30 Women You Should Know

Over the next 30 days, The Birmingham Buff will feature 30 remarkable women who have made their mark on Birmingham’s history.

A Woman You Should Know #6

helen-sellers-davisHelen Sellers Davis was the first licensed female architect in Alabama. Davis trained at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University). She married one of her instructors, Charles Davis, and after her 1935 graduation, the couple moved to Birmingham. Helen received her state registration in 1936.

She first practiced at Miller, Martin, and Lewis, Architects with her husband; they both moved on to Van Kueren, Davis & Company  (now known as Davis Architects). Helen left the practice in the ’60s to start her own firm.

Helen was given the Distinguished Architect Award in 2004 by the Alabama Council of the American Institute of Architects.

She died April 10, 2008, 10 days prior to her 96th birthday.

30 Women You Should Know

Over the next 30 days, The Birmingham Buff will feature 30 remarkable women who have made their mark on Birmingham’s history.

A Woman You Should Know #5

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Carrie Tuggle

Carrie Tuggle, a married mother of four and welfare officer, stood in the courtroom as two destitute black boys went before a judge. The boys were about to be sentenced for some petty crime, but Tuggle stepped in and offered to take the boys home to live with her. The judge agreed with her plea. Not long after, the idea to start a home and school for youthful offenders and orphans was birthed.

Carrie A. Greggs was born into slavery in Eufaula, Ala., in 1858. She married John Tuggle there and had four children. She and her family moved to Birmingham in 1900 for greater opportunities. The Tuggle Institute, after much struggle to raise funds, was opened September 3, 1903.

Nestled in the black middle-class neighborhood of Enon Ridge, the school grew quickly and soon began to take in neighborhood students as well. Some of the school’s students included successful businessman A.G. Gaston,  influential jazz musician John “Fess” Whatley and Big Band composer and musician Erskine Hawkins.

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Tuggle Institute (as shown in 1906)

The school adopted the Tuskegee Institute’s philosophy of industrial education, emphasizing the importance of a skilled trade over classical learning.

Tuggle remained the school’s headmistress until her death on this day in 1924. It became affiliated with the Birmingham school system in 1926, and the school’s name was changed to Enon Ridge School in 1934 when the Birmingham Board of Education purchased it. Two years later the school was renamed Tuggle Elementary School.

30 Women You Should Know

Over the next 30 days, The Birmingham Buff will feature 30 remarkable women who have made their mark on Birmingham’s history.

A Woman You Should Know #4

When Nina Miglionico graduated from the University of Alabama’s law school in 1936, with a stellar record, she received only one job offer from a law firm – as a secretary.

But Miglionico did not let that deter her dreams; she opened up her own law firm.

Born in 1913 in Birmingham to Italian immigrant parents, Miglionico refused to be limited by the expectation of others.

For decades she worked on behalf of women’s rights. Miglionico worked tirelessly to overturn the law that barred women from serving on juries. In 1966, 30 years after she earned her law degree, women were allowed to serve.

nina-miglionicoThree years earlier, Miglionico was elected to the newly-formed city council, becoming the first woman to sit on the council. In addition to fighting for women’s rights, Miglionico was also a vocal critic of the treatment of blacks in the city.  Because of this she became a target of white supremacists who placed a bomb under her porch in 1965. (Her 80-year old father was able to defuse it.) Crosses were burned in her yard as late as 1974.

Miglionico retired from politics in 1985, but before doing so she served as president of the city council.  Miglionico practiced law for 73 years, making her the longest-practicing female lawyer in Alabama. She died in 2009.

Want to learn more about Miss Nina (as her friends called her)? Click here.

 

30 Women You Should Know

Over the next 30 days, The Birmingham Buff will feature 30 remarkable women who have made their mark on Birmingham’s history.

A Woman You Should Know #3

Have you ever visited Birmingham’s Southern Museum of Flight? You can thank Mary Alice Beatty for that opportunity. Along with her husband, Donald Beatty, Mary Alice felt strongly that a museum celebrating our city’s aviation history should be established. In 1966, the couple used their own memorabilia to set up a few displays. (Samford University donated space for the exhibit.) The museum moved into their current location in 1978.

Mary Alice shared with her husband a love affair of flying. But had Donald been a more passive man, their story may not have ever existed. As the story goes, the two met at a party at Tutwiler Hotel. Later Donald found out she had traveled to Maryland and had become engaged.  He flew his plane until he found her train. After landing in a field, he boarded the train and located Mary Alice. “Take off that ring,” said Donald. “You’re mine, and don’t you ever forget it.”  They were married in 1925 and would eventually have three children.

