On August 19, 1920, the Congress of the United States ratified the 19th Amendment which guaranteed the right of women in the country to vote. Sara Orr, a young Dublin woman, was honored to serve as secretary for three United States Senators from Georgia, Thomas E. Watson, Rebecca Lattimer Felton and Walter F. George. Senator Felton, appointed by Georgia governor Thomas W. Hardwick who would later became a resident of Dublin, was the nation’s first female senator. Though Laurens County women made rapid strides in the years following the adoption of the amendment, more than a half century elapsed before women began to make inroads into political offices across the state. This is the story of Mrs. Annie Anderson who, with an appointment by Laurens County Superior Court Judge J.L. Kent, became the first female judge of any court in the State of Georgia.
In the years following World War I, the Georgia legislature provided that the eight most populous counties in Georgia establish juvenile courts to handle the rapidly increasing number of criminal cases involving juvenile offenders. After two consecutive grand jury presentments, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, church organizations and the Women’s Community Association appointed Mrs. Frank Lawson, the state’s first female democratic district vice-chairman, to head a committee to seek a candidate to fill the office. With the guidance of the sheriff and county officials Mrs. Lawson and her committee sought just the right candidate to deal with “the good many” children who were confined to Laurens County jail in 1920.
A number of candidates were considered. Annie Anderson was not one of them. The committee wanted some one who could hear cases against minors, who were often placed in jail with adult convicts, a situation which was undeniably not the place these children should be. Officials were concerned after the November 1921 conviction of 14-year-old George Walker for murdering his playmate 17-year-old George Avery. Walker was the youngest Laurens Countian ever tried and convicted of murder.
The committee made their recommendation to Judge J.L. Kent and on the last day of 1921, Judge Kent signed an order appointing Mrs. Anderson as Juvenile Court Judge for the county of Laurens. Much to her surprise, Judge Anderson was not aware of her appointment until contacted by Judge Kent. Few people had given any thoughts to the creation of the court. Even fewer people speculated on who the newest judge might be.
Annie Ogburn Anderson was born in 1877 in Wilkinson County, Georgia. She was a daughter of Ellis and Missouri Ogburn. The Ogburns moved to Dublin in 1898. Shortly after they arrived, Annie caught the eye of the handsome young Oscar L. Anderson, the popular railroad agent of the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad. The couple had five children, Oscar, who joined the Navy after high school, and Mattie, Milton, Frances and Emma, who were students at the time their mother was appointed to the bench.
Annie Anderson was described by those who knew her as “a woman of striking personality and personal charm, with high educational qualifications and strong character. Mrs. Anderson was president of the local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and chairman of the Prison Committee of the Missionary Society of the First Baptist Church in Dublin.
As a woman bound to rid the community of the evil influence of spiritous liquors and intoxicating beer upon the youth of the town, Mrs. Anderson accumulated a vast knowledge of the depth of the problem which was increasingly injuring American youth. As a part of her duties as chairman of the prison committee, Annie made weekly visits to prison camps scattered throughout the county. Mrs. Anderson and the other ladies talked to the prisoners and tried to brighten the lives of those condemned to the chain gang.
Mrs. Anderson attempted to take a personal interest in the lives of the prisoners she visited, especially any young women she may have found. She was always ready and willing to provide guidance and comfort to wayward young girls with her motherly advice and frank talks. Deeply committed to the rehabilitation of troubled children, Judge Anderson held strong opinions against traditional forms of punishment.
Shortly after her appointment, the Judge told an Atlanta Constitution reporter “more harm than good can come from prison confinement and labors in a reformatory as a method of punishment of the young boy and girl.” “Extreme measures should be resorted to only after probation, change of environment and living conditions have failed to accomplish their purposes,” she added.
Mrs. Anderson applied the same principles of kindness, positiveness and reasonableness with her own children in dealing with delinquent children. She believed that with these ideals and a lot of understanding, long periods of confinement were unnecessary. The judge believed that most youthful indiscretions were just that, improprieties which resulted from modern customs and usages and not from an intentional act of a child.
Although she personally disliked the youthful customs of the day, dances, dyed and bobbed hair, Judge Anderson refused to pre judge those juveniles brought before her. “She vowed to treat them “as kindly and with as such lenience and patience as it is possible under the circumstances.” “I am going to give them all a chance,” she promised.
After fondly seeing to the needs of her quintet of children and while her husband was frequently away from home tending to the rigorous schedule of his railroad duties, Judge Anderson made it her life’s goal of “aiding worthy boys and girls and influencing them toward the paths of righteousness and good citizenship.”
Annie Anderson was a shining star in a galaxy of the grand women of the South. The judicial search committee could not have made a better choice in nominating Judge Anderson. What better judge to select than a person who committed their lives to loving and caring for all children as if they were her own. In this month as we celebrate the history of American women, let us remember Georgia’s first judge who tempered justice with mercy, kindness and a firm belief that a loving hand soothed the troubled soul better than the ruthless whip.