“Oh, telephone line, give me some time:” Joanna Eppard and Telephone Operation in Athens

But, all things must start somewhere, and phone companies got their start in the 1800s as private phone lines began to be a luxury that some could afford (History Atlanta notes that private phone lines came to Atlanta, for example in 1877) and public phone lines became more common. Of course, the question remains — who was behind making these lines work the way that they should? The answer to that question for the South was the Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company.

Note: Normally the Heritage Room would be changing out our display cases for the summer months right about now. However, with the closure of the building, only a few patrons got to see the exhibit put up in March featuring important women from Athens. Instead we’ll be posting a brief blog post about each woman here. Check back to see more of our virtual exhibit series.

If you’re of a certain age, the idea of a telephone operator is a completely foreign concept. For those of us who grew up in the age of answering machines, automatic switchboards, and now cell phones, the concept of the phone company has come to perhaps mean our cell phone provider more than another phone operator. But, all things must start somewhere, and phone companies got their start in the 1800s as private phone lines began to be a luxury that some could afford (History Atlanta notes that private phone lines came to Atlanta, for example in 1877) and public phone lines became more common. Of course, the question remains — who was behind making these lines work the way that they should? The answer to that question for the South was the Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company.

In 1879, when public telephone lines were first coming to Atlanta, the Bell Company (formed in Connecticut in 1877) began the Bell Telephone Company’s Atlanta Telephonic Exchange as it was initially created to service citizens of Atlanta. However, soon enough, telephone services became something that was wanted outside of the big city, and the ATE renamed the Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph company in 1882. The SBT&T operated across the South, serving nine southern states, which later dropped to four when the western portion of the territory split off. The company, originally incorporated in NY, was incorporated in GA in 1983 as SBT&T Co. You, however, may know this company by its more contemporary name, BellSouth Telecommunications, which was then merged with AT&T in 2006.

What does all of this have to do with Athens, you maybe be asking. Plenty! Southern Bell began operations in Athens in August 1882 with just thirty-six subscribers. It was headquartered in various places across town, including the rear of Scudder’s jewelry store , a location at the corner of College and Clayton in 1889, the Talmadge Building in 1906, and finally to its own building at 183 W. Clayton St. in 1918. Joanna Eppard is an important part of remembering these locations as her collection (MSS 026) houses these photos of the back room of these locations, as well as some of her own photography of the business.

Every time that the Southern Bell headquarters moved, there was an increase in space, and an increase in employees. While this can probably be conjectured from these moves, we know this in a much more concrete way because of the work of Joanna Eppard (1892-1968). Eppard was an employee of the SBT&T from 1907 to 1937, with much of this time being spent as a supervisor. (In a 1922 issue of Southern Telephone News, Eppard is listed as “supr,” or supervisor and again listed as supervisor in the 1931 Athens City directory.) From 1907-1937 the SBT&T company grew exponentially; by the time Eppard retired in 1937 there were more than 3,000 telephones in the city of Athens!

Phone directory for Athens and Watkinsville, 1951. Part of Heritage Room collection.

After her retirement in 1937, Joanna Eppard continued to be an active member of the Telephone Pioneers of America, a charitable organization comprising active and retired telecommunication professionals. She attended national meetings, as documented in MSS 026, up to her death in 1968. So remember, as you dial your phone to place your next call, whether from a landline or a cell phone, that much of our early phone service was pioneered by women like Eppard. For more information on the Joanna Eppard collection, contact the Heritage Room at heritageroomref@athenslibrary.org.

Works Consulted:

Lee, Conor. “Southern Bell Telephone Company Building.” History Atlanta Blog, 21 Feb. 2014. Southern Bell Telephone Company Building

Joanna Eppard collection, MSS 026, Heritage Room, Athens-Clarke County Library.

Sponsored Post Tahini, molasses and olive oil granolaChef in disguise

My go-to granola recipe uses nut butter, maple syrup and coconut oil, I have been making it for a few years, changing up the nut butter and the added spices every time but a while back a friend of mine (the beautiful Summer from mimicooks) tried it, she added a Levantine twist to it by using tahini to replace the nut butter and molasses instead of the maple syrup.

Read More...

