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Georgia Peaches

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I was in Georgia a couple of times in May. That got me thinking about the women with ties to that state who have been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and who have been recognized as Georgia Women of Achievement. These Georgia peaches have contributed to the culture and economy of their state and the U.S. I have profiled two amazing Georgia women in recent blogs: Coretta Scott King and Juliette Gordon Low, both of whom have been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Of course, there are many other accomplished Georgia women. Let's learn about a few.

Mary Musgrove bridged the colonial and Native American (Creek) cultures in Georgia. She served as James Oglethorpe's interpreter for ten years (1733-1743). Musgrove and her husband established a trading post near the Savannah River, and later moved it about four miles upriver from Savannah. The post served as a center for deerskin trade. Later, she and her second husband received St. Catherines Island as part of a settlement from the British crown.

The daughter of former slaves, Lucy Craft Laney was born in Macon, Georgia. She was a member of the first graduating class of Atlanta University in 1873. Determined to educate African-American children, Laney established the Haines Normal and Industrial School in Augusta, Georgia. Many firsts occurred through her efforts including the first kindergarten for black children in Augusta, the first football team from a black high school in Georgia, and the first nurses' training institute for black women. Today, a portrait of Laney hangs in the Georgia State Capitol and Lucy C. Laney High School operates in Augusta on a street named for her.

An important figure in the carpet industry, Catherine Evans Whitener, born in Whitfield County, received only a fifth grade education. Her curiosity about a tufted bedspread that was a family heirloom resulted in her resurrecting a technique called candlewicking when she was 15. That tufted bedspread led to mats and bathrobes and eventually the Evans Manufacturing Company (1917). By 1941, the bedspread industry which was centered in Dalton, Georgia employed 10,000 people and had sales of $25 million. Today, 90 percent of carpet produced uses tufting.

Born in Columbus, Georgia, Ma Rainey is remembered as the "Mother of the Blues." Memorialized on a U.S. postage stamp, Rainey was 15 when she made her debut. For twenty years, she sang in a traveling minstrel show. In 1923, she signed a recording contract with Paramount and recorded more than one hundred songs between 1923 and 1928. She is credited as being an inspiration for Blues singers today.

Known for authoring a book that has sold million copies and is second in sales worldwide only to the Bible, Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell worked on her novel Gone with the Wind after serving as a feature writer for the Atlanta Journal. A harsh critic of her own work, she was surprised and overwhelmed at the unanticipated success of the novel and subsequent movie.

Regarded as one of the most important authors of the 20th century, Flannery O'Connor was born near Savannah, Georgia. She was interested in fiction writing from her childhood. Known as a master of short stories, only two collections of her work were published before her death at a very young age from lupus.

Rosalynn Carter, born in Plains, Georgia, used her influence as First Lady to address issues related to mental health, immunization and poverty. The Presidential Commission on Mental Health, of which she served as honorary chair, was instrumental in the passage of the Mental Health System Act of 1980. Very active in Habitat for Humanity, I met Mrs. Carter in October 2013, when she was in Denver, Colorado for the Carter Work Week for Habitat. In addition to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Many of these outstanding women from Georgia are among the more than 850 profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. We are proud to stand on the shoulders.