Phyllis Jenkins Barrow
2023 Inductee, Georgia Women of Achievement
November 30, 2009
City, Town, Region
Born in Athens, Georgia on Oct. 7, 1920, Phyllis Jenkins graduated from Athens High School at age 15 as a commencement speaker. At 19, she received a Bachelor of Science in Commerce from the University of Georgia. In 1951, she earned her Master's in Southern History. Her scholastic honors included election to Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Mortar Board, Beta Gamma Sigma, and Delta Kappa Gamma.
In 1942, she became the first UGA graduate to enlist in the Women's Army Corps. At age 21, Phyllis was one of the youngest WAC candidates. After she was commissioned a Lieutenant, she was assigned to the Officer Candidate School faculty. Her posts included Ft. Des Moines in Iowa, Camp Lee in Virginia, Fort Oglethorpe in Tennessee, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Her last assignment was as Executive Officer of the European Order of Battle Branch in Army Intelligence at the Pentagon. After 3 and 1/2 years in the army, she was discharged as a Captain in the Fall of 1945.
Following the war and marriage to fellow Athenian James Barrow, Phyllis raised 6 children in Athens, Georgia. In 1947, she was one of the re-organizers of the Athens League of Women Voters after World War II. In 1947, she was the first woman elected to the formerly all-male Athens Salvation Army Advisory Board, where she served for over 50 years, including a term as the only female Board Chair. In 1989, she attended the Salvation Army's National Advisory Organization's Conference in London. She was also president of the Athens Junior Assembly (now Athens Junior League) in 1954-55 and was instrumental in helping it establish the first blood bank in Athens.
In 1970, she was one of the founders, the first Board President, and the Incorporating Officer of the Parkview Playschool, Inc., an early childhood educational daycare program in the Parkview Housing Development, which still serves the children of Parkview. She served on this board from 1970 - 1985 and was most proud of her success in preventing the center being closed when the Nixon administration proposed drastic cuts for such programs.
She was active in the political movements that reshaped American life in the 50s and 60s. She was an activist for greater rights for women, and she was an outspoken leader in the movement for equal rights for blacks in the still-segregated South. She co-chaired the Athens chapter of H.O.P.E. (Help Our Public Education), the statewide organization formed in response to the desegregation crisis of the 60s and ultimately successful in preventing the closure of Georgia's public schools. Since the Athens chapter was home to the University of Georgia, hers were among the most successful efforts when the local chapter wrote to the parents of every university student in January 1961 and succeeded in keeping the university open when the General Assembly was threatening to close it.
Her teaching career at UGA began in 1964, and "Contemporary Georgia" became one of the university's most popular classes, covering Georgia's geography, climate, history, agriculture, industry, education, government, counties and county seats. Over the next 24 years, she taught more than 9,000 students from all 159 counties in Georgia, plus out-of-state and foreign students who got their introduction to Georgia from this enthusiastic and caring teacher. Mrs. Barrow's knowledge of her subject was extensive, and her teaching methods were unique, as she made a real effort to get to know her students. Her rolls were kept by the names they used, assigned seats and a seat chart helped her identify students, and a card was filled out the first day of the quarter by each student which served as basic information for the individual office conferences which she held with each student.
Professor Barrow also opened her historic 1855 home to individual students for counseling, to student organizations for meetings, and to her classes for "tea parties and tours." She served as an academic adviser to freshmen and sophomores, and she was a member or faculty adviser of several student organizations.
Professionally, she was a member of the Mid-South Sociological Association and presented a paper entitled "Secondary Education in Georgia, 1900-1980" at the Mid-South Sociological Association's annual meeting in October 1981 in Shreveport, LA. Over the years, Mrs. Barrow received hundreds of notes of appreciation from students and parents for the concern she had shown to individual students. In 1988, she was recognized for superior teaching at UGA's Honors Day. The Board of Regents conferred on her the title of Emeritus in recognition of her outstanding teaching career.
After her retirement in 1988, several former students formed a committee to raise the needed funds to establish the Phyllis Jenkins Barrow Scholarship, in honor of the teacher who cared about them as individuals and taught them about their state. These scholarships have been awarded to UGA history and sociology students every year since 1991.
Mrs. Barrow shared her knowledge, not just with her students, but also as a frequent public speaker who gave many addresses across the state to civic clubs, business meetings, UGA seminars, and patriotic organizations. She was also very active in the political life of the state and nation. She served as Chair of the Democratic Party for Georgia's 10th Congressional District (12 counties), a member of the Democratic State Committee, and a delegate to five National Democratic Conventions. She campaigned in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire as part of the "Peanut Brigade" for her friend Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Mrs. Barrow represented her state and nation when she was chosen in 1990 to participate in the "Georgia to Georgia Friendship Force" exchange program, spending 2 weeks with a family in Tbilisi, Soviet Georgia. Despite a major language barrier, strong relationships grew out of this outreach. A year later, she welcomed her former hosts into her home when they visited this country. The notice of her death in 2009 appeared on the front page of the Athens Banner Herald, reflecting her significant lifelong contributions to her county, state, and nation.