Biographical Sketch of Passie McCabe (Mrs. John King) Ottley

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Passie McCabe (Mrs. John King) Ottley, 1869-1940

By Jeffrey A. Bean, student, Coastal Carolina University, Conway, South Carolina.

Chairman, Georgia Library Commission; President, Board of Trustees, Tallulah Falls School; President and Life Director, Georgia Fed. of Women's Clubs
Vice President and Officer of the Georgia Library Association (1897-1906)
Chairman of the Program Committee for the Georgia State federation

Mrs. J.K. Ottley was born Passie Fenton McCabe and the daughter of Dr. Fenton Mercer McCabe and Passie (Butler) McCabe. She was Born March 16, 1869 in Columbus, Mississippi. Passie was married on March 21, 1889 to a successful Atlanta banker named John King Ottley. Passie and John had two children May and John King Jr. Passie lived an exciting and meaningful seventy-one years until her death in 1940.

Mrs. Ottley was a firm believer in the importance of education. She started her academic career at Mary Baldwin College in Atlanta, Georgia, where she was posthumously awarded in 1941 one of the institution's highest awards. The school alumni newsletter states, “Mary Baldwin University presents the Algernon Sydney Sullivan award to the undergraduate senior woman who exhibited Sullivan's ideals of heart, mind, and conduct as evidenced by a spirit of love for and helpfulness to others, who demonstrates fine spiritual qualities, nobility of character – and unselfish service to the broad community.” It is one of the highest honors that Mary Baldwin University bestows. The legacy that Mrs. Ottley left behind was immense as the Mary Baldwin College alumni letter continues to state “Her death deprived Georgia, and indeed the whole Southland, of one of its outstanding citizens. She had devoted her life to raising the standards of living for the poor in the South and for their educational betterment. She was a leader in all civic and special enterprises in the state, and was beloved of rich and poor.” She had focused on improving quality of life for youth at the Tallulah Falls School, where she helped underprivileged rural children have access to quality education. The Atlanta papers heaped praise on her and “her death was mourned in mountain cabins as well as throughout the city.” She earned a doctorate in literature after her work at Mary Baldwin. One of Mrs. Ottley's first civic duties was to serve as an officer and later served as the vice president and chairman of the Georgia Library Association.

Along with serving on the Georgia Library Association, during the 1890s Ottley also served as the President of the Georgia Women's Club. Mrs. Ottley was also the first woman on the state Democratic Committee. She believed that women were just as important in the workplace as men. In an interview to the Pensacola Journal in 1919 she remarked that women needed the support of everyone in the business community to succeed.

Mrs. Ottley also fought tirelessly for the suffrage movement and while serving as a Democratic committee woman she wrote powerful letters that eventually led to the ratification of the suffrage amendment in Georgia. According to Ida Harper's, The History of Woman Suffrage, (vo. 6): “Mrs. McLendon represented the State Association at the convention of the National Association in St. Louis in March 1919. On May 21 she and her sister, Mrs. Felton, sat in the House of Representatives in Washington and had the pleasure of hearing W. D. Upshaw, member from the fifth congressional district of Georgia, vote for the submission of the Federal Suffrage Amendment, the only Representative from the State to do so. On June 4 the new U. S. Senator, William J. Harris of Georgia, voted for the submission of this amendment, giving one of the long needed two votes. The official board of the State Association through Mrs. McLendon mailed to each member of the Legislature a personal letter with copies of letters from Mrs. J. K. Ottley, the Democratic Executive Committee woman from Georgia, and the eminent clergyman, Dr. J. B. Gambrell, urging the members to ratify the Federal Suffrage Amendment.” In addition, Mrs. Ottley was one of the first women to fight for a co-educational university in Georgia. Ottley used chivalry as her weapon in this battle questioning why the men would give up a seat on the bus, but not in the classroom. Mrs. Ottley also questioned why southern men felt as if women didn't need the vote.


Atlanta Public Library, Hand-book of the Libraries of the State of Georgia.8-19. Accessed November,7 2017.

Jane Cunningham Croly. The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America,366. Accessed November,7 2017.

Georgia: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons Arranged in Cyclopedic Form, 50. Accessed November 29, 2017.

Georgia Genealogy History Group,

Pensacola Journal.

Project Gutenburg.


The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America.

Excerpt from The Southern Educational Journal

A Word to the Wise.

Passie Fenton Ottley.

Long ago, Auguste Corate said: "To know is to foresee, to foresee is to control." This is a universal truth, and therefore applicable to every department of life. Whether in business or the professions, the man who succeeds is the one who, perceiving conditions, foresees what will be the demand, and fits himself or his business to supply this demand. Thus he "knows to foresee, and foresees to control." Unless he does thus make use of them both, knowledge and fore sight are valueless. How does this truth apply to the profession of teaching in the South and in Georgia? There is no other profession which is passing through such rapid transitions. In ten years the whole pedagogy of the past will have passed from use. This change will not come suddenly, with a blowing of trumpets, or a flurry of announcement. No notice will be given of its approach in advance, so that we may prepare for its arrival. Growth comes not by one great change, but by many small changes: not by substitution, but by modification. The pedagogical system of Georgia will not be altered by revolution, but by evolution. One new method after another will be adopted, and gradually the whole will be modified. I do wrong to speak of this process as in the future. It is going on now, before our eyes. This change by modification is a thing of the present. Now, how are we meeting these changes? Are the teachers of Georgia "foreseeing" these modifications with a view to "con trolling" the situation? We have in the teaching profession in the South finer material than can be found iu this profession in any other section. The public-school teacher of the South comes, more often than in any other section, from families possessed of generations of culture and refinement. This must tell in his or her individual development, which is, by all odds, the most important factor in the value of a teacher. Now with this superior personal fitness and years of teaching experience they should lead in their chosen profession. But the question to-day is: Will they keep abreast of it? As educational systems change, will Southern teachers be found " on top”? Will they lead the procession, or will they be forced to stand aside and give place to others who will lead while they follow? Heaven forbid! And, yet, when we look over the field, we are compelled to admit that exactly that thing is happening before our very eyes.

Excerpt from The Southern Workman

Kindergartens for Colored Children

An organized movement for their establishment in the South

Passie Fenton Ottley

No one questions that the kindergarten is to furnish the educational key-note of the future or that the earliest training of the child constitutes the final salvation of the man and through the man, of the state. Not America alone, but the whole world realizes this truth and is beginning to act upon it. The stress which used to be laid upon the university with its "ologies" is now concentered upon plans and purposes for guiding the development of the very young. In matters educational the last has become first in value and interest. It is not surprising, then, that this same truth should have begun to be felt in relation to Negro education. What is true of the importance of the earliest mental and moral training for the white child is equally true in reference to the Negro child. Indeed, much more true, since the only way to help hurry the race towards that inner development which is the only true mark of civilization is to cause the children of the race to re-capitulate more rapidly on the lines already covered by people of an older development. What the Negro race needs is not the knowledge which its rare power of imitation enables it to acquire with ease. Its real lack is the development of character. Reliability, honor, industry, self-respect and a genuine desire for right living, these are the things the Negro needs and they must be fostered in infancy and earliest childhood. It is an interesting fact that this movement for infant education, which will be the characteristic effort of the new century in Negro education, should be about to take form through the efforts of the Negro women of the South. It is most appropriate that this effort for the little children should come through the mothers, and while the leaders among the men of the Negro race are striving to spread the gospel of industrial education, it is fitting that this task for the little ones should be taken up by the women. This movement for kindergartens for colored children is the first step in the first effort toward the general organization of the colored women of the South. As such, it deserves special attention.

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