January 28

Mary Telfair

January 28, 1791 - Augusta, Savannah

Southern benefactor she was, Southern belle she was not. She nurtured the oldest public art museum in the South.

Mary Telfair was born in Augusta on this day in 1791, the daughter of Governor Edward Telfair. She was a child of wealth and privilege, educated in private northern schools. Telfair’s formidable intellect matched her independent spirit: she never married, voicing disdain for the notion of dependent Southern women on pedestals.

At her death, Telfair left her artwork and home to the Georgia Historical Society. The Regency-style mansion on Savannah’s St. James Square was built in 1819 by renowned architect William Jay.

St. James Square was renamed Telfair Square in 1883 and her home opened to the public three years later as the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences. The academy, along with the Owens-Thomas House and the Jepson Center for the Arts, is now part of the Telfair Museum of Art.

The woman who laid the foundation for one of Georgia’s great cultural treasures was born on January 28, 1791, Today in Georgia History.