FRANCES FREEBORN PAULEY
Nurse. Volunteer. social activist.
2015 Inductee, Georgia Women of Achievement
City, Town, Region
Frances Freeborn Pauley (1905-2003) was a Georgia activist and dynamic leader in social and political movements at the state and national level throughout much of the 20th century. From the 1930s to the 1990s, her commitments to public education, health and welfare, civil rights, and the needs of the poor lay at the heart of her advocacy. Pauley never held a political office, but as an activist, she often found ways to address the needs of all citizens.
Pauley was born in Wadsworth, Ohio on September 11, 1905. She was later relocated to Decatur, Georgia at the age of three. From that point forward, Pauley attended schools in Decatur and later enrolled at Agnes Scott College, where she graduated in 1927.
She married William Pauley on May 25, 1930, and the couple had two daughters. With young children, Pauley found the time to start a school lunch program through the Junior Service League, as well as organize a public health clinic, DeKalb Clinic. These two resources met the basic needs of local citizens during the Great Depression.
After the Great Depression, Pauley worked with the League of Women Voters, an organization that disseminated information about political issues to educate voters about social and political problems. In the 1940s and 1950s, the League was one of the most important organizations in Georgia due to its work against the state’s county unit system, which was unfairly biased on behalf of rural counties, effectively disempowering citizens of Georgia’s growing cities. On the eve of the modern civil rights movement, the League took the lead in standing for the principal of “one person, one vote” – a principal that Pauley would work hard for throughout her public career.
In 1947, Pauley became the President of the DeKalb League and pushed it beyond its opposition to the county unit system. She fought successfully to desegregate the organization and open additional chapters outside of the Atlanta area. Pauley’s leadership became even more crucial as she became Georgia League President at the time of the United States Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, which called for the desegregation of public schools.
This decision galvanized opposition to public schools across the South. Many Georgians, including Gov. Talmadge, favored legislation that would divert public funds to private schools in order to circumvent the Court’s mandate. With Pauley at the helm, the League of Women Voters members launched Help Our Public Education (HOPE) to preserve public education in Georgia. Across the state, HOPE held public meetings and petition drives to chart a course away from the resistance to Brown v. Board of Education. In 1962, Georgia became a state in which each citizen’s vote counted, and by 1963, Georgia counties slowly moved towards desegregating public schools.
During the 1960s, Pauley deepened her commitment to interracial activism and civil rights when she served as the Executive Director of the Georgia Council on Human Relations, the state branch of the Southern Regional Council. With this job, her first paid and professional position, Pauley brought races together in towns across Georgia, seeking to build support for the goals of the civil rights movement. She was active in the SCLC and SNCC effort to desegregate Albany, Georgia in 1961. By 1967, Pauley’s work for social change in Albany produced Head Start Programs and welfare rights groups in the city.
In 1986, Pauley became the civil rights specialist in the Atlanta office of the Office of Civil Rights, a division of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Here she worked to implement the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and coordinated operations for the state of Mississippi. As a federal government officer, she worked as an insider to negotiate integration of public schools at the local level.
Working for the Georgia Poverty Rights Organization from 197401975 allowed Pauley to direct her work to social and economic equality during the final years of her professional career. She established a poverty rights office and helped the poor obtain services they needed.