Cora Anderson Hill, WC '16, pictured in the 1916 Bubbles.

Cora Anderson Hill: Stepping Up for Women in Word and Deed

Forever GoldAt every Women’s College spring commencement since the 1980s, the almost liturgical reading by Brenau’s top academic officer goes something like this: The university presents to the graduating senior with the highest academic average the Cora Anderson Hill Award, named for a Brenau alumna from Gainesville with a distinguished career in journalism and public service.

Cora Anderson Hill, WC '16, pictured in the 1916 Bubbles.
Cora Anderson Hill, WC ’16, pictured in the 1916 Bubbles, provided in her will for an annual award to celebrate leadership in academic achievement at Brenau.

Cora Anderson Hill, WC ’16, graduated from Brenau College after a bit of a hard-knock early life in rural Georgia. She was born in 1896 in Oconee County, about 20 miles south of Athens. Her farmer father, whose fragile health hindered making ends meet, ultimately resided in an institution for the mentally ill after he literally “came home a corpse,” as Hill once wrote. In 1910 her widowed mother moved the family to Gainesville where there were better education opportunities for her three children. In those pre-suffrage days in which women were restricted by more than corsets, long skirts and oversized millinery, Hill eschewed the convention inflicted on many Southern women to turn their college experiences into proverbial “MRS” degrees. As soon as she graduated from Brenau, she headed to the big city, took a job with Western Union Telegraph Co. in Atlanta, and for more than a decade lived what amounted in the 1920s to to the lifestyle of a “swinging single.”

However, at 31, she caught the eye of a widowed, well-to-do Middle Georgia banker. He wooed her, won her as his wife and convinced her to move in 1927 to the home he shared with his two young children on Indian Springs Drive in Forsyth. She stayed there the rest of her life. From 1965-68, she served as an alumnae representative on the Brenau Board of Trustees. In 1978 she received the Distinguished Service to Brenau Award. She died in 1982, and in her will she provided for the annual award to celebrate leadership in academic achievement.

As a former journalist, however, Hill probably would be taken a bit aback by the terse – somewhat misleading – summary of her life that is recited at commencement. We have mentioned that she lived in Gainesville only for a short time, for example. As for the journalism bit, she did not enter that phase of her life until she was in her 70s. Don Daniel started the Monroe County Reporter in 1972 and Hill convinced him the next year to let her write a column about the plight of ordinary women, which she did until a month before she died. Even the part about public service she would dispute. Hill once wrote that her tombstone should read, “She meddled all she could.”

Hill’s “projects,” as she refers to her myriad activities, ranged from building a new Methodist church to shutting down a screening at the local theater of a movie about John Dillinger because it was too sympathetic to the gangster. She also helped convince that same theater to open its balcony to African-Americans in an early desegregation initiative.

Ralph Bass, president of the Monroe County Historical Society, met Hill a day or two after his family moved to Indian Springs Drive in 1973. “She knocked on our door,” he recalls, “and said, ‘I’m Cora Hill and I brought you a piece of cake.’” Last year, Bass combed through the papers that the historical society acquired related to “one of my favorite people in the world” and wrote a sort of narrated play. Several society members read different parts in a program last fall. The work, which Window has published in full online, is a great slice-of-life history of one person’s life in Georgia in the first 80 years of the 20th century.

If you had to summarize what all those bundled words from Cora Anderson Hill tell us, you could safely say that her life was about leadership and about always stepping up for women in word and deed.

The bowl at a Women’s College commencement is just a reminder of that inherent responsibility.

Each student who is awarded the Cora Anderson Hill Award receives a silver bowl.
The award is presented to the Women’s College graduate with the highest grade-point average through four years at Brenau and includes a commemorative bowl.

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