The first women’s history trail in North Carolina is open in Franklin.
Nine sites are located on the trail in about a half mile radius downtown around square. They highlight early entrepreneurial women of the 19th century who worked running the town store, a millinery and as mica workers to name just a few.
A crowd of over 100 people gathered to celebrate the unveiling of the plaques that make up the history trail. One of the honored guests at the event was Dorothy Crawford. Now 100 years old, she worked as a social worker in Macon County for over 30 years. The county welfare program began in the 1930s. Crawford started as a caseworker in 1952 and worked her way up to superintendent. The department was located in the plaza next to the county courthouse which still stands today.
“Well in the 50s, we did everything,” says Crawford. “You did adoption, you did child welfare - you did everything. Elder abuse. You name it.”
She described how hard some of the visits were.
“I said, ‘I’m not a nurse.’ But they said they wanted to see me. You’ve heard of the death rattles?,” she asks. “When I went in, that man was having what you would call the death rattles. But he shook my hand, I leaned over and kissed him and he said, ‘Thank you for coming.’ And expired that night.”
Eloise Griffin Franks Potts was honored as the first superintendent of welfare in 1935. Potts was also the first - and, so far only - woman mayor of Franklin. She was elected in 1960 at age 71. Two of her great granddaughters, Christa Henry Peyton and Debbie Henry Greco flew in from Austin, Texas to celebrate the occasion.
Barbara McRae and Mary Polanski were co-leaders on the project. McRae is a member of the town council and has been writing columns about the history of Macon County for the Franklin Press since 1972. She explains how the project got started.
“Well I began to realize how left out women have been - especially in Western North Carolina,” McRae says. “So I began to think of how we could make our names known.”
From there the project grew to include over 40 volunteers from across the community. Volunteers have done everything from organizing the launch to selling cookies to raise money.
McRae explains what it means to be able to speak directly to those honored on the trail and their relatives.
“It’s really what you hope to do. Most of these ladies that we are learning about how been long gone so they won’t know but maybe their descendents like Eloise’s great-granddaughters,” she says. “Obviously it means a lot to them. They traveled from Texas to be with us today.”
This is just the first phase in the project which will ultimately extend around the county and include a statue. The statue, made by local artist Wesley Wofford, will highlight the relationship between three women - African American, Cherokee and white. It is harder to tell the stories of historical women because fewer records were kept about that - especially those are are not white. But McRae says she loves digging up those stories.
“I’ve uncovered a lot of those stories and they are really worth telling you know. I just feel like you can’t leave out anybody,” says McRae. “The people who came here and of course the Cherokees who were already here - they contributed so much to what we have today.”
She and Polanski agree that inclusivity is one of the most important aspects of the project.This includes recognizing women who are not from Macon County but have contributed greatly to the town.
“Inclusivity has been an important part of the project since we got together to try and figure out how to honor these women from history,” says Polanski. “It’s the blanks in history that spark curiosity.”
To follow the trail, pick up a map at the at the Macon County Historical Museum on Main Street in Franklin. Local brewery The Lazy Hiker also has a special edition beer to celebrate the trail. It’s a honey ginger saison called, "Barbara’s Brew."