Monday, March 19, 2012

19 March 1918: "Loaded With Southern History"

On this day in 1918, the Athens Banner reported that one of the city's most prominent citizens, Miss Mildred Lewis Rutherford, the principal of the Lucy Cobb Institute, was denied passage on a train to Richmond, Virginia, because the trunk of books she was carrying was "away over the weight allowed by the railroad." 

Mildred Rutherford devoted her life to the Lucy Cobb Institute and advocating for "the truth" about the Civil War and the South. Her historical writing, which featured a sentimental view of the Old South, plantation life, and slavery, would not be considered appropriate today, yet her belief that her female students could and should learn as much as male students, as well as be prepared to work in the real world, seem almost ahead of her time. 

Known around town as "Miss Millie," she was the daughter of Williams and Laura Cobb Rutherford, the niece of  Governor Howell Cobb and T.R.R. Cobb, who established the Lucy Cobb Institute in 1859. The school was named for Miss Millie's cousin, who died prior to the school's opening. The Rutherfords lived across the street from the school.

Mildred Rutherford graduated from Lucy Cobb in 1868, and a few years later moved to Atlanta to teach. She lived with another female cousin, and spent eight years there before returning to Athens at the request of her parents to take over the financially unstable Lucy Cobb Institute. When she took over the school in 1880, only 24 students were enrolled; by 1882, student population reached 104.

The curriculum under Rutherford was modelled on the traditional male course of study in preparation for college. Students were taught Latin, higher mathematics, logic, rhetoric, philosphy, science, literature, and history. For an extra charge, parents could have their daughters trained in traditionally female course work of French, art, and music. During this time, she was also actively writing textbooks about English, French, American, and Southern literature that she felt were more appropriate for female students. She often hired former students as teachers, and brought in more instructors with advanced degrees.

In 1895, she stepped down as principal of Lucy Cobb, while still continuing to teach Latin, history, literature, and the Bible. In 1896, she started the Laura Rutherford chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and served as its president until 1906. Mildred Rutherford was the state UDC Historian General for life, and from 1901-1903 was also the group's president. In 1911, she was appointed Historian General of the national UDC, and the organization twice made exceptions for term limits so she could continue to serve until 1916. 

The collection of books she had to repack are now part of the United Daughters of the Confederacy collection at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. The Banner published the list of titles in Rutherford's trunk on page 7:

(click to enlarge image)

Rutherford used her speeches, books, essays, and newsletters as a way of "righting the wrongs against the South," where she advanced her belief that secession had been legal, slavery was not the cause of the war, and that the plantation system was not merely just, but a gentle society. Despite her own career and the fact that she never married, Rutherford believed the proper place for women was the domestic sphere of her family, as wife and mother, and spoke out strongly against women's suffrage. 

From 1880 until 1928, Rutherford taught at Lucy Cobb. She returned to her role as the school's principal, and later, president, several times, from 1907-1908, 1917-1922, and 1925-1926. In her last year leading the school, Rutherford had tried to raise money to keep the school independent of the county school system and the University of Georgia, but was unsuccessful in her fundraising. The school closed in 1931, and is now the home of the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

Her family felt the last year as Lucy Cobb president had compromised her health, but Rutherford taught at the school until her death. She had been a force at Lucy Cobb for nearly 50 years, and two thousand people, including many alumnae, attended Mildred Lewis Rutherford's funeral in August, 1928.  She is buried with her family in Oconee Hill Cemetery.  

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