Celebrating our city’s turn-of-the-century Steel Magnolias, the exhibit offers insight into the lives of eight women, including Edna McCleskey Haney whose adventurous story was told in the recent Elm Street production “Mizz Edna Drives on Main.”
Their birth years range from 1855 to 1893. Some of them were children during the Civil War.
All of them were a part of the country’s fabric of life that saw the assassination of President McKinley, the sinking of the Titanic, the Spanish-American War, the passage of the amendment granting each of them the right to vote, the beginning of World War I, and, with the exception of Edna Haney, the beginning of World War II as well.
Most of them also experienced a grieving nation as John Kennedy was assassinated, the Korean War crippled the country, and Vietnam became a prolonged nightmare.
Each woman had characteristics that defined her specific personality.
Their social status and way of life varies from spinster school teacher, foresightful African-American Magnolia Thomas, to Avis Benson Johnston, the patient and loving spouse of the town’s most prominent businessman.
Amanda Chandler Edwards, widowed twice, was persevering in her determination to survive. She was the mother of Claude Chandler, a name we hear often when discussing Woodstock’s history.
Aralinta Dial Dobbs was long-lasting, living just six years short of a century. She was born the year the railroad came to Woodstock, 1879, an event that changed Woodstock’s landscape and its future.
Marian Power Ross says this about her mother, Nellie Dobbs Power, an inspiration to all who knew her: “She was concerned that the Woodstock children did not have a library to use during the summer months. So, she wrote the Georgia Library at the State Capitol … every summer they shipped 500 books to Mother. These were kept on the side porch where they were checked out.”
Others tell of her love of teaching reading as well as French to Woodstock’s students.
Sam Reeves, in his book “Precious Memories of Mama and Papa,” relates many stories of the immense workload that his mother, Carrie Wood Reeves, carried.
Carrie, the youngest of six children of Isaac and Annie Reeves, was only 5 years old when her mother died. Her father had died three years before.
Perhaps because of her orphaned childhood, when she married and had children, she devoted her life to their welfare.
Sam describes her diligence: “She canned fruits and vegetables for the winter. She processed the sausages and meats when the hogs were killed. She made our butter and a hundred other things we took for granted. Our clothes were always clean and mended. She prepared three hot meals daily, seven days a week. She gave birth to eight children at home. She boiled our clothes in a large black pot in the yard and dried them on a line outside in the sun. She managed all this without electricity, indoor plumbing, central heat, telephones, transportation, appliances or day care.” And so much more.
Elizabeth “Bessie” Routh Brooks, while not a Georgia native, certainly left a lasting legacy for her descendants as well as other women of compassion. Having trained as a licensed practical nurse, she served the Woodstock area as a midwife and nurse, and often, just as with her counterparts who were physicians, she received compensation in the form of garden vegetables or eggs.
Her many grandchildren have fond memories, some of which will be displayed.
Along with the exhibit in the meeting room at the library, there will be special items displayed in glass cases. One is the wedding dress of Alice Wellons, bride of Linton Dean.
The wedding took place on Jan. 5, 1915. While Linton Dean’s name and face are familiar to all of Woodstock, his wife was quite an individual in her own right. She held a position with a government office in Canton.
There were two daughters who claimed much of her time, and there are numerous references to her various church activities in the history of the Woodstock Baptist Church. In fact, she was the first woman of record to make a motion in the church’s business meetings.
The cases include items from some of the aforementioned women as well, and a handmade “coverlid” from the mother-in-law of Edna Haney, Nancy Spear Haney, is perhaps the oldest item on display.
Don’t miss this exhibit, which closes Nov. 27. It gives new meaning to the term Steel Magnolias.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.