clarice cross bagwell
educator. Volunteer. advocate.
2020 Inductee, Georgia Women of Achievement
City, Town, Region
A teacher by trade, Clarice Bagwell used her positions and drive throughout her life to improve the lives of others, especially through the power of education. Born and raised in Georgia, Clarice dedicated her life to helping fellow Georgians through not only the education of students but also the promotion of equality for women and minorities.
She accomplished this goal by leading the way and breaking new ground. In many instances, she was the first woman or first person to do something in Georgia:
• One of the first special education teachers in Georgia and the first in DeKalb County
• The first forewoman of a grand jury in Georgia (in Cherokee County)
• Charter member of the Georgia Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Club
• Charter member of Georgia Conservancy, aimed at preservation of nature
• Only woman for two years appointed to Georgia board related to public education
• Recipient of the first honorary doctorate from Kennesaw State University
• Initiator of the first roadside park program in Cherokee County (on State Route 20)
Beyond reaching crucial milestones herself, she helped others reach their own breakthroughs. For example, she helped select a female executive director of her local chamber of commerce in 1986.
Clarice’s career and passion as an educator strongly influenced the focus of her drive to help others. She used her many, significant positions in education to better the welfare of children throughout the state and nation, including as president of the Georgia Parent Teacher Association and as a member of the PTA’s national board of directors. She even represented the United States oversees in her role as chair of the national PTA’s Committee on International Relations, including in Canada (1967), Switzerland (1969) and Japan (1970). In addition, she completed a goodwill mission to the USSR during the time of the Cold War (1963).
As Georgia’s PTA president, she worked to incorporate leadership training, to coordinate with state agencies in offering better education, and to plan an educational conference tied to the governor. On top of this, she used her role to build relationships and share resources with the Georgia Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers.
Clarice’s travels and PTA experience helped give her new perspectives that shaped her mission in life. As her son recalled at the time of her passing, “Her great concern was people who wanted to isolate themselves into communities where everyone is alike.”
Her commitment to advancing education did not end with PTA. During her time as president of the Georgia Legislative Forum, she fought for better oversight of daycares, a public kindergarten and better pay for teachers, among other things. Though she studied at the University of Georgia, West Georgia College and Georgia State University, Clarice was an avid supporter of Kennesaw State University, serving as a KSU Trustee for 18 years. In fact, in her later years (1996), she decided to make a significant donation of land worth around $2 million to KSU that resulted in the Bagwell College of Education being named after her and her husband. At the time, this was the largest gift ever to the KSU Foundation. This act was also the stimulus for a later $3 million-dollar gift by her son and his wife, in part for the naming of a new building built to accommodate growth in the college. The gift was intended to “continue to reinforce mom’s legacy,” as her son put it. These combined gifts and the Bagwell name have made a lasting impact on thousands of KSU students pursuing degrees in education over the years. Consequently, the degrees of countless P-12 teachers and administrators in Georgia are stamped with the Bagwell legacy.
Clarice’s impact on youth extends beyond education, especially given her time on the State Crimes Commission, to which she was appointed by at least three separate governors, and her position as chairperson of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. In these roles, she altered the pre-trial service process for juveniles, spurred the construction of detention centers for juveniles separate from adult prisons, and emphasized the importance of education in deterring crime. Her charitable work did not end there, with participation in organizations or volunteer activities such as Girl Scouts, The Place (United Way) and through church. She was even a board member for the Place, which was a social services organization, as well as superintendent of the Young People’s Department and a Sunday school teacher at her church (Canton First Baptist Church) for many years. She further served on a number of national and state committees related to education, youth or improvement of services, as well as on professional women’s organizations—often in leadership roles. Clarice offered financial assistance to college students so they could attend school and to families in need, many times anonymously. Beyond her educational and volunteer contributions, Clarice served as co-owner and chairman of the board for a major poultry by-products company founded by her husband, upon his death. Yet, she did not accept a salary. Instead she chose to make the previously mentioned donation to Kennesaw State University.
Though she was soft-spoken and known for her “quiet dignity and humble spirit,” according to former KSU President Betty Siegel, her accomplishments did not go unnoticed. The Bagwell Medal for Distinguished Service was created in her name by the KSU Foundation and has been considered a high honor for recipients. As mentioned, she also received the first honorary doctorate from KSU. Further, Clarice has been presented commendations by the Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and Community Concert Association for her efforts in helping lead their fundraising campaigns.
Clarice Bagwell cared about education and about helping those who needed it. She was known for her generosity and sweet-disposition but also for her dedication to causes and for leading the way for other women in many areas. Her legacy is wonderful and undeniable, with her ties to Georgia firmly entrenched in state history.