Ruth Hartley Mosley always made an impression.
She was tall and beautiful, with piercing eyes. A commanding presence in any setting.
She didn’t have time for trifles. Her mother died when she was 12. Her father, a boot maker, instilled in her a sense of resolve and self-sufficiency that guided her all of her days.
She was born in Savannah in 1886, but lived in Macon most of her life, moving here with her first husband, Richard Hartley (Years after his death, she married Fisher Mosley.) She was a successful businesswoman during a time when the odds of such an achievement were squarely against a woman, especially a woman of color.
She owned a funeral home, more than a hundred rental properties and was one of the first women anywhere to earn a mortician’s license.
A nurse by training, Mosley helped teach dozens of black midwives. She also was active in Macon’s civil rights movement. After her death, she was an inductee into the Georgia Women of Achievement. (Authors Margaret Mitchell and Carson McCullers were in the same class.)
Still, many folks have never heard of her.
“She had a vision, and she knew what she wanted,” said Gerri McCord, executive director of the Ruth Hartley Mosley Memorial Women’s Center. “She believed that if you had the ability to give, it was your responsibility to do so. … Not enough people have been exposed to her throughout the community.”
The Women’s Center is located in Mosley’s former home. It’s a beautiful old building on the short stretch of Spring Street near the Cotton Avenue Historic District. It is a contributing building to the Macon Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Until recently, that district — Macon’s leading black business community at one time — was on Historic Macon’s Fading Five list of endangered properties because of intense commercial development pressure. The district itself has made substantial progress thanks to preservation efforts and the work of such groups as the Cotton Avenue Coalition, but the Women’s Center is not on so firm a footing. It needs structural work. There’s plenty of rotten wood. The plaster walls are deteriorating. (Mark your calendar, though. Starting Tuesday, Sept. 24, you’ll have a chance to vote online to help the center win critical preservation funding. Details are coming soon.)
“It’s shameful for a place like this to be in our community and not be recognized or preserved,” McCord said this week during a look around the center. “I don’t think we know what we’ve got here.”
During the turbulent 1950s and ‘60s, Mosley hosted civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, as well as Thurgood Marshall, before he was a Supreme Court justice. Her home was a refuge for them in the Jim Crow South, much like other sites that were featured in the movie “Green Book.”
Mosley cherished Macon, and she wanted the best for its residents. Since it opened its doors to the public in 1978, the nonprofit Women’s Center has provided help in keeping with her wishes: increasing educational opportunities for women and enhancing their life skills, as well as providing services for the community. That has included classes for aspiring nursing assistants.
Her estate included two trust funds. One provided financial assistance for needy students who wanted to become nurses or other health care providers. It’s been depleted. The other fund established the Women’s Center, but it, too, will soon be exhausted.
“She put her money where her mouth was,” McCord said. “It was very important to her to give back to the community that gave so much to her. She tried to fulfill needs she saw in the community.
“She lived in her moment. She didn’t know that things would open up and be more inclusive. She left resources to provide for her people.”
Mosley died in Savannah in 1975 at age 89. She is buried in Linwood Cemetery, in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood.
The next time you’re strolling around Tattnall Square Park, take a moment to stop by the majestic fountain in the middle of the park.
At the base of the fountain wall, you will find words of inspiration and encouragement from influential Macon residents who’ve made a difference over the years.
Ruth Hartley Mosley is among them.
Her message there, set in stone, is as timeless as the values she held dear.
“You are as good as anyone. Never let the fact that you don’t have anything keep you from achieving.”