Tuesday, January 31, 2012

31 January 1861: Julia A. Flisch, Author and Women's Education Advocate, Is Born

On this day in 1861, Julia Anna Flisch was born to Pauline and Leonard Flisch in Augusta, Georgia. While Julia was still an infant, her family moved to Athens, where her parents, German immigrants, ran a sweets shop across the street from the University of Georgia, selling cakes and ice cream to college students. Julia grew up in Athens; her family lived above their store, and were active in the community, including the First Presbyterian Church, where her father was an Elder. She later noted that "the history and traditions of my childhood were the history and traditions of the University of Georgia."

After graduating with honors from the Lucy Cobb Institute in in 1877, Julia wanted to attend UGA, but her application was rejected because she was female. Her family returned to Augusta  a few years later (according to Augustus Longstreet Hull, college boys who bought on credit and never paid made the business unprofitable, and the move was "self defense"). 

In 1882, she wrote a letter to the Augusta Chronicle titled "Give the Girls a Chance," calling for more educational and occupational opportunities for women in the South to "work out their own sense of independence" and "to be of some active use in the world." She signed the letter only, "A Young Woman." The subject stirred the Augusta population, and two weeks later, the paper published that Julia Flisch was the author. 

Over the next few years, she wrote frequently on the subject of women's education, and criticized the common education provided to girls at the time--with a focus on sewing, music, and decorative arts--as "defective education" that denied women the ability to properly support themselves.

Julia herself went to Coopers Union in New York to study secretarial skills, such as shorthand and typewriting in 1883 and 1884. She returned to Augusta and worked as a bookkeeper while writing and publishing articles, stories, and her first novel, Ashes of Hope. She also covered 1887 commencement season in Athens for the Augusta Chronicle, bemoaning that the school was for the "sons of Georgia" alone. 

She urged women to pressure the state to provide more opportunities for women's education, and in 1889, after more overwhelming pressure via petitions and letters from the women of Georgia, the legislature passed a bill approving the first women's industrial college. Despite the widespread support of many prominent women in the state, only Julia Flisch was part of the official program for laying the cornerstone for the Georgia Normal and Industrial College (now Georgia College and State University) in Milledgeville in 1890.

Julia joined the school's faculty, teaching the secretarial skills she had learned in New York and later ancient and medieval history. She continued to write for newspapers, and spent her summers studying at the University of Chicago and Harvard. In 1899, 22 years after she had first applied to study there, the University of Georgia granted her an honorary degree, the first degree UGA ever gave to a woman; 19 years later, the first women students were admitted to UGA.

In 1905, Julia left her position to attend the University of Wisconsin. In 1908, she earned her Master's degree in history, and was offered positions at universities around the country. She chose, however, to return to Georgia, and took a position at the Tubman High School for Girls in Augusta. In 1925, she published her second novel, Old Hurricane and took the position of Dean of Women for the newly established Augusta Junior College, the first junior college in Georgia (now Augusta State University). Julia Flisch retired from teaching in 1936 due to her failing vision. She died in 1941, and is buried at Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta.

Georgia Women of Achievement honored Julia Anna Flisch, as well as Margaret Mitchell, Emily Thomas Tubman, Ruth Hartley Mosley, and Carson McCullers, as one of the important women in Georgia's history.

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