 17th Century in Andalusia. She was also the genealogist for the Three Notch Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “

Mrs. A. R. Powell, Sr. who lived in the white impressive colonial home across from East Three Notch School was ‘big’ in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Mrs. Powell was well-educated, very polished, but a great tease.”

Mrs. J. T. Brown, a graduate of Judson College, came to Andalusia as a teacher of music in the public schools. She was married to Mr. Brown of Searight in 1898 after teaching for two years. They moved to Andalusia around 1899 when the train line was extended into downtown at which time Mr. Brown became engaged as a pharmacist with Brown and Broughton Drug Company located on the southeast square.”

Mrs. Brown, a member of the First Baptist Church, served as Treasurer of the Building Fund for the commodious Baptist pastorium (known later as the West Annex) built Circa 1926.”

The residence constructed under the pastorate of Dr. Barton beautifully graced East Three Notch. Mrs. Brown and her committee of church ladies saw to that the modern two-story brick home was equipped with steam heat, three baths, a sun parlor, a sleeping porch, and a porte cochere. The women of the church worked hard and long to provide the dollars necessary for its construction.”

Church history written by Dr. L. E. Barton in The Covington News, September 22, 1927 states that the project, “a monument to the foresight and liberality of one Baptist church who thought it worthwhile to provide the most elegant and most comfortable quarters for its pastors and their families will stand for a thousand years unless blown away by a cyclone or until the Lord comes. It may be this house will honor God’s name by sheltering the shepherds of the flock with their families.”

“Another gracious lady in the community was Mrs. Ruth Gibson Scherf, wife of industrialist and philanthropist John G. Scherf. She and her husband donated the carillon to the Methodist Church which sounds were heard throughout town.”

It seems that other churches in Andalusia were founded under the leadership of women such as the Andalusia First Assembly of God which was located on the Florala Highway near Judge Everage’s store (Circa 1931). The names of Mae McGraw, Mrs. C. C. Spurlin, Myrtle Lewis Atkins, Mattie McGraw, Oma Atkins, and Sadie L. Johnson, first pastor, were prominent in the founding.

     Roman Catholic work began in Andalusia in the home of Mrs. B. H. (Katherine) Zeagler on East Three Notch. She and her children were the only Catholics in the city for a number of years until other Catholic families moved in with Swift and Company in the early 1920s. Through Mrs. Zeagler’s persistence and dedication, services were offered once a month and later weekly at her husband’s hotel, the Dixie Hotel on South Cotton Street or in her home.

“No reflection of Andalusia’s great women would be complete without remembering Mrs. Addie Bell Gardner Opp Guy who had a great interest in young people. Mrs. Guy was known for her Christmas parties for underprivileged children. She visited young mothers and presented them with lavish gifts. Born in 1867, Mrs. Guy who had a big heart indeed died in 1965 at an age of almost 99 years old. (She employed a butler and a chauffer but welcomed drop-in visitors to her candlelight dinners! Her property on East Three Notch was left to the First Methodist Church.)”

“Some of the outstanding early women were busy at home with large families including Mrs. William Harold Albritton, Sr. who had eleven children. Mrs. Clant O’Neal had ten. Many described her family as a baseball team with an umpire, since there were nine boys and a girl! Mrs. W. F. Simmons also had a large family consisting of Clifton Payne, Bernard, Eddie, Morgan, Charles, Don, and their sisters Minnie Mae Payne, Clyde, Analee, and Mary Alice (Mrs. Claude Clark, Sr.). Misses Clyde and Analee became outstanding English teachers and formulated important foundations in many students.”

     Mrs. Ann Long Albritton (Mrs. Bill Albritton), First Presbyterian Church organist and music director as well as piano teacher, was always a part of many musical productions in the city dating back to the 1920s. Some programs list her name when she was very young as a solo violinist. After Mrs. Albritton retired due to ill health, she once told me that she would probably be eventually forgotten, but this writer assured her that she would never be forgotten due to her untiring determination to get her music students ready for college music classes, her faithfulness as a church servant, and her sweet nature.

Other women in Andalusia history include Ida Kate Head who was appointed as sheriff when her husband died and who, it was said, was the first woman to drive an automobile to Opp, and Mamie Elizabeth Bellingrath Burnett, owner of the Coca Cola franchise, who supported education over and beyond normal expectations when she entertained new teachers upon their arrival and hosted numerous tours of the bottling plant for school children.

I find it interesting that Mrs. Burnett is buried in Magnolia Cemetery beside her husband. They had no children. Even though she was not born in Andalusia and not considered a native, she claimed Andalusia as her own as many of our fine citizens who relocate here do today, and she became an important part of the history of Andalusia leaving her mark.

On Mother’s Day, we should not forget Gold Star Mothers which was an organization of mothers whose sons or daughters served and died in the military that this world might be a better place in which to live. The term “Gold Star Mothers” was first used during World War I when families who lost sons in the military began flying gold service flags outside homes, churches, and schools.

In 1928, 25 moms met in Washington, D. C., to establish an official organization called American Gold Star Mothers who reach out to grieving mothers to offer a warm feeling in a low-key way so as not to intrude on a family’s private grief. Chartered by the U. S. Congress in 1984, the members continue to honor their sons and daughters through service to veterans and patriotic events. One may visit for more information. The group today has more than 2,000 members in more than 175 chapters across the nation. Through the years, Andalusia has sadly had Gold Star Mothers among us. If any of you readers remember or know of any names of these, please share this information.

In tribute to these mothers and women mentioned, we pause today to think about and recall wonderful memories associated with these and all of those many other great ladies in Andalusia’s history. It is fitting that we should REMEMBER WHEN their records of achievement helped make Andalusia what it is today.