mary givens bryan
2021 Inductee, Georgia Women of Achievement
“Squirrels love nutty history and are gnawing away at Georgia’s rich heritage poorly housed in a fire-trap.”
- Mary Givens Bryan, 1958
September 3, 1910
July 28, 1964
City, Town, Region
Mary Eugenia Givens was born in LaGrange in Troup County on 3 September 1910 to Janie Lou Cox Givens (1876-1913) and Young Clyde Givens (1877-1938). After her mother died before Mary’s third birthday, Mary went to live with her aunt and uncle in Decatur, Georgia. She was educated in public schools and at Mount de Sales Academy in Macon.
She graduated from Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville and then attended Chrichton’s Business College in Atlanta. In later years, Mary took additional courses at Emory University and at the University of Georgia’s Atlanta Division (evening college). In 1934, she was hired as a clerk with the Georgia Department of Archives and History where she worked with Ruth Blair, the Director, and Blair’s successor, Louise Frederick Hays.
Some of Mary’s earliest tasks involved helping compile the Georgia Official and Statistical Register. She later became an assistant director and in 1950 was appointed Acting Director. In 1951 after Mrs. Hays died, Mary was appointed director of the Department by the Secretary of State, Ben Fortson.
In her personal life, in 1948 Mary Givens married Dr. T. Conn Bryan, a history professor at North Georgia College in Dahlonega. The marriage only lasted three years and they were divorced in 1951. Mary had continued studying and learning about Archival Administration during her first sixteen years at the Georgia Department of Archives and History, but after Ben Fortson’s appointment as Secretary of State in 1946, Mary had support for more formal training.
She received a diploma from American University (Washington, DC) in Archival Administration and Preservation in 1951 and in Records Management in 1956. As the first trained archivist to serve as director, Mary wanted to make major changes in the way the Archives functioned and improve the environment in which records were stored. She also began to see the need for a records management program to assist state agencies at the creation end of the records life cycle and to work with archivists. She and Fortson developed plans to build a strong program but the budget was still tight.
Fortson had been able to secure better appropriations for operations of the Archives, but without Mary’s efficiency and the management skills she had learned at business school, progress would have been limited. Because there was no additional space in Rhodes Hall for state government records, they began a county records program to microfilm and preserve permanent records in the offices of Clerks of Superior Court and county Ordinaries (renamed Probate Judges in 1975). They also began to press for a new building to house the 20,000 cubic feet of records stored in Rhodes Hall and to hold additional permanent state records stored in state offices and future records. Rhodes Hall leaked and records stacked to the ceiling were damaged by water and resident squirrels.
Fortson set aside space in the Secretary of State’s “Annex” on Mitchell Street for an overflow archives, a microfilming program for state records, and temporary records center for non-permanent records, but these were stopgap measures at best. Mary began crisscrossing Georgia to enlist all Georgians in her campaign to build a new archives building. Speaking to church groups, civic organizations, local government officials, patriotic groups, organizations of veterans, and students, Miss Mary as she was known made the case for preserving Georgia’s history as documented in records. Many of the people she rallied to her side talked to their legislators about the need to preserve records. They listened and in 1960 and 1961, the Georgia General Assembly set aside money for architects and planning and then $6 million to construct a state-of-the-art repository for Georgia’s archives.
Groundbreaking took place in 1962 near the Georgia Capitol and over the next two years the building rose above the Interstate highways “downtown connector” at the junction of I-20 with I-75 and I-85. Mary was successful because she was able to bring together large numbers of people from diverse
backgrounds. Mary promoted the new building tirelessly. In addition to her speeches, she used newspapers and radio and television stations to spread her message as she traveled around Georgia.
Mary had a national fan club as well: the Society of American Archivists. She had joined SAA in 1951 when she became State Archivist and published an article outlining her vision for the Georgia Archives and other repositories in the state. She soon found kindred spirits in a number of other state archivists. She became head of SAA’s State Records Committee and served from 1954 until 1957. For all of the states and territories she compared the laws covering archives and published these compilations in 1955, 1956, and 1957.
Mary was elected President of the Society for 1959-60. Her colleagues provided advice and suggestions based on their own buildings, and she in turn shared what she had learned about publicity in an American Archivist article in 1964: “The Georgia Archives Building—A Case Study in Promotion.”
Mary’s professional work nationally taught her much that she used in her state position, and she relied on her state planning and management experience to assist archivists from other states. Unfortunately, Mary died in the summer of 1964 when the building was nearly complete, but before the building could be dedicated and the records moved from Rhodes Hall.
At the 1965 building dedication nearly all the speakers spoke of Mary’s devotion to the preservation of the state’s historical record and how sad it was that she never got to move into the building she had designed with help from her friends.
WSB radio and the Atlanta Gas Light Company presented their Shining Light Award for outstanding contributions to the community posthumously to Mary in 1966. At the joint meeting in 1966 of the Society of American Archivists and the American Association for State and Local History, a large bronze plaque honoring Mary was placed near the entrance to the