Using Newspapers to Track Dates and Locations: The Last Resort and the 40 Watt Club “Uptown” (Part Two)

At the start of 1983, the Athens music scene that had come under the national spotlight in the previous half-decade seemed fairly stable. The clipping below, found in the Athens Observer for February 24, 1983, gives a sample of what was on offer. The relative small size, and arguably confusing lay-out, of the 40 Watt’s advertisement may suggest where it stood in the nightclub scheme of things: two nascent acts associated with the new music scene, Is/Ought Gap and Oh-OK, visited that spot while Gregg Allman played the Mad Hatter. Allman’s fans would find plenty more music of a similar ilk that weekend: Friday night, the Randall Bramblett Band at Smoke’s, and Saturday night, the Normaltown Flyers at Friends, located in the Georgian building. The Last Resort offered fare perhaps more appealing to the 40 Watt’s regular attendees, especially local band the Squalls and, from Atlanta, Current Rage. Meanwhile, a decidedly different brand of entertainment was taking place at a certain Bourbon Street.

Fast forward to the Athens Observer published on April 7, 1983, and the situation is unchanged: Let’s Active, a group from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with ties to R.E.M. played the 40 Watt while Tall Dogs set up at Smoke’s. This clipping also provides a taste of what was going at the J & J, out on Commerce Road, and Ronnie B’s, closer to campus.

This next clipping from the Athens Observer, April 14, 1983, has been split in two for easier viewing. Notice that Smoke’s appears to be in business, but advertises no live music. Meanwhile, the “i and i” ran into trouble regarding a John Prine show. In the first part of our article on the B & L Warehouse/ Buckhead Beach, a clipping from the Athens Observer mentions this situation as it pertains to the “i and i” closing.

A big change was coming: in the Athens Observer, April 21, 1983, the 40 Watt advertisement announces the arrival of the “Uptown” version of the club, located at 382 East Broad Street. As we can confirm from the clippings above, this was indeed the same address as the now-defunct Smoke’s. This new 40 Watt debuted in fine form, hosting Pylon in what would turn out to be the final year of the first phase of that band’s history (they would return for two more, 1989-1991 and 2004-2009), even announcing an appearance by R.E.M. that, alas, would not happen. At this point in that band’s history, they would switch to playing Legion Field when returning to their hometown. As we have seen in the April 14 Observer clipping above, Pylon had originally scheduled an April 22 gig at the “i and i,” but it had been moved, presumably because of that club’s financial troubles. Or perhaps the new 40 Watt was just a better site for the band’s first gig promoting their second album, Chomp.

The fate of the Last Resort is harder to discern at this point. As suggested previously, the nightclub had started booking more rock bands. The commercial pressures that may have caused this decision certainly had their effect, as the venue temporarily closed in 1978, reopening in February, 1979, under new ownership. An update in the Red and Black, February 9, 1979, seen below, does not go into as much detail as we would like, but at least mentions that the club had undergone extensive renovation.

An indication of how those who had come to enjoy the original version of the Last Resort felt about these changes is provided not by an Athens publication but by the Atlanta Constitution, namely one of its music writers, Bill King. In a November 1, 1980, article in that newspaper, “A New Outlet for the Folk Circuit,” King notes, “the Last Resort’s latest ownership now concentrates on local rock bands.” King, a former resident of Athens, explains that the “folk club” circuit (apparently the term, listening room, was also in favor at that moment) that had been prevalent in the Southeast the previous two decades served as “an alternative acoustic music scene” that grew out of the Folk Revival of the late 1950s-early 1960s. (The “new outlet” noted in the article’s title, by the way, referred to the Speakeasy, a short-lived venue located, like Friends, in the Georgian.)

While acoustic singer-songwriter music would make a comeback roughly a decade after King was writing those words, by 1983 artists like Pylon, Let’s Active, or–an example seen in the 40 Watt ad above–Jason and the Scorchers formed part of a new “indie,” or “college,” rock music. Heralded years later as its own “alternative” to the mainstream, only in retrospect is it easy to see how artists signed to record labels that were “independent” of the mainstream, and who eschewed commercial considerations, were not only a vital part of local scenes like the one found in Athens but were part of a nationwide trend. Before this punk-inspired/ D.I.Y. shift in the listening and socializing habits of American youth, if nightclubs featured live rock music, it was likely to be in the form of artists performing the songs of the top sellers of the day. Most of the bands that you would have heard in the 1970s at the B & L Warehouse, for example, were “the ones who play big high school proms […] and a host of other Top 40 rock and roll cover bands,” as Bobby Byrd described the scene in a Red and Black article from September 19, 1979. In this sense, the Last Resort, in its movement away from folk, blues, and jazz toward rock, actually bridged the gap between two eras of American music as performed at small venues.

