Sarah McGehee Isom

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Sarah McGehee Isom, in a 1900 publication.

Sarah McGehee Isom (1854 – April 29, 1905) was an American orator, and the first female faculty member at the University of Mississippi, where she taught oratory for twenty years. (Her middle named is sometimes found as "McGhee" or "McGee" in sources.)

Early life[edit]

Sarah "Sallie" Isom was born in Oxford, Mississippi, daughter of Thomas Dudley Isom and Sarah Royster McGehee Isom.[1] Her father was a medical doctor; the family's home at Isom Place in Oxford is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.[2] Sarah attended Augusta Seminary in Virginia, and pursued further studies in elocution and oratory at the Philadelphia School of Expression, and in Boston.[3]


Isom was hired to teach oratory at the University of Mississippi in 1885. She was the first woman hired to the faculty there, and the first woman on the faculty of any co-educational college in the southeastern United States.[4] She designed the curriculum for oratory at Mississippi.[5][6] She directed a Shakespeare festival at the university in 1897.[7] She also performed as a dramatic reader.[8][9] In her lifetime, a fellow Southern academic noted, "No one has contributed more to the growth of elocution in the South than Miss Isom."[10]

Isom also owned property in Victor Heights, Los Angeles, California, which was subject to a legal dispute over oil rights. Isom won a $120,000 settlement in 1901 for the damages done by Rex Crude Oil Company.[11] However, the award was appealed and still in the courts when Isom died in 1905.[12]

Personal life and legacy[edit]

Sarah McGehee Isom died in 1905, aged 51 years.[4]

A dormitory at University of Mississippi was named for Isom in 1929.[3] In 1981, the University of Mississippi established the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, named in her memory.[13]


  1. ^ "Miss Sarah McGehee Isom" Natchez Democrat (April 25, 1899): 3. via Newspapers.comopen access
  2. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form: Isom Place". National Park Service. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  3. ^ a b David G. Sansing, The University of Mississippi: A Sesquicentennial History (University Press of Mississippi 1999): 138-139. ISBN 9781578060917
  4. ^ a b Michael Newsom, "Did You Know? UM’s Sarah Isom Center Has An Interesting Namesake" Ole Miss: University of Mississippi News (May 14, 2014).
  5. ^ Stephen Enzweiler, "Trailblazer's Legacy Still Being Felt Today" Oxford Citizen (June 20, 2014).
  6. ^ "Elocution" University of Mississippi, Announcements and Catalogue (1898): 76.
  7. ^ "Shakespeare's Birthday at the University of Mississippi" Werner's Magazine 19(6)(June 1897): 589.
  8. ^ "Local Matters" Clarion-Ledger (May 30, 1891): 4. via Newspapers.comopen access
  9. ^ "At McInerney's Hall" Vicksburg Herald (May 2, 1899): 5. via Newspapers.comopen access
  10. ^ "Expression in the South" Werner's Magazine 25(4)(June 1900): 357.
  11. ^ "Has Won Both Suits" Daily Clarion-Ledger (August 20, 1901): 1. via Newspapers.comopen access
  12. ^ Isom v. Rex Crude Oil Company, Union Consolidated Oil Company (1905). Reports of Cases Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of California 147(1906): 663.
  13. ^ University of Mississippi, Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, About Us, History/Mission.

External links[edit]