Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Julia Anna Flisch, 1861-1941
By Robin O. Harris, PhD., Professor Emeritus, Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, GA
Secretary, National Equal Suffrage Party; Local, State-wide, Regional and National Spokesperson for Suffrage
Julia Anna Flisch was born in 1861 in Georgia of German immigrant parents. She began her career advocating educational, occupational, social and political rights for women in 1882 with a letter to the Editor of the Augusta Chronicle pleading for society to "Give the Girls a Chance." From that point on, Flisch utilized every platform available to urge expansion in the roles and rights afforded women. Her articles appeared in newspapers across the state of Georgia, and her speeches received recognition at meetings throughout the country as she urged women be allowed the opportunity to "work out their own independence" in order to be "of some active use in the world." She drew attention to the plight of southern women so often caught between the ideology of southern womanhood and the reality of life in a region only beginning to rise from the economic, social, and political morass wrought by the Civil War. Contending that neglecting the role women could play in the economic redevelopment of the South was a great mistake, she added her voice to those seeking the economic revival and diversity known as the New South movement.
As a key figure in the conceptualization and development of the school then known as Georgia Normal and Industrial College (GNIC), the first publicly funded college for women in Georgia, Flisch represented the women of the state at the laying of the school's cornerstone in 1899. The only woman allowed to speak at the elaborate festivities featuring prominent politicians and educators from across the country, Flisch thanked the Legislature for funding the school as well as challenged society to recognize all the contributions women had to offer. Flisch served as Professor of Business and History during her tenure at GNIC (now known as Georgia College & State University), from 1890 until she resigned in 1905. At the time, she held the equivalent of a two-year college degree from the Lucy Cobb Institute in Athens, Georgia. However, in 1899, the University of Georgia awarded her an honorary M.A. to acknowledge her work on behalf of education for women. This came twenty years after the University rejected her application for admission to the all-male school, and twenty years before the University formally admitted female students. She left GNIC in 1905 to obtain her B.A. in History at the University of Wisconsin in 1906, and her M.A. in 1908.
In 1909, Flisch returned to her hometown of Augusta to teach at Tubman High School for Girls. As an active member of organizations such as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the General Federation of Women's Clubs, Flisch continued her advocacy for women. Frequently called upon by newspapers to speak out on public issues, her name became linked with social progress on numerous levels.
Although her commitment to suffrage often left Flisch at odds with many of the prominent women's groups hesitant to take this stance, she chose to affiliate with the Equal Suffrage Party, more radical than the Women's Suffrage Party, and held the office of national Secretary. The earliest surviving evidence of her suffrage activism dates from 1914, but she probably had been active earlier.
Long before women secured the vote, Flisch urged women to make themselves aware of political and social issues and to use their influence to sway the votes of men whenever possible. To prepare women for suffrage, Flisch served as an Instructor for the weekly Suffrage Training School held in Augusta beginning in 1917. After gaining suffrage she led frequent Citizenship classes for women and spoke to women's organizations about political issues of the day.
In 1922, Flisch received a letter from the National Council of the National Woman's Party, noting her as "a livewire, a progressive woman...interested in the advancement of women." The organization sought Flisch's assistance in fighting to end discrimination within Georgia's legal codes.
In 1926, Flisch became the Dean of Women and Professor of History at the Augusta Junior College, the first public co-ed junior college in Georgia. Initially, male students and some male faculty appeared reluctant to accept this intelligent, articulate woman in their midst, but she soon won them over. Flisch was never shrill or strident, just straight-forward and focused on the ability of women to make their own choices in life rather than be constricted simply because of gender. Flisch spearheaded a movement in 1927 that advocated equal pay for teachers in Augusta as well as addressed issues of quality education. She remained a sought-after speaker and newspaper source for questions of social as well as political nature.
Flisch published numerous short stories throughout her life as well as two novels: Ashes of Hopes in 1899 and Old Hurricane in 1926. Many of her unpublished works featured strong female or minority characters which she refused to change even after publishers suggested this as necessary for publication.
Flisch retired from teaching in 1936 due to severe vision problems. Upon her death in 1941, newspapers lauded her as "having done more than any other person to advance the cause of women's education in Georgia." Yet for many years her story remained obscured by writers of history focused on the elite. The daughter of immigrants and unmarried throughout her life, Flisch lacked a prominent father, husband or brother to assure her social standing and give her prominence in recorded history. She was one of the initial group of women who gained a role in society due to her profession rather that her family origin and influence. Her contributions to the lives of many women became shrouded in time, only visible as we began to see the significance of the lives of so many previously invisible women on whose shoulders we stand. She fought diligently in ways both big and small to assure women gained an informed voice in politics, arguing that women must not simply parrot the voice of the males around them, but engage intellectually in the process to assure that the government represented the voice of ALL the people.
The Julia Flisch Collection, located in Special Collections, in the Ina Dilard Russell Library at Georgia College & State University (GC&SU) in Milledgeville, Georgia, provides the nucleus of research on Julia Anna Flisch. The exact provenance of the original collection is unknown, but papers are thought to have been donated to the library by Alice Napier, a former employee of GC&SU, a long-time friend of Julia Flisch, and designated heir of Flisch's papers under her recorded Will and Last Testament.
In 1988, I began a complete inventory and evaluation of the collection, which at that time consisted of three boxes of papers with the minimum of identification and organization. The original collection contained numerous unpublished manuscripts, extensive correspondence to Flisch from publishers, a small number of non-fiction manuscripts, and some general correspondence to Flisch, such as notes and cards. The Collection also included a short unfinished family history. In addition, since Flisch often used the backs of old correspondence and other printed matter as paper for her handwritten manuscripts, such pages yield dual value within the collection often providing significant information.
The main thrust of the extensive additions to the collection are the product of my research over the subsequent years, including a diligent perusal of the Milledgeville Union Recorder, the Augusta Chronicle, and other state newspapers mainly from 1879-1941; interviews with Flisch's former students and colleagues; information gleaned from the University of Wisconsin archives; the state archives of Wisconsin; and other relevant materials connected to information gleaned.
Attempts to locate correspondence from Flisch, or a diary or journal, have alas remained fruitless. I have been able to contact and work with various distant relatives, including Dr. Christian Flisch, whose own personal collection of Flisch family history in Europe, dating back to the thirteenth century, has been insightful. I have also utilized collections of papers pertaining to specific individuals connected to Flisch, such as U.B. Phillips, Frederick Jackson Turner, Richard Ely, and Margaret Rutherford. I continue to pursue such avenues as necessary to setting Flisch in the context of her times and attempting to identity some of the missing pieces necessary to reconstruct the puzzle of her life.
Federal manuscript census, 1910 and 1920, Augusta, GA entries for Julia Flisch. Accessed online via Ancestry Library Edition.
"Give the Girls a Chance," Letter to the Editor, Augusta Chronicle, 27 May 1882.
Letter from Sara P. Grogan to JAF, 15, July 1915, typed original, Flisch Collection, Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, GA.
"Miss Julia Flisch Veteran Teacher Dies," Augusta Chronicle, 18 March 1941.