Meanwhile, neither the Athens Observer nor the Red and Black noted the closing of the Last Resort, except in passing after the fact. The venue’s advertisements disappeared from the Observer by May, 1983. However, the Last Resort was still to be found in the Athens Banner-Herald/ Athens Daily News Saturday Nightlife listings for June 25, 1983, as seen in the above clipping. Note that the morning and evening papers were still being published separately at this point but were combined on Saturdays. As with the Athens Observer clippings, these come from the Heritage Room’s microfilm collection. The listings are provided in their entirety to give the reader a fuller impression of what was going on in Athens at the time than what can be gleaned from these articles focusing on particular businesses. Unfortunately, this column seems to have only rarely listed performing artists and special events; while some of these spots merely served drinks and served as discos instead of live-music venues, undoubtedly there is a lot of information for the historian to fill in here. At least all of the businesses have their street location noted.

The listing found two weeks later, in the Athens Banner-Herald/ Athens Daily News for July 9, 1983, as seen above no longer includes the Last Resort. Though it may not have been a headline story, undoubtedly the Last Resort’s closure is a landmark in Athens entertainment history, alongside, say, the opening of the Washington Street version of the 40 Watt in 1991 or the fires that devastated Tyrone’s and the Georgia Theatre.

On a lighter note, a clipping from the Athens Banner-Herald/ Athens Daily News, July 15, 1983, shows another 40 Watt ad and lets us know what movies were being screened at the Palace Theatre (part of the Plitt Theatres chain), the Georgia Theatre, and the city’s last drive-in. And we see what new game was being promoted at Showbiz Pizza. Good to know, I suppose, that Porky’s II was attracting crowds in Athens.

We end this installment with a Red and Black article (October 25, 1983) describing the Athens scene toward the end of 1983. Especially noteworthy is the rise of a new hot spot, the Uptown Lounge, located in a building on Washington Street that in recent years housed Copper Creek Brewing. Two more essays in this series, about the Uptown and its successors, especially the Atomic Music Hall; and about the Georgia Theatre as it progressed from music venue to movie theater back to music venue, will expand upon the story of Athens music from the early 1970s to the early 1990s.

Stitching Stories: Harriet Powers and Georgia Quilters

The replica quilt is a reproduction of one of two of Harriet Powers’ well known quilts — the Bible Quilt. You may recognize Harriet Powers’ quilt if you’ve been to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History over the past forty years. Powers’ quilt has been on nearly continuous display from the early 90s to the early 10s, as traced by Kyra E. Hicks in her text This I Accomplish (2009); it is now housed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Note: Normally the Heritage Room would be changing out our display cases for the summer months right about now. However, with the closure of the building, only a few patrons got to see the exhibit put up in March featuring important women from Athens. Instead we’ll be posting a brief blog post about each woman here. Check back to see more of our virtual exhibit series.

If you’re not looking closely, you may miss the art peppered throughout the Baxter St. library building hidden between shelves and in hallways. All of these pieces are part of the Heritage Room’s Art Collection. The pieces hung up in the building represent a fraction of what we hold, and in today’s blog post I’d like to cover one of the fascinating pieces that has not made it out to display: a replica of Harriet Powers appliqued Bible quilt made in 1984. The original quilt was made by Harriet Powers, an enslaved person born in Madison County in 1837. In her own words, Powers describes herself as “Born in Madison Co. 8 miles from Athens on the Elberton road in the year Oct. 29, 1837” (Powers as cited in Hicks 2009). While enslaved, Powers learned to sew and quickly became a talented quilter. Its replica was made in 1984 and presented to the Athens-Clarke County Library in March 2002 in honor of the First Annual Stitching Stars Storytelling Festival.

A wooden plaque with a black inset with this text:

This quilt is a 1984 replica of a Harriet Powers appliqued Bible quilt hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Harriet Powers was born a slave in Madison County, Georgia, and created the original quilt in 1898 while living in Clarke County. Paragraph Break. Quilters were: Linda M Anderson, Betty Belanger, Ruth Bryson, Catherine Craig, Drs. Vicki and Gerry Fedde, Jean Frett, Dorothy Keach, Sherri Means, Maureen O'Brien, Dori Porter, Elizabeth Powell, Diane Penny Wilson, Joann Yates. The quilt was presented to the Athens-Clarke County Library by Mrs. Pauline Hartford in March, 2002, in honor of the First Annual Stitching Stars Storytelling Festival.
A plaque commemorating the quilts presentation to ACCL in March 2002

