“Unhurried to produce quantity – an urge that destroys so many poets at the beginning – Mrs. Barrow has been content to write a few poems and do them beautifully.”
-Poet and novelist Henry Bellamann
Although Elfrida De Renne Barrow was a sixth generation Georgian, she was not born in Georgia. In fact, she did not even grow up in Georgia, but Georgia would always be her home.
Elfrida De Renne was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1884. Soon after, her family moved to Texas and after the death of her baby brother, her parents moved her to the French Atlantic Coast at Biarritz. There Elfrida spent her childhood becoming fluent in both English and French. Elfrida received her education from a finishing school in New York City but was for the most part self educated.
When Elfrida returned to Georgia she came home to Savannah. In 1906, she married Dr. Craig Barrow of Athens at Wormsloe, the family’s coastal estate near Savannah.
The Barrows would raise three children at their home on McDonough St. Their two youngest children would marry the children of family friend, Laura Palmer Bell. In 1938, the Barrows moved from Savannah to Wormsloe.
Elfrida’s passion in life was poetry, especially the kind of “new poetry” that had been promoted by Harriet Monroe by 1912. Elfrida and her friends’ love of poetry united them to form the Prosodists so they could discuss their poetic interests and improve their own work.
In 1923, Elfrida and her friends formed the Poetry Society of Georgia. Elfrida was recognized as the founder and “guiding light” of the group but refused to be named President. Thanks to fellow poet Harriet Monroe, Elfrida became a “poet of some reputation” after Monroe, an ally of Southern intellectuals, dedicated an issue of Poetry to the works of Elfrida and other Southern poets.
Elfrida ceased her writing around 1936, the same time as the death of Harriet Monroe. Perhaps it is not coincidental since Elfrida’s mentor and touchstone had passed away. The 1940s brought even more grief to Elfrida’s life. In 1941, her eldest daughter tragically passed away and later in 1945, Dr. Barrow died.
By this time, Elfrida had also shown her love of history. She had joined both the Georgia Historical Society and the Georgia Society of the Colonial Dames of America in 1920. She was among the first women to be accepted into the Georgia Historical Society as it had been opened only to men until the early 1900s. She served as the group’s curator, just as her grandfather, father and brother had done. She also submitted two articles to the Society’s journal, The Georgia Historical Quarterly.
When the bicentennial of Savannah came in 1933, Elfrida had already contributed to the event by writing two books on Savannah’s history. The first she compiled with friend Laura Palmer Bell entitled, Anchored Yesterdays: The Log Book of Savannah’s Voyage Across a Savannah Century, in Ten Watches. The second book, Georgia: A Pageant of Years, was written with the Colonial Dames and was more detailed than Anchored Yesterdays. Elfrida was involved with three more publications with the Colonial Dames.
In 1951, Elfrida created and incorporated the Wormsloe Foundation, a non-profit organization whose principal activity was the publishing of historical works through the University of Georgia Press. During her last years, Elfrida worked through the Wormsloe Foundation for historic preservation. She presented the Foundation with 750 acres of land from the Wormsloe Estate. This land would go on to be used by the Audubon Society and several Georgia universities. The 18th century tabby ruins were used for archaeological investigations. Elfrida also shared the rest of her estate in her remaining years. The gardens were opened for spring tours, and throughout the year guests, such as professors or visiting authors, were warmly welcomed.
When she passed away in 1970, it could be said that Elfrida De Renne Barrow lived a full and accomplished life, earning her a place among the Georgia Women of Achievement.
Barrow, Elfrida DeRenne. (1923). Anchored Yesterdays: The Log Book of Savannah’s Voyage Across a Georgia Century in Ten Watches. Savannah, Ga: Review Pub. and Print Co.