Mar 24, 2022 - News

5 Georgia women who shaped history

Leah Ward Sears, Rosalynn Carter, Gladys Knight
From left: Leah Ward Sears, Rosalynn Carter and Gladys Knight. Photos: Ric Feld/AP Photo, L. Cohen/WireImage, HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting five Georgia women who have shaped our state and country.

Rosalynn Carter: You know her as the wife of former president Jimmy Carter – both natives of Plains. But throughout Carter’s political career, Rosalynn Carter set herself apart as a trailblazing “full partner.”

  • She sat in on presidential cabinet meetings and was the first first lady to have an office in the East Wing. Her policy advocacy team focused on the mental health policy reform that she began as first lady of Georgia.
  • And she is also a co-founder of the Carter Center nonprofit, which has, among much else, been working to eradicate diseases around the world.

Gladys Knight: The native Georgian “Empress of Soul” began performing Gospel at 4 years old at Atlanta’s Mount Moriah Baptist Church and as a guest soloist at Morris Brown College. It’s been nonstop ever since. Rolling Stone named her one of the 100 greatest singers of all time.

  • The seven-time Grammy winner has released nearly 40 albums and found time for television and film appearances. Despite having a farewell tour more than 10 years ago, she is still performing.
  • Knight will forever have her mark on her native state with her iconic 1973 version of “Midnight Train to Georgia," recorded with the Pips.

Juliette Gordon Low: The Savannahian founded the Girl Scouts in 1912, to create “a movement where all girls could come together and embrace their unique strengths and passions.”

  • What began as one troop of 18 girls, inspired by the Boy Scouts, is now the largest leadership organization in the world for girls, with 2.5 million members.
  • The scouts’ famous cookie program is the self-proclaimed “largest girl-led business in the world.” It brings in nearly $800 million each season.

Leah Ward Sears: In 1992, then Gov. Zell Miller appointed Sears, who was 36 at the time, to a vacant seat on the Georgia Supreme Court, making her the court’s first woman and youngest ever justice. She would later become the first Black woman state supreme court chief justice in the country.

  • Later that year, Sears won a full term on the court, becoming the first woman in Georgia to win a contested statewide election. Before joining the Supreme Court, she was the youngest superior court judge ever elected in Georgia.
  • Sears — who was selected by her colleagues in 2005 to serve as chief justice — helped strike down Georgia’s anti-sodomy law and advocated for adequate legal representation for all.

Grace Towns Hamilton: Elected to the Georgia General Assembly in a 1965 special election, the Atlanta native was the first Black woman to serve in the Legislature and in a legislative body in the Deep South.

  • For 18 years, Hamilton represented Atlanta. She played a key role in rewriting the Atlanta city charter in 1973 and reapportionment battles, including one that Andrew Young credited with helping him win the 5th Congressional District.
  • Before serving in the General Assembly, Hamilton for nearly 20 years led the Atlanta Urban League, where she championed better housing, healthcare and education.
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