Quilting has a long and rich history in Georgian History. In the edited text Georgia Quilts editor Anita Zaleski Weinraub opens the volume by stating that if you were to “ask any Georgian if someone in his or her family made quilts…the answer would be yes almost every time” (Weinraub 1). Quilts tell the story of family history and of small communities throughout Georgia. Weinraub’s editing gives privilege in Georgia Quilts to white communities’ quilts, but dedicates two relevant chapters to “African American Quiltmaking in Georgia,” written by Weinraub, and “The Quilts of Harriet Powers,” written by Catherine L. Holmes. Weinraub reminds readers that enslaved persons were familiar with the sewing and weaving techniques of their homes. Furthermore, some white quilt owners have begun to state that their family quilts were made “with the help of [enslaved persons]” (Weinraub 155, edits my own). Beyond quilts owned by white families, formerly enslaved persons interviewed by the Federal Writers’ Project from 1936-1939 about their living conditions and daily life while enslaved mentioned quilts in passing in more than 50% of the interviews (Weinraub 155).

The replica quilt is a reproduction of one of two of Harriet Powers’ well known quilts — the Bible Quilt. You may recognize Harriet Powers’ quilt if you’ve been to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History over the past forty years. Powers’ quilt has been on nearly continuous display from the early 90s to the early 10s, as traced by Kyra E. Hicks in her text This I Accomplish (2009); the quilt is now housed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The Smithsonian further includes a photo image of the quilt on their website.

The Bible Quilt image, 12 panels that describe stories from the Bible.
Photo from Smithsonian, National Museum of American History, 1885 – 1886 Harriet Powers’s Bible Quilt. Linked above.

The quilt features West African appliques — recently historians have noted similarities in design with textiles of Dahomey, West Africa — combined with European stitching (“Georgia Women of Achievement”). The Smithsonian also breaks down the construction of the quilt, noting that “The Bible quilt is both hand- and machine-stitched. There is outline quilting around the motifs and random intersecting straight lines in open spaces. A one-inch border of straight-grain printed cotton is folded over the edges and machine-stitched through all layers” (“National Museum of American History”). Powers’ work was not just beautifully constructed, but told entire stories of works from the Bible. Hicks and the Smithsonian briefly note the subjects of each square to be: “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a continuance of Paradise with Eve and a son, Satan amidst the seven stars, Cain killing his brother Abel, Cain goes into the land of Nod to get a wife, Jacob’s dream, the baptism of Christ, the crucifixion, Judas Iscariot and the thirty pieces of silver, the Last Supper, and the Holy Family” (“National Museum of American History”).

Of particular significance to the Bible quilt is the way in which Powers was introduced to the stories that she includes on the quilt. Even as recently as 2009 in her biography written for her induction into the Georgia Women of Achievement biographers have assumed that Powers was unable to read the Bible herself, as seen in this quote from her GWA biography: “Harriet couldn’t have read the Bible, but she heard the oral lessons and sang the songs, and she made the stories come alive on her quilt” (“Georgia Women of Achievement”). Hicks reveals in her 2009 biography of Powers, however, that Powers was literate and self described her schooling as “commenc[ing] to learn at age 11” (Powers as cited in Hicks 2009). Her quilt design demonstrates a power to not just retell Biblical stories, but to interpret them for a new audience. Furthermore, Ms. Powers’ descriptions in her own words are a powerful insight into her own process of quilting. Note, for example, the descriptions she wrote for her Pictorial Quilt:

The descriptive captions that follow appear exactly as written by Mrs. Powers. 

Patterns reduced 58 percent from original size.

