Since its earliest days as a British colony in 1733, Savannah has given rise to a succession of trailblazing women. We are happy to share with you six such historical women, whose lives and work are inextricably linked with Savannah, and whose impact has reached far beyond the city’s famed squares. To learn more about the women who helped create Savannah’s bold, yet delicate, essence, we met with Luciana Spracher, a preservationist, archivist, and historian currently serving as Director of City Hall’s Municipal Archives.
Historical Women of Savannah
Six Motifs for Six Icons
Born the bicultural daughter of an English Trader and a Creek mother, Mary Musgrove (d. 1765), began as a cultural liaison between the Native Americans and colonists, translating English and Muskogee for Oglethorpe and Tomachichi, chief of the Yamacraw. As Luciana explains, “The Yamacraw were on the bluff here where Savannah was settled, and it was really important that they had the buy-in of the Yamacraw and Tomachichi for Savannah to be successful. So you cannot underestimate Mary’s importance in making Savannah a success.” The bold magnolia blossoms of the Mary print represent Mary Musgrove’s impact on Savannah, which grew large and powerful, like a magnolia tree, leaving behind a legacy of beauty.
Abigail Minis (1701 – 1794), who was among the first Jewish settlers in Georgia, became a brick and mortar businesswoman and landowner at a time when few women owned either. Abigail and her husband Abraham arrived with their two young daughters in Savannah’s first year as a colony. Abigail went on to have another eight children, whom she raised on her own after Abraham’s death. One of the first women to run a tavern in Savannah, Abigail, along with her five daughters, hosted political figures and Savannah’s elite. She was even a Revolutionary War heroine. Luciana reflects, “You can look back at Abigail and think of her as a single mother raising a large family, and a shrewd, successful business woman, who really did everything she needed to do to take care of her family and herself.” This powerful matriarch helped shape early Savannah, and the Abigail print, with its climbing vines amid abstract brick textures, echoes her tenacity and strength.
In Luciana’s words, Mother Mathilda Beasley (1832 – 1903) “is another strong woman who was not defined by men.” Mathilda was born into slavery in New Orleans, but arrived in Savannah a free woman. In Savannah, Mathilde worked as a waitress and teacher, risking her life to teach literacy to African Americans in secret schools. She traveled to England and returned as Georgia’s first African American nun, later founding an orphanage. At Savannah’s Mother Mathilda Park, oak trees offer a strong, nurturing embrace, in remembrance of Mathilda’s faith and love. The Mathilda print, evoking dappled light through the leaves of oak trees, is named in honor of Mother Mathilda and her life’s work. As Luciana points out, “Mother Mathilda’s entire life was dedicated to trying to improve the lives of African Americans in Savannah, in every little and big way she could. She is very beloved, not just for who she was, but as a symbol of what one person can do.”
Juliette Gordon Low (1860 – 1927), who went by the name “Daisy,” was born into an influential Savannah family. She was a talented artist, painter, and blacksmith. In 1912, Juliette gathered eighteen young girls in Savannah to begin the Girl Scouts of the USA. When she began the Girl Scouts, Luciana tells us, “Juliette was in her fifties, and she spent the next fifteen years building up this program for girls to learn how to be independent, and how to help themselves but also serve others. She broke down the barriers of what it meant to be a Southern woman.” At a time when women did not yet have the right to vote, Juliette’s passionate belief that girls could lead lives of adventure, travel, and study led to an entire network of fearless, hardworking women across America and abroad. The industrious bees gracing the Juliette print symbolize the generational, worldwide impact of this multi-talented trailblazer.
Renowned author Flannery O’Connor (1925 – 1964) spent her childhood in Savannah, later moving with her mother to the Georgia countryside, where she wrote novels and short stories and raised a muster of peacocks. Luciana informs us, “Flannery spent her young life growing up near the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Her birthplace, The Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, is a mecca for O’Connor fans.” Flannery struggled with lupus throughout her life and died at the age of 39, leaving behind an oeuvre that has made her one of the most important American writers. The delicate jasmine blooms and intricate ironwork of the Flannery print are an ode to this prolific writer, who captured, in her acerbic voice, the shimmering complexity and mystery beneath the surface of twentieth-century Southern life.
Helen Wyatt Snapp (1918 – 2013) was a pioneering aviator born in Washington, D.C., who served as a Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) during World War II at Fort Stewart, just outside of Savannah. The WASP program was classified until 1972, so Helen did not talk about her service, and, as the WASPs were not militarized, the women did not receive veteran’s benefits. After the WASPs were declassified, Helen worked to secure equal benefits for her fellow groundbreaking airwomen. According to Lucianna, “In 2010, the WASPs received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award that congress can give. A lot of that is due to Helen, who is an unsung hero.” Like the roseate spoonbill gliding, wings wide, across the print named in her honor, Helen found joy and freedom above the clouds.
To discover the products inspired by these women, view the Savannah Collection.