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Mary Alice Beatty with daughter Mary Alice

Donald taught Mary Alice how to fly, and in 1931, they embarked on an expedition to discover new routes in South America, an endeavor funded by J.P. Morgan. It has been reported they were the first couple to fly over the Andes.

Mary Alice and Donald eventually moved back to the city, settling in Mountain Brook.  Mary Alice wrote an autobiography, “To Love the Sky,” in 1986. She died in 1995.

The Southern Museum of Flight offers a the Mary Alice Beatty Scholarship to a woman 19 to 30 who is pursuing an aviation career.

30 Women You Should Know

Over the next 30 days, The Birmingham Buff will feature 30 remarkable women who have made their mark on Birmingham’s history.

A Woman You Should Know #2

Bessie Sears Estell was the daughter of a baptist preacher who brought his family from Green County, Al. to Birmingham around 1918. Milton Sears had been called to pastor Bethel Baptist Church in Collegeville, a working-class community north of downtown Birmingham.

estellEstell once called her father a pioneer in promoting civil rights in the city, but she was a pioneer in her right, having been the first black woman elected to the city council in 1975.

Estell also worked in what she called “the greatest profession in the world” – teaching.  By the time she retired in the mid-70s, Estell was a principal, but she still cherished her work on the front lines. “Well, the greatest joy in my life is to have [students] come back to me, and say, ‘I remember when you tried to instill this [lesson]; [you don’t know] how much I appreciate it.’ That’s a reward you can’t measure in dollars.”

Listen to Estell describe her life in her own words. 

30 Women You Should Know

Over the next 30 days, The Birmingham Buff will feature 30 remarkable women who have made their mark on Birmingham’s history.

A Woman You Should Know #1

One of my favorite movies is “Auntie Mame” (which is based on the 1955 Patrick Dennis’ novel of the same name and Broadway production “Mame”).  The film follows Auntie Mame as she dashes from one adventure to the next. She’s free-spirited and eccentric.

When I first learned about Birmingham’s Eleanor Massey Bridges, I was struck by how much she reminded me of Auntie Mame. Like Mame, Bridges blazed her own path. Born in Columbus, Ga. in 1899 to Richard (founder of Massey Business College) and Bessie Massey, Bridges grew up in the famed Massey residence on Red Mountain.  (The Masseys had moved to Birmingham when Bridges was three months old.) Some interesting points in Bridges’ life:

  1. From an early age, Bridges declared she wanted to be an artist, over her father’s objections. She was able to train with the local artist Hannah Elliott.
  2. She roomed with Amelia Earhart at boarding school.
  3. She met her husband George Bridges in Birmingham at a debutante party. They were engaged within a week later.
  4. The couple were married in 1920 in her family’s home. Her disapproving parents remained upstairs. The Bridges honeymooned at a camp on the Warrior River.
  5. They studied at the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts. Eleanor studied painting while George studied sculpture.
  6. The couple lived in France, Greece, and Spain before returning to Birmingham.
  7. During the Great Depression, she and her husband took in as many as 18 abandoned children over a decade.
  8. She taught in Vassar College’s art department and gave free art classes to students from Parker High School and the Homewood school system.
  9. Eleanor’s “Cyclorama of Birmingham History,” a free-standing collage she began when she was 80, was installed (unfinished) at Bell South, although it was commissioned for the lobby of the Brown-Marx building.

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    Bridges’ Cyclorama of Birmingham History

Eleanor died in 1987. (George died in 1976.)  Read more about this fascinating woman here.

 

 

Farewell to a Civil Rights Chronicler

In May 1963 Bob Adelman was a guest at A. G. Gaston Motel in downtown Birmingham and a professional photographer whose goal was to capture what he described as the last battles of the Civil War. Regarding the atrocities of the struggle, Adelman once said:

“Segregation was an organized system of terror that was instated and reinforced by the Klan or leaders of the communities, and our fellow citizens were victimized. We needed photography to reveal this, to show people exactly what was going on…”

On May 3, 1963, in Kelly Ingram Park, Adelman did as the Civil War photojournalist Mathew Brady had done before him: set his lens on the ugliness of conflict. One harrowing shot shows a group of young protesters being pummeled by water. Photos such as this one helped to highlight the plight of blacks in Birmingham to a worldwide audience.

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Adelman, 85, was found dead in his Miami Beach home this past weekend.

“I shot with one eye on the lens, one eye on history, and my heart was with the movement,” he said.