Ruth Blair

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Ruth Blair
Ruth Blair (1889-1974).png
Blair circa 1925
Born(1889-03-17)March 17, 1889
DiedJuly 24, 1974(1974-07-24) (aged 85)
Burial placeAustell, Georgia, United States
OccupationLibrarian and archivist
Years active1916–1956

Ruth Blair (March 17, 1889 – July 24, 1974)[1] was an American librarian and archivist in the U.S. state of Georgia. She was the first woman state historian of Georgia and the first executive secretary of the Atlanta Historical Society.[2] She helped organize the Society of American Archivists in 1936. Named Atlanta's Woman of the Year in 1955,[3] she has been called "one of the most distinguished archivists in America".[4]

Early life[edit]

Ruth Blair was born in Douglas County, Georgia on March 17, 1889,[5] to Hiram Columbus Blair and Nancy Ann Blair (née Mozley).[5][6] Her father was born in 1836 and served in the Confederate Army; her mother was born in 1851.[5] She had two immediate siblings, Lillian and Hiram Jr.[7] Her father was a successful farmer and briefly represented Douglas County in the Georgia General Assembly.[8] Her father also had been married once before, and thus she had eight half-siblings including Daniel Webster Blair,[9] who was a superior court judge.[10]

After her father's death in 1901,[5] the family moved to Lithia Springs, Georgia.[8] Blair attended Austell High School and Cox College and also was privately tutored[5] for two years.[8] She also took night classes in journalism from Georgia School of Technology professors and correspondence courses in English, history and art from Emory University.[11]

Career[edit]

Blair started her first job with the state of Georgia as assistant reference librarian of the Georgia State Library on February 7, 1916.[5] She had no formal training as a librarian, so she learned on the job under the first woman Georgia state librarian, Maud Barker Cobb.[12] She was promoted to legislative librarian in September 1918.[6] She worked at the state library for several years,[5] but she had to resign in late 1919 due to personal and family illnesses.[13] Her mother died in early 1920.[14]

Georgia Department of Archives and History[edit]

On January 1, 1921, she resumed her career at the newly created[15] Georgia Department of Archives and History as a secretary[5] under Lucian Lamar Knight.[16] Knight described her as his "able assistant" and a "trained investigator with a peculiar gift for organization".[17] Knight arranged for Blair to spend a week at the state archive in Boston in June 1922 to study their methods.[17]

In 1924 as his six-year term was ending, Knight declined re-election by the Georgia Historical Commission due to ill health. Knight "strongly recommended" Blair as his successor.[16] She faced competition from two other candidates: Mildred Lewis Rutherford and educator Charles M. Neel. Blair prevailed by a vote of seven to three.[18] On January 1, 1925 she succeeded Knight as director of the department and as state historian of Georgia,[5] the first woman to do so. She was one of just a few women, including Marie Bankhead Owen and Margaret Cross Norton, who had achieved such a position in the U.S. up to that date.[18] The Atlanta Constitution hailed her appointment as an honor paid to the women of Georgia and harbinger of "the woman's age".[19][18]

She was responsible for compiling Georgia's Official Register for 1925 through 1931.[5] She also edited and published other publications through the department.[5][20][21][22] However, during her second term the pace of publication slowed due to lack of funds.[23]

Rhodes Hall

The space allotted to the department at the Georgia State Capitol had been limited.[15] Although it had been expanded in 1925, Blair campaigned for a better location for the department and its collections. Through personal connections she secured the donation[24] of the former Amos G. Rhodes home on Peachtree Street to the state for this purpose. The twenty-room stone mansion contained stained glass windows dedicated to the Confederacy. The building was renamed Rhodes Memorial Hall, and the state formally accepted the gift in 1929.[24]

One of the conditions of the transfer was that the home always be occupied. Blair fulfilled this requirement by moving into the home with her bachelor brother Hiram.[24] The formal opening took place on May 10, 1930.[25] Two of the rooms of the house were dedicated to local historical and patriotic societies including the Atlanta Historical Society, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Daughters of 1812, among others. Regular open house events were held that helped publicize the work of the department and occasionally raise additional funds for its work.[26]

In August 1929 the Georgia General Assembly called upon each of the state's counties to appoint a historian to compile a history of their county for the upcoming bicentennial of the state in 1932. Blair worked closely with the county historians to train and advise them.[27]

In May 1933 Blair was the only woman on a 21-member committee created by Joseph Henry Beale to organize the American Legal History Society.[5] In March 1936 she was one of two women on a 10-member committee to organize the Society of American Archivists (SAA). She was elected one of the five councilors of that newly formed organization.[5][28]

In 1935, alongside ten other noted women, including Martha McChesney Berry, Annie Jump Cannon, Caroline Pafford Miller, and Florence Sabin,[29] she was given an honorary Master of Public Service by Oglethorpe University.[5]

