Uplifting the South, Mary Mildred Sullivan’s Legacy for Appalachia
Uplifting the South chronicles the real life drama taking place in a period of American history unsurpassed for violence and change, and how one woman was literally a force that helped shape the times in which she lived.
The book not only relates Mary Sullivan’s remarkable legacy, the story also tells of a proud Southerner living in New York City during the American Civil War when her daily life included constant surveillance, the need to smuggle correspondence from the North to the South at great risk to her families personal safety, and Federal government agents trying to entrap and test her loyalty. Secretary of State William H. Seward even imprisoned Mary’s husband for “treasonable correspondence.”
Seven decades after publication of the book, Gone with the Wind, the willful and capricious Scarlett O’Hara is held up as an icon of nineteenth-century Southern womanhood. Although she is a fictional character, there were some real Southern women who truly possessed Scarlett O’Hara’s legendary strengths.
One such woman is Mary Mildred Hammond Sullivan (1836-1933), a nineteenth-century woman with an iron will, persuasive Southern charm, and motives that were selfless in contrast to Scarlett’s entirely selfish ones. In 1860, long before Gone With the Wind, the very real Sullivan was a strikingly beautiful, twenty-four-year-old woman, endowed with allure and social graces born of her prominent Virginia lineage and rich Southern culture. A benevolent agent for the needs of children and a supporter of education for underprivileged youth in Appalachia, Sullivan was a committed humanitarian throughout her life. The passion, endurance, and determination to overcome adversity so memorable in the characterization of Scarlett O’Hara are traits put to far better use during the real life of Mary Mildred Hammond Sullivan. Her exploits in Virginia during the Civil War and her efforts on behalf of Southern Reconstruction are fascinating stories that show the passionate personality of a strong determined woman, but Sullivan’s greatest, though least acknowledged, gift to mankind is her legacy to Appalachia – a legacy that has extensive regional significance.
Surviving the trials of the Civil War, Mary Sullivan went on to become one of the leading figures of American philanthropy but her well-earned place in history was overshadowed by the prominence of her attorney husband, Algernon Sydney Sullivan and the foundation she established in his name.
Sullivan’s philanthropy, which started with gifts of $50 to help individual Appalachian students attend school, has continued into the twenty-first century, with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation established in 1934 to provide scholarship funds to small colleges in Appalachia. By 2006, the Foundation had enabled five generations of Appalachian students to fulfill their dream of a better life through educational opportunities.
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