1. Job praying for his enemies. Jobs crosses. Jobs coffin.
2. The dark day of May 19, 1780. The seven stars were seen 12. N. in the day. The cattle all went to bed, chickens to roost and the trumpet was blown. The sun went off to a small spot and then to darkness.
3. The serpent lifted up by Mosses and women bringing their children to look upon it to be healed.
4. Adam and Eve in the garden. Eve tempted by the serpent. Adam's rib by which Eve was made. The sun and moon. God's all seeing eye and God's merciful hand.
5. John baptizing Christ and the spirit of God descending and rested upon his shoulder like a dove. 
6. Jonah casted over board of the ship and swallowed by a whale. Turtles.
7. God created two of every kind, male and female.
8. The falling of the stars on Nov. 13, 1833. The people were frighten and thought that the end of time had come. God's hand staid the stars. The varmints rushed out of their beds.
9. Two of every kind of animals continued. camels, elephants, [giraffes] lions etc.
10. The angels of wrath and the seven vials. The blood of fornications. Seven headed beast and 10 horns which arose out of the water.
11. Cold thursday, 10. of Feb. 1895. A woman frozen while at prayer. A woman frozen at a gateway. A man with a sack of meal frozen. Isicles formed from the breath of a mule. All blue birds killed. A man frozen at his jug of liquor.
12. The red light night of 1846. A man tolling the bell to notify the people of the wonder. Women, children, and fowls frightened but Gods merciful hand caused no harm to them.
13. Rich people who were taught nothing of God. Bob Johnson and Kate Bell of Virginia. They told their parents to stop the clock at one and to morrow it would strike one and so it did. This was the signal that the had entered everlasting punishment. The independent hog which ran 500 miles from Georgia to Virginia her name was Betts.
14. The creation of animals continues.
15. The crucifixion of Christ between the two thieves. The sun went into darkness. Mary and Martha weeping at his feet. The blood and water run from his right side.
A description of Ms. Power’s Pictorial Quilt in her own words, created after the Bible Quilt (~1895) from Boston Museum of Fine Arts pattern book

Powers’ Bible quilt was first exhibited in Clarke County in 1886. The standard provenance of the quilt lists the location of this feature as the Clarke County Cotton Fair; however, Hicks notes that no such fair was reported on in the Athens Banner Watchmen for 1886. Hicks offers an alternative: that Powers displayed her quilt at the Northeast Georgia Fair in the same year. According to Hick’s research, the fair displayed many quilts as over twenty-five quilters were individually named in the paper. Powers’ name was not among them; however, Hicks posits that no African American quilter was mentioned by name in the paper and further reminds us that no African American newspaper existed in 1886 in N.E. Georgia. Hicks also discusses the possibility that Ms. Powers’ quilt was displayed at the “Annual Athens Colored Fairs” which began in 1886. She notes “one local newspaper devoted twenty-two column inches to details…including the noteworthy quilts and other needlearts created by Black women from Athens and surrounding communities” (Hicks 25). The existence of the fair does clearly prove that Black women in Athens were exhibiting their art in the late nineteenth century, despite there being no gallery or museum system open to Black women artists at the time (Hicks 26).

How, then, did the quilt come to be given to the Smithsonian? Kyra Hicks goes through the six people who came into contact with the quilt between Ms. Powers and the Smithsonian. Perhaps the most famous and discussed is Jennie Smith, a white woman in her mid-twenties, watercolor artist, and graduate of Lucy Cobb Institute. Ms. Smith saw the quilt at one of these fairs, probably the Northeast Georgia Fair, and offered to purchase the quilt from Ms. Powers, who declined. Four years later, Ms. Powers was forced by financial hardship to consider selling the quilt. She returned to Ms. Smith and offered it for $10; Ms. Smith was able to give her $5, which Ms. Powers accepted. Thankfully, Ms. Powers explained each of the eleven panels of the design, which Ms. Smith recorded, providing future generations with a narrative of the piece. For more information on how the quilt moved from Ms. Smith to the Smithsonian, consult Kyra Hicks’ informative text.

Ms. Powers is buried in Athens’ Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery; revitalization of the cemetery led to the discovery of her date of death of 1910 on her tombstone as well. She was a talented quilter, wife to Armstead Powers, mother to nine children, and a vital part of Athenian history, and her work remains a fascinating part of the tapestry of Athens art culture. For more information on Harriet Powers, check out the resources below or write a request to the Heritage Room at heritageroomref@athenslibrary.org.

Related Resources:

Interested in finding out more about Harriet Powers? You can read about her in these books from the Athens-Clarke County Library. Some are available in the circulating collection and can be placed on hold and picked up through our curbside delivery program. Others are available in the Heritage Room collection. Our staff is happy to make scans of select pages of books that may be of interest.

Hicks, Kyra E. This I accomplish: Harriet Powers’ bible quilt and other pieces : quilt histories, exhibition lists, annotated bibliography and timeline of a great African american quilter. Black Threads Press, 2009. NONFIC 746.46 HICKS

Lyons, Mary. Stitching stars : the story quilts of Harriet Powers. Aladdin Paperbacks, 1993. JB POWERS

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A pattern book : based on an appliqué quilt by Mrs. Harriet Powers, American, 19th century. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1975. GR 746.46 MUSEUM* (cannot be loaned)

Weinraub, Anita Zaleski, editor. Georgia Quilts: Piecing Together a History. University of Georgia Press, 2006. NONFIC 746.4609 GEORGIA