Our Newest Georgia Exhibit “Thy Neighbor as Thyself” (March 2024)

Photo of the Graduating Class of the Atlanta School of Social Work, 1920

The Digital Library of Georgia (DLG) and the New Georgia Encyclopedia (NGE) are pleased to present Georgia Exhibits’ newest exhibition, curated by Kailey Joy McAlpin, “‘Thy Neighbor As Thyself’: The Women Who Shaped Georgia’s Civic Landscape.” 

Kailey Joy McAlpin, a Ph.D. student at Georgia State University, explores Georgia’s women reformers of the Progressive Era, some of whom include Mary Latimer McLendon, Mildred Lewis Rutherford, Carrie Steele, Helen Pendleton, Lugenia Burns Hope, Jessie Daniel Ames, Selena Sloan Butler, Martha Berry, and Julia Flisch.

Photo of Lugenia Burns Hope
“Lugenia Burns Hope.” 1871/1947. February 27, 2024. Courtesy of New Georgia Encyclopedia

These women came from different class backgrounds and had different racial attitudes and practices. McAlpin uses the theme and motto “Thy Neighbor as Thyself” to center the work done by Black women during the Progressive Era, both with and without the support of their white Progressive counterparts.

Photo of the Graduating Class of the Atlanta School of Social Work, 1920
“Graduating Class of Atlanta School of Social Work, circa 1920.” February 27, 2024. Courtesy of Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library

McAlpin’s work dedicates itself to bringing the differences between white and Black women reformers to light. She explains that access to materials, resources, and support was much more abundant to white women than their Black peers, not to mention the actual risk of life and limb posed to Black women, particularly with regard to suffrage. She states:

“While Black suffragists in the North could form organizations and advocate for voting rights, the hostile racial climate of the South and fear of violent retaliation from Southern whites kept many Black women from making public demands for suffrage. Despite the looming threat of assault and death, some Black women did publicly advocate for suffrage, and examples of Black suffrage organizations have been recovered in Tuskegee, Alabama, Charleston, South Carolina, and Memphis, Tennessee. While evidence of Black women’s suffrage in the Jim Crow South has often been hidden from the historical record, there was doubtless support for voting rights that took place behind closed doors in spaces removed from white surveillance.”

For better or worse, the engagement of these women and their respective organizations with their day’s pressing political issues and social concerns had a tremendous impact on voting access, child labor laws, rural education, public health legislation, racial inequality and injustice, and other social causes.

Photo of Selena Sloan Butler
Box 7, Folder 4, Selena Sloan Butler papers, Archives Division, Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.. “Photographs, Selena Sloan Butler, undated.” 1886/1893. February 27, 2024. Courtesy of Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History

Each year, DLG and NGE staff and graduate student interns curate Georgia Exhibits exhibitions to shed new light on understudied corners of the state’s history and showcase the remarkable breadth and depth of authoritative resources and historical content in the DLG and NGE. We offer all of these resources freely online.

You can view the exhibition at https://georgia-exhibits.galileo.usg.edu/spotlight/women-reformers and the rest of our Georgia Exhibits at https://georgia-exhibits.galileo.usg.edu.

K-12 educators take note: This exhibit serves our Georgia K-12 social studies audience by aligning with the Georgia Social Studies Standards of Excellence (GSE) standard SSUSH13: Evaluate efforts to reform American society and politics in the Progressive Era.


#HistoricPreservation #ProgressiveEra #Equality #WomensReform #CivilRights


Issues of the Mission Messenger Now Available Freely Online

19th and 20th-century issues from the journal of the largest group of Protestant women in the world have just been digitized. Mercer University Special Collections and Archives have partnered with the Digital Library of Georgia (DLG) to digitize Mercer’s run of the Mission Messenger from 1895-1921, published monthly by the Woman’s Baptist Missionary Union of Georgia (WBMU), more commonly known today as simply the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU)

The Mission Messenger was digitized and described as part of the DLG’s competitive digitization subgrant program, broadening partner participation amongst nonprofit cultural heritage institutions across the state.  The collection was transferred to Mercer directly by the WMU, making it likely the most complete run of the Mission Messenger for the period. 

Starting from a handful of women in 1888 as the WBMU, the organization became the largest Protestant group for women in the world, with a membership of approximately 1 million. It was also the first and remains the largest body of organized laity in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Women’s organizations like the WBMU played a significant role in American life during the 19th and early 20th centuries, mobilizing women to raise money for Southern Baptist missions worldwide. 

Written contributions to the Mission Messenger came from a broad variety of WBMU members across the state. 

One of its most famous contributors was Mary Emily Wright Wilbur, a notable female leader of fin de siècle Georgia and the first member of WBMU leadership, who served as one of the publication’s early editors from 1899-1906. 

Although consigned to the private sphere of the home by law and custom, women influenced the public sphere of policy and society through organizations dedicated to causes such as temperance, poverty relief, anti-slavery, and suffrage, among others. 

Reports from local church chapters, adult and children’s programming suggestions, letters to the editor, financial reports, fundraising drives, Bible studies, and reports from Southern Baptist missionaries worldwide were regular features of the magazine and described how Georgia women viewed the world and demonstrated Georgia’s influence across the globe.

Issues of the Mission Messenger show how Georgians responded to significant historical events, including:

  • the Spanish-American War
  • World War I
  • the flu pandemic of 1918
  • the Women’s Suffrage Movement

These issues are also a valued resource for scholars interested in:

  • 19th and early-20th century women’s history
  • Baptist history
  • Georgia history
  • the history of 19th-century international Baptists missions

Genealogists will also find this collection valuable because of the articles and entries documenting individual members and contributors. 

Beth Ann Williams, the current executive director of the WMU, emphasizes the importance of the Mission Messenger’s digitization: 

“What began as a small number of missionary societies in Georgia Baptist churches has grown into women’s ministries and missions discipleship for all ages for 3,600 churches. A digitized Mission Messenger provides widespread and easy access to state and church women’s leadership. [They] would be able to read first-hand about the successes, struggles, challenges, and accomplishments of the WBMU. What a valuable and interesting source to help highlight the early years of missionary giving and serving that was done by and through Georgia Baptist women.”

About Mercer University Archives and Special Collections

Housed in the Jack Tarver Library on Mercer University’s Macon campus, Special Collections is located on the Library’s 3rd floor and preserves the University’s archives and records from all Baptist traditions. Special Collections staff assist with University faculty, students, and staff as well as patrons from national and international scholarly communities. Visit https://libraries.mercer.edu/research-tools-help/archives for more information.

Selected images from the collection:

July 1895 issue of the Mission Messenter (front cover)

Image courtesy of Mercer University Archives and Special Collections

Title: The Mission Messenger Volume 1, Number 7: July 1895 (Atlanta, Georgia).


January 1921 issue of the Mercer Messenger (cover page)

Image courtesy of Mercer University Archives and Special Collections

Title: The Mission Messenger: January 1921 (Atlanta, Georgia).