REBECCA STILES TAYLOR
Journalist. Social worker. educator.
2014 Inductee, Georgia Women of Achievement
City, Town, Region
Rebecca A. G. Stiles was born in August 1879 in Savannah, GA, one of 11 children born to parents henry and Annie Maria Hoag Stiles of Savannah. She married CostelloTaylor in 1908 and although the couple divorced in 1927, Rebecca retained the last name of Taylor throughout her life.
Similar to many African American women of her generation, the socio-political environment in which Rebecca lived determined her education and career choices. She was a product of Savannah’s segregated education and political system. She attended Savannah’s segregated Beach Institute and graduated in 1896. Rebecca was also a member of the Second Baptist Church, one of three elite Baptist churches serving the city’s African American community. It was this unique mix of education and social service opportunities through the church that guided her life.
Rebecca dedicated her professional life to education as well as social and community service. She taught English in the Cuyler Junior High School from 1897 to 1926 and was the first African American woman to serve as Savannah’s Probation Officer inJuvenile Court in the 1920s. She nurtured her leadership skills through community service work by founding Savannah’s Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1918.
She served as the club’s first president. During World War I, with the help of a group ofSavannah’s white women, Rebecca organized and became president of the Toussaint l’Ouverture branch of the Savannah Chapter of the American Red Cross, an organization that gave African American women a taste for leadership and the skills for organizing women’s clubs.
In 1920, Rebecca and Mary McLeod Bethune created the Southeast Association ofColored Women’s Clubs in Savannah, a division of the National Federation of ColoredWomen’s Clubs – later named the National Association of Colored Women, NACW.
Rebecca served as corresponding secretary and later president of the GeorgiaFederation and Southeastern Federation from 1923-1927. Her work with the NAC Wallowed Rebecca to have a leadership role in organizing Georgia’s African American women and those in 11 additional Southern states to improved themselves and their communities, gave her an opportunity for her to work with the nation’s leading AfricanAmerican women activists such as Mary Church Terrell, Mary McLeod Bethune and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and launched her into a journalism career.
Rebecca held several positions in the NACW. In addition to serving as Corresponding Secretary, Rebecca was Managing Editor of the organizations national newsletter, a role that allowed her to write several articles for its Editorial page. To address the specific needs of Southern black women, she created The Southeastern Herald, a small publication that was inserted in National Notes. Her articles exposed her writing and philosophy about the role of women and politics to a national audience. In 1937, the Chicago Defender founder and St. Simons Island native, Robert Abbott asked Rebecca to write a women’s club column that would be published every week in his newspaper.
This opportunity allowed her to bring National Notes and the activities of the NACW, Mary McLeod Bethune’s National Council of Negro Women and black sororities to a national audience. During World War II, Rebecca used her column to encourage black women to perceive themselves as a part of the solution to the world conflict and prepare themselves for political offices and appointments. She challenged segregation in the military, poll taxes, the political disenfranchisement of African Americans and supported economic and political empowerment for all women.
Rebecca’s lifetime achievement have been featured in Georgia’s celebration, “Great Women in Georgia History,” a project that was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Georgia Endowment for the Humanities. Moreover, Rebecca is noted in sever scholarly books. Her commitment to the uplift of women through leadership and community welfare, and the courage to write her conviction has set an example for all women to follow.