Historic Savannah Foundation honors female founders as Women’s History Month wraps

In conjunction with Women’s History Month, the Historic Savannah Foundation (HSF) has been honoring and recognizing its seven female founders, culminating with a special event on Thurs., March 31.

According to HSF President and CEO, Sue Adler, to end National Women’s History Month on a high note, HSF is celebrating the founders: Lucy Barrow McIntire, Elinor Adler Dillard, Nola McEvoy Roos, Jane Adair Wright, Katherine Judkins Clark, Dorothy Ripley Roebling, and their leader, Anna Colquitt Hunter.

“On the 31st, we will be celebrating a gift to HSF that has been donated by Anna Hunter’s family,” Adler explained.

“Throughout the month, HSF has been running a campaign through social media to introduce the public to these amazing women,” Adler said. “We just opened the Davenport House gift shop in the now, newly restored Kennedy Pharmacy, originally built in the 1890. HSF has owned the building for 20 years and it’s a great new storefront on Broughton St.”

“The Davenport House staff is on the second floor now,” Adler said. “Also, we built a brand-new community programming event space, as well. It’s a one-story, beautiful building. Now, the ground floor of the Davenport House is vacant because the store moved out and we’ll likely spend the next eight months in construction for the next exhibit.”

Adler said it’s because of all of these things, “HSF decided during National Women’s History Month, we would highlight our founders. They bought the Davenport House because it was slated for demolition and scheduled to become a parking lot. The ringleader was Anna Hunter, a local artist, activist, and journalist. She gathered six of her friends and they got about $22,000 together and bought the Davenport House. It wasn’t demolished and the rest is history,” Adler said proudly. “The preservation movement was launched in Savannah in 1955.”

In addition to featuring the founding women on their social media account, HSF will open its conference room on March 31, honoring Anna Hunter.

“She is a fascinating woman,” Adler explained. “Later in life, she began painting. Her grandchildren reached out to us and ended up donating three of her paintings.”

Adler shared how the older grandchildren took pictures of the paintings and framed them for their own memories before sending the paintings to HSF. 

“We received them all professionally packed and we now have them beautifully framed. Two of the paintings will go in the new building—the Murray C. Perlman and Wayne C. Spear Preservation Center, which is scheduled to be complete in a few weeks—and one will stay at HSF since we feel like Anna is our founder.”

The three gifted paintings will be unveiled and put on temporary display for viewing at HSF’s headquarters, 321 E. York St., from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thurs., March 31.

“The event is free and open to the public. Everyone is encouraged to drop by, have a glass of wine, and celebrate the last day of Women’s History Month by enjoying artwork by the woman who is widely credited for starting the movement that saved Savannah,” she said. “We hope folks will drop in to share a moment and celebrate women in preservation, women in history, and Savannah’s women, as well.”

“We are incredibly grateful to Anna Hunter’s family for donating these beautiful paintings to us. Anna was a gifted artist – among her many talents – and we’re proud to display her work in the buildings that certainly wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her,” Adler said.

Adler and the rest of the staff at the HSF said they are excited to have participated in women’s history month on a more prominent basis. 

“Last year was the first time HSF got involved in Women’s History Month and honored 13 women who are working in the preservation space in Savannah,” Adler said. “We enjoy working with and supporting women in this field. SCAD has a preservation department and Savannah Tech has a preservation degree. So, we are incredibly blessed and lucky to have two major educational institutions offering a degree in this field right here in our city. If you’re doing any kind of architecture and urban design in Savannah, you have to give a nod to preservation simply by symbiosis;  that’s how people are getting involved. It’s here for the grabbing,” she concluded.

HSF saves buildings through their revolving fund which “has been replicated all over the country and we’re one of the most respected throughout the nation,” Adler said. “If we see a distressed building, we’ll buy it, secure it, get it ready for sale, and then sell it to a preservation-minded buyer. We put a facade easement on it to protect it for the life of the building,” she explained.

Adler said HSF has saved over 420 buildings in Savannah. “Every summer, we get interns (from various schools) and they go around and review all of the properties. They go in teams with clipboards to take pictures of the facade so HSF can evaluate. This helps get younger students involved and learning how to evaluate these properties. This helps grow the base of people who care about preservation in this city.”

“Most people understand the importance of preservation to this city,” Adler stressed. “When people talk about historic preservation, they look to Savannah because we’ve done such a great job. It’s not perfect, but it’s important in many ways because it’s kept our city beautiful for those of us who live here. Preservation is special for our residents. People move to Savannah because of its beauty.”

Continuing, she said, “On the other side, there are tourists who come to our city—make no mistake…they come here because of our history, preservation, and stories. We are unique in that way, so it’s really important to preserve the history, the buildings, the people, and, especially their stories. It’s all about saving our history and appreciating it. We’ve done it pretty well here.”

Looking to the future, Adler feels their female founders would be proud of their plans for the community.

“Back in the 1970s, we set up planning commissions, ordinances, and rules about working on historic buildings, but now… we should all look at moving out of the historic and landmark areas,” Adler said. 

“We’re moving more into low-income neighborhoods to see if we can help preserve them. In our own way, we’re saving a building in the Cuyler-Brownville Historic District that we’re restoring for the first time in our history. It will also be sold to low-income families and protected with low-income housing covenants attached. This is the first time we’re venturing into seeing if we can help neighborhoods preserve their buildings. Such an important topic not just for our city, but for so many cities around the country,” she stressed.

As for what HSF is looking forward to, Adler said, “As I said, we want to work more in the communities and neighborhoods… maybe we can help. It’s not so much a building we’re restoring, but adding to our movement, importance, and relevance in the community,” she said.

And what can women of today, particularly Savannahians do to help in this area. Adler said we can all assist.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in preservation, history, art, teaching… I think we need to look back as women working in whatever sector and look at those who led the way and started the path for us. We should constantly learn from them and their challenges so we can be stronger and better. Hopefully, we [at HSF] can then encourage those women who are behind us. Women have to help women. Women have to set good examples for other women—and everyone else—so we can all move forward and keep the conversation going.”

To learn more about HSF, upcoming events, or to become a member, please visit myhsf.org or follow HSF on their social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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