sarah harper "sallie" heard
EDUCATOR. ADVOCATE. LIBRARIAN. FOUNDER.
2016 Inductee, Georgia Women of Achievement
"If, in the years to come, I can look over this stretch of Southland, from Portsmouth on the easter shore to Tampa on the inland sea, and behold purer homes and stronger men and happier women and brighter children, and if the voice of an approving conscience tells me that in the least I helped to do this, it will be to me sweeter music than the harvest song to the expectant reaper."
- Sarah Harper Heard
City, Town, Region
Newton and Elbert Counties, GA
Sarah Harper “Sallie” Heard was born in Newton County, Georgia in 1853. At the age of 19, she married Eugene B. Heard, grandson of Georgia Governor Stephen Heard. Sallie and Eugene moved to Elbert County and resided at the Heard family home, Rose Hill Plantation, where she served as gracious hostess to the plantation’s numerous guests. A master gardener, Sallie was known for her beautiful gardens which were featured in The Garden History of Georgia 1733-1933. Also active on the farm, Sallie was instrumental in the development of the Elberta peach on Rose Hill farm.
Highly educated, Sallie was described by an acquaintance as “...one of those magnificent Victorian women who had a super-charged energy, which home life could never use up.” To channel that energy, Sallie sought ways to improve the lives of the people in her community through education and literacy. Women’s clubs were being formed across the country to address similar issues and in 1892 Sallie formed the Albertan Sorosis Club, the oldest women’s club in Georgia.
In 1895, Sallie and the Sorosis Club joined with the Atlanta Women’s Club led by Rebecca Lowe to invite women from all over the state to form the Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs. Minutes from the 1896 gathering note that it was “an orderly assemblage of vigorous bodies that came together in 1896 to unite their efforts for humanity.”
The establishment of libraries was an important mission of many women’s clubs across the country. Although the Georgia legislature established a library commission in 1897, no appropriation was granted until 1920. In the interim, Georgia Club women, who had advocated for the commission legislation, were raising money to support the idea of traveling libraries.
This work of Sallie’s became extraordinarily personal when Sallie’s youngest child, Thomas, died at the age of 12. Each year on his birthday, Sallie had given Thomas a book. Though she was heartbroken by his death, Sallie hated to see his books, so lovingly given, unused. She began loaning Thomas’ books to neighboring children, but so many children began to visit Rose Hill in search of books that she had to turn children away empty handed. The parents of the children who visited Rose Hill were also eager for books so Sallie appealed to friends and family who eagerly donated their own book to the Rose Hill library.
A woman of action, Sallie formulated a plan to expand the library and to expand its reach She invited Everitte St. John, Vice President of Seaboard Air Line, to visit Rose Hill where she proposed that Seaboard Railway transport books to every stop on its route. Mr. St. John saw the benefit of an educated society and agreed. He told Andrew Carnegie about the project and Carnegie, declaring Sallie to be “the right woman at the right time,” gave $1000 to purchase books for the project.
In addition to the books purchased with Carnegie’s donation, Sallie traveled to New York, visiting every publishing house and editor, soliciting free books and magazines and establishing agreements that lasted long after her death. The New York Daily Tribune reported of her visit “Since then the impetus given her effort by the free transportation granted by express companies and railroads has enabled her to send the boxes in all directions. Quantities of books have been given and the rooms at Rose Hill, which were used as a distributing headquarters, are now overcrowded.”
From there, Sallie visited villages and communities up and down the Eastern seaboard, throughout the six states covered by the Seaboard Railway, securing the cooperation of women who became the librarians for the traveling library.
With Sallie as the driving force, the Seaboard Air Line Railway Free Traveling Library became one of the most successful traveling libraries in the country. Each year the circulation grew and by 1900 the library held 2500 books and had such promises of support that in addition to community libraries, school libraries were offered as prizes to communities making noteworthy improvements in school facilities.
In 1901, Salmagundi, the newspaper “devoted to the Seaboard Air Line Railway, and the Agricultural and Industrial Interest of the South” printed letters from U.S. President William mcKinley, the Governors of all six Seaboard Railway states, Andrew Carnegie and others commending Sallie on her noble work and pledging their full support. Mr. G.R. Glenn, Georgia State School Superintendent wrote, “Nobody can estimate the value of good clean books placed in the hands of little children. Many of those precious little lives will date the beginning of new aspirations and new hopes to the time when you placed these books in their hands.”
Sallie became a frequent speaker at educational conference throughout the South and in 1907 accepted a gold medal award on behalf of the SAL Free Traveling Library at the Jamestown Exposition in Virginia. In recognition for her library work, in May of 1906 Sallie was appointed President of the Georgia Library Association to fill the remainder of the term of Walter B. Hill. Hill, who was also serving as Chancellor of the University of Georgia at the time, passed away in 1905. Sallie served as President for an additional four terms and later served as Second Vice President for a number of terms.
Sallie Heard worked tirelessly to promote and expand the Seaboard Airline Railway Traveling Free Library until her death in 1919. Sallie’s daughter, Susan, assumed the role of head librarian and the traveling library continued in operation until 1955, supported by women up and down the easter seaboard and through continued donations from publishers and private citizens alike.
In its heyday, the library boasted a collection of more than 45,000 volumes and impacted the lives of thousands of men, women, and children up and down the east coast of the United States. Hundreds of permanent libraries were created as a result of the SAL free Traveling Library, permanently enriching the communities along the rail line.
For Sallie, it was always a work of love. At an education convention held in Jacksonville, Sallie addressed the attendees saying “I am grateful for the opportunity to labor in this capacity for my countrymen and countrywomen. To the accomplishment of this work in so far as it is committed to me, I [pledge every energy of my mind and consecrate every impulse of my heart. If, in the years to come, I can look over this stretch of Southland, from Portsmouth on the easter shore to Tampa on the inland sea, and behold purer homes and stronger men and happier women and brighter children, and if the voice of an approving conscience tells me that in the least I helped to do this, it will be to me sweeter music than the harvest song to the expectant reaper.”