During her second term as state historian, threats of budget cuts and reorganization of the department forced Blair to lobby for her department's independence at the capitol and solicit the assistance of outside groups. She was successful, but she decided she didn't have a future at the department.[30] Blair left her job as State Historian at the end of 1936, after two six-year terms,[6] and was succeeded by Louise Frederick Hays.[31]

During her two terms, Blair had paved the way for other women, including Mary G. Bryan, who began as Blair's assistant but became state archivist in 1951 and was the fifteenth president of SAA.[32]

Ruth Blair circa 1937

Atlanta Historical Society[edit]

Blair was a founding member[33] and secretary-treasurer of the Atlanta Historical Society starting at its founding in 1926.[6] In those days it was organized "socially".[34] On January 1, 1937, she became the first executive secretary[33] of the Atlanta organization,[5] actively managing it as a full-time employee.[4]

It was intended her hiring would invigorate the organization.[35] One early change was issuing their publication Atlanta Historical Journal more regularly.[35] Fund-raising drives were held,[34] and plans were made for the organization to obtain a permanent building in place of offices they had rented previously.[36] Blair set about curating a large collection of records and artifacts[35] that would later be displayed at the Atlanta History Center.

If we are to sell Atlanta we must first know Atlanta. I think the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Tourist Bureau and other such organizations would render a great service if they would put more emphasis on the importance of Atlantans knowing more about their city.

— Ruth Blair, Atlanta Constitution, September 3, 1939[37]

In 1942 she helped plan a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Marthasville (Atlanta's original name), including designing a commemorative set of coffee cups for the occasion.[38]

In 1946 the organization purchased the former Willis B. Jones home (designed by Neel Reid), and once again Blair supervised an organization's move into a former home on Peachtree Street.[36] This mansion contained 10 rooms and had plenty of room for the society's collection.[39] The new headquarters was officially opened on April 19, 1947.[40]

In 1955 Blair was still in charge when the organization reached 1,000 paid members,[34] up from 44 members in the early days.[2] She achieved this without an assistant of her own until 1955.[2]

Blair retired in April 1956 and was succeeded as the head of the Atlanta Historical Society by Allen P. Julian.[41]

Personal life and death[edit]

In 1919 she became involved in women's suffrage, as Atlanta granted women the right to vote in municipal primaries that year.[11] In May she was one of the first 400 women who signed up to qualify to vote. She later attended local League of Women Voters meetings with her cousin, Mrs. Sanford Gay.[42]

Blair was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution[6] and a curator of the Georgia Historical Society.[5]

Blair traveled extensively, visiting Great Britain in 1928, including Ireland, Wales, and Scotland.[5] She also traveled to Canada, Cuba, Bermuda, Mexico and several Central American countries.[5]

Blair never married. She died in July 1974 and was buried in Austell, Georgia, near where she grew up.

Publications[edit]

