In 1933 it was still a man’s world. Most women worked in the home. Some women taught school, while others worked in clerical, domestic and other less than glamorous jobs. But it was in the deep dark year of the Great Depression that a few of the women then and formerly of Dublin took off their aprons, put their brooms in the closet (just for a little while anyway) and set out to find their rightful place in our society. During this month of March when we celebrate Women’s National History Month and on this International Women’s day, here are a few stories of the scores of Dublin women who excelled beyond their usual triumphs of managing our homes, families and every other thing left in their charge.
Charlotte Hightower Harwell was very good at her job. The only problem was that every court reporter in the state of Georgia in 1932 was a man and she was just a 20-year-old woman. In derogation of the long-standing practice of male court reporters, Dublin Judicial Circuit Judge J.W. Kent appointed Mrs. Harrell as his court reporter, making her the first woman court reporter in Georgia. She later worked in LaGrange and in Gainesville for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, which included the counties of Hall, White, Lumpkin and Dawson. Mrs. Harwell distrusted stenograph machines and recorded most of her trials by shorthand. It was said that she was such a good typist her hands were at one time insured by Lloyd’s of London. Former Chief Superior Court Judge Richard Kenyon of Gainesville said, “For years, she was one of the brightest, most competent court reporters that this area has known.”
“All the lawyers had great respect for her,” said Gainesville lawyer Julius Hulsey. “Nobody ever questioned her transcripts,” he added.
Mrs. Harwell retired in 1975 after a 42-year career as a court reporter. Charlotte Hightower Harrell died on May 22, 1995, and is buried in the Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville.
Elizabeth Garrett Page was born in Hancock County in 1903. Her father, A.W. Garrett, was one of the leading bankers and businessmen of “Dublin’s Golden Age.” In November 1933, this 30-year-old mother of four was appointed by the Dublin City Council to the Dublin City Board of Education, making her the first woman to serve in that capacity. Mrs. Page’s appointment came at a time when women had been voting on a regular basis for only a decade. Educated at Wesleyan College, Mrs. Page was the first president of the Parnassus Club and president of the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Mrs. Page was also active in the First Methodist Church, where she was the first president of the Leader’s Class. Mrs. Page served as the Society editor for the Dublin Courier Herald and operated a private kindergarten from 1949-1966. Mrs. Page died on March 3, 1986, and is buried in the mausoleum in Northview Cemetery in Dublin.
Aretha Miller Smith was born in Laurens County on July 22, 1914. After graduating from high school in 1930, Aretha went to work in the law office of W.A. Dampier. In those days it was not mandatory for candidates for the bar to attend law school or pass a written test. An applicant only needed to be presented for admission by practicing attorneys and pass an oral test administered by the judge of the Superior Court. After three years of reading and studying the laws of Georgia, Miss Miller appeared before Judge Kent for her examination on her knowledge of the law. She passed and in December 1933 at the age of 19, Miss Aretha Miller became the first female attorney in Dublin, the first in the Dublin Circuit, one of the few female attorneys in the state at that time and most likely the youngest female attorney in the history of Georgia.
In addressing the court upon her admission to the bar, Miss Miller expressed her joy and humbly pledged her untiring efforts toward the cause of human justice, realizing the great responsibility and the uplifting influence that may be exerted in a community by a good lawyer. She worked with W.A. Dampier until 1943, when Mrs. Smith joined in the war effort when she took a position in the Judge Advocate’s office at Robins Field in Wellston (Warner Robins), Georgia. Aretha Miller Smith practiced law in Dublin for more than three decades before her death on December 23, 1969. She is buried in Northview Cemetery in Dublin.
Jesse Baldwin, daughter of Sidney A. Baldwin and Mary Searcy Baldwin, was born on Oct. 28, 1888. Following the death of L.Q. Stubbs in 1933, Miss Baldwin was appointed as the first female Deputy Clerk and United States Commissioner of the Dublin Division of the Southern District of Georgia. Miss Baldwin died on April 26, 1977, and is buried in Northview Cemetery in Dublin.
In 1933, Sarah Orr Williams was beginning her 12th year as a secretary to a United States Senator from Georgia. She began her career in Washington, D.C., as secretary to the legendary senator Thomas E. Watson. Following Sen. Watson’s death in 1922, Gov. Thomas Hardwick, who would later move into a home a block south of Miss Orr’s home on Bellevue Avenue and South Calhoun Street, appointed Watson’s close friend Mrs. Rebecca L. Felton to fill Watson’s unexpired term. Senator Felton retained Sarah in her office making her the first secretary of the first female United States Senator in the history of the country. A new election was held that fall and another legendary senator, Walter F. George, was elected to succeed Mrs. Felton. Sarah Orr remained as Sen. George’s secretary until 1934, when Sen. George replaced her with his nephew. Sarah Orr, daughter of former mayor and a leading Republican in Dublin, married Gladstone Williams, a writer for the Atlanta Constitution and other newspapers in Washington and Miami. While working at the Atlanta Constitution, Gladstone became acquainted with Margaret Mitchell. In writing her epic novel “Gone With the Wind,” Mitchell modeled her character of Rhett Butler after Williams, who also bore a slight resemblance to the actor Clarke Gable who played Rhett Butler in the movie version of the novel.
Known as a colorful character and treasured for her sharp wit, keen mind and undying loyalty to friends, Sarah Orr remained a volunteer for the American Red Cross, March of Dimes, American Cancer Society and numerous other charities. During her years in Dublin, Sarah Orr was instantly recognized while wearing her trademark hats and carrying her long cigarette holders. She was an avid supporter of the Laurens County Historical Society and the Laurens County Library.
Among her lasting contributions to the heritage of our community were her articles she wrote on the waning historical places and sites in our area following the post World War II boom. She died at the age of 84 on March 18, 1981 and is buried in Northview Cemetery.
One of Dublin’s most well known and respected teachers was Bertha Sheppard Hart. Bertha Hart, a daughter of M.M. Sheppard and Julian Caroline Page, was born in Johnson County on Sept. 8, 1878, near Wrightsville. Mrs. Hart was the wife of long-time county agent John F. Hart. The Harts moved to Laurens County in 1922. In 1929, Mrs. Hart published “Introduction to Georgia Writers.” In this definitive bibliography of the works of Georgia authors, Mrs. Hart sought to encourage her students and students across the state to strive to become great writers. Her most famous work was as the editor of “The History of Laurens County, Georgia, 1807-1941.”
Mrs. Hart was a popular speaker to civic, patriotic and cultural organizations in addition to her years of devotion to teaching Sunday School at First Baptist Church. Bertha Hart served a four-year term as President of the Woman’s Study Club as well as terms as Regent of the John Laurens Chapter, NSDAR and as an officer of the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She was a substitute librarian at the Carnegie Library and was named “First Lady of Dublin” by the Beta Sigma Phi sorority. She died on April 18, 1949. Her ashes were buried beside her husband in Union Point Cemetery in Union Point.
— Scott Thompson is a local attorney and avid historian