Eva Galambos is arguably Sandy Springs’ most famous figure. She’s the activist who led the charge for the city’s 2005 incorporation and became its founding mayor. But she is among many women who helped shape the area since the 1840s, as revealed in a new exhibit at the Heritage Sandy Springs Museum.

“Grit, Gumption and Grace: The Women of Sandy Springs,” a new exhibit scheduled to open Sept. 28 and run until October 2020, shows “how central women have been to the story,” says curator Keith Moore.

“Grit, Gumption and Grace” curator Keith Moore stands beside a display about Dr. Leila Denmark, who long practiced in Sandy Springs. (John Ruch)

The one-room exhibit is packed with displays and artifacts ranging from a heavy old-time clothes iron to a Bell Aircraft jumpsuit worn by a World War II factory worker.

Women were often obscured from mainstream histories, Moore says, because they were legally barred from such influential practices as owning property or voting. That includes the women who were among the small number of enslaved people forced to work on area farms in the 1840s, and the women family members who “ran businesses during the Civil War when men ran off to join the Confederacy,” he said. Among those was Nellie Jett, who ran the family farm and mill in the area of today’s Mount Vernon Highway and Old Powers Ferry Road.

Then there were the religious revival camps of the 1850s at what is now the Heritage site, whose spring became the center of the future city. “Women were such a grounding force for that, because they did all the hospitality stuff, making it fun,” Moore says.

A century later, as Sandy Springs transformed into an Atlanta suburb, social organizations with mild-mannered names played a significant role. “Women groups in the 1950s were really leading the charge to build Sandy Springs out into what it is,” says Moore. One example: the Sandy Springs Woman’s Club, which raised $75,000 – a considerable sum at the time – to build the community’s first public library.

A detail of an exhibit panel about Eva Galambos, the city’s founding mayor.

Dr. Leila Denmark, a prominent pediatrician who practiced locally for decades and had a role in developing the whooping cough vaccine, gets a big spotlight in the exhibit. Her local ties were preserved only as oral history until 2017, when City Councilmember Tibby DeJulio recommended she be memorialized in the name of a new city street. Moore says he first learned of Dr. Denmark from a Reporter inquiry at that time.

Moore said the biggest surprise in his research for the exhibit was learning that Georgia did not ratify the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, until 1970 – a half-century after it became the law of the land due to other states’ approvals. (Even in 1920, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, the Georgia legislature found a way to delay women’s right to vote in the state for another two years.) The Sandy Springs Garden Club, Moore said, celebrated the belated ratification by arranging a voter registration event.

Tracing the changing attitudes and power balances about gender, the exhibit includes an oral history segment recorded by current state Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) and, of course, features Galambos.

Grit, Gumption and Grace: The Women of Sandy Springs

Through Oct. 1, 2020
Heritage Sandy Springs Museum
6075 Sandy Springs Circle

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.