  • Blair, Ruth (1926). Georgia Women of 1926. Atlanta GA: Georgia Dept. of Archives and History. OCLC 3831135. Retrieved July 27, 2020 – via HathiTrust.
  • Blair, Ruth (1926). Some Early Tax Digests of Georgia (1790–1818). Atlanta GA: Georgia Dept. of Archives and History. OCLC 866014937.
  • Blair, Ruth (1928). Revolutionary Soldiers' Receipts for Georgia Bounty Grants. Atlanta GA: Foote and Davies. OCLC 769035483.
  • Blair, Ruth (October 1940). "Atlanta's Monuments". Atlanta Historical Bulletin. Atlanta Historical Society. V (23): 273–277 – via Atlanta History Center.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Trace, Ciaran B. (2015). "Atlanta between the Wars: The Creation of the Georgia Department of Archives and History, 1918–1936". Information & Culture. 50 (4): 504–553. doi:10.7560/IC50403. ISSN 2164-8034. JSTOR 44667602.
  2. ^ a b c Barnwell, Katherine (January 18, 1956). "Historian Ruth Blair A 'WOTY'". The Atlanta Constitution. p. 21. Retrieved July 30, 2020 – via newspapers.com. (Includes a photo of Blair)
  3. ^ Barnwell, Katherine (February 1, 1956). "Miss Blair Is Woman Of the Year". The Atlanta Constitution. pp. 1, 5. Retrieved July 28, 2020 – via newspapers.com. (Includes a photo of Blair with Mayor William B. Hartsfield)
  4. ^ a b "Dinner To Ruth Blair Planned Next Friday". The Atlanta Constitution. December 15, 1936. p. 16. Retrieved July 28, 2020 – via newspapers.com.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Cooper, Walter G. (1938). The Story of Georgia. Vol. 4. New York: American Historical Society. p. 21. OCLC 1610175. Retrieved July 27, 2020 – via HathiTrust.
  6. ^ a b c d e Howard, Annie H.; Ramage, Mary M.; Colvin, Ada V. (1931). Business and Professional Women of Georgia. Atlanta: F.E. Johnson Pub. Co. pp. 54–55. OCLC 2830950. Retrieved July 27, 2020 – via HathiTrust. (Includes a photo of Blair)
  7. ^ Trace 2015, p. 507.
  8. ^ a b c Trace 2015, p. 508.
  9. ^ Trace 2015, p. 533.
  10. ^ Trace 2015, p. 553.
  11. ^ a b Trace 2015, p. 509.
  12. ^ Trace 2015, p. 511.
  13. ^ Trace 2015, p. 512.
  14. ^ Trace 2015, p. 539.
  15. ^ a b Trace 2015, p. 515.
  16. ^ a b "Miss Ruth Blair Named Historian Of State Monday". The Atlanta Constitution. June 24, 1924. p. 7. Retrieved July 28, 2020 – via newspapers.com.
  17. ^ a b Trace 2015, p. 519.
  18. ^ a b c Trace 2015, p. 520.
  19. ^ "Honor Paid Women in Election Of Miss Blair as State Historian". The Atlanta Constitution. January 23, 1925. p. 13. Retrieved July 30, 2020 – via newspapers.com. (Includes a photo of Blair)
  20. ^ Blair 1926a.
  21. ^ Blair 1926b.
  22. ^ Blair 1928.
  23. ^ Trace 2015, p. 521.
  24. ^ a b c Trace 2015, p. 522.
  25. ^ "Rhodes Memorial Home Opened as Shrine In Which State's Relics Will Be Deposited". Atlanta Constitution. May 11, 1930. p. 1. Retrieved August 3, 2020 – via newspapers.com. (Includes photo of Blair with Gov. Lamartine Griffin Hardman and others)
  26. ^ Trace 2015, p. 524-525.
  27. ^ Parker, David B. (2014). ""An Ever-Ready Source of Inspiration and Information": Ruth Blair and the Bicentennial County Historians". Provenance, Journal of the Society of Georgia Archivists. 32 (1). Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  28. ^ Trace 2015, p. 529.
  29. ^ "Eleven Distinguished Women To Receive Oglethorpe Degrees Tonight". The Atlanta Constitution. May 26, 1935. pp. 1, 4. Retrieved July 28, 2020 – via newspapers.com. (Includes a photo of Blair with Helen Rogers Reid, Caroline Goodwin O'Day, and C. Mildred Thompson)
  30. ^ Trace 2015, p. 526-528.
  31. ^ "Mrs. Hays Named To Head Archives, History Bureau". The Atlanta Constitution. November 15, 1936. p. 11A,15A. Retrieved July 28, 2020 – via newspapers.com.
  32. ^ Trace 2015, p. 531.
  33. ^ a b Trace 2015, p. 505.
  34. ^ a b c Willimon, Bob (August 25, 1955). "Historical Unit Scores On 3rd Try". The Atlanta Constitution. p. 21. Retrieved July 30, 2020 – via newspapers.com. (Includes a photo of Blair)
  35. ^ a b c "Miss Ruth Blair Will Undertake Compilation of Atlanta History". The Atlanta Constitution. November 24, 1936. p. 9. Retrieved July 28, 2020 – via newspapers.com. (Includes a photo of Blair)
  36. ^ a b Heller, Fred (March 15, 1970). "Historians Maintain City's Pace". The Atlanta Constitution. pp. 8D. Retrieved July 30, 2020 – via newspapers.com.
  37. ^ Greene, Luke (September 3, 1939). "Atlanta Historical Society Claims Interest of Many Prominent Citizens". The Atlanta Constitution. p. 16. Retrieved July 30, 2020 – via newspapers.com. (Includes a photo of Blair)
  38. ^ Noland, Jane (July 12, 1942). "Atlanta's First Families Mark Marthasville's 100th Birthday". The Atlanta Constitution. p. 9. Retrieved July 28, 2020 – via newspapers.com. (Includes photo of Blair with Mayor Hartsfield and Franklin Garrett)
  39. ^ "Historical Society Has Larger Home". Atlanta Constitution. September 8, 1946. p. 13C. Retrieved August 3, 2020 – via newspapers.com. (Includes photo of home).
  40. ^ "Historical Society To Hold Opening of New Home Apr. 19". Atlanta Constitution. April 13, 1947. p. 5C. Retrieved August 3, 2020 – via newspapers.com.
  41. ^ "Col. Julian Won Post Strictly on His Merit". The Atlanta Constitution. April 3, 1956. p. 4. Retrieved July 28, 2020 – via newspapers.com.
  42. ^ Trace 2015, p. 510.

External links[edit]