Jennie Hart Sibley was born Sarah Virginia Hart on October 22, 1846 to James Brooks and Maria Virginia Collier Hart in Augusta, Georgia. In 1865, she married Samuel Hale Sibley. Following the wedding in Augusta, they boarded a special train to the old Hart place in Union Point, gathering additional guests at every station along the route for the festive reception.
The Sibleys had six children; two died very young. Jennie was widowed at age 37. She became a world traveler and lived most of her life in the Hart ancestral home Hawthorn Heights, Union Point, Georgia. In a 1900 periodical, she is said to be a descendant of two of the most cultured families of South Carolina and Virginia, claiming among her ancestors many distinguished personages. Sir Francis Wyatt, first English Royal Governor of Virginia is among the notables.
The record of her remarkable life of service began when she was 16. Jennie kept a register of the Wayside Home founded by her mother and 14 other ladies for the care of sick and wounded Confederate and Union soldiers. Her father bore the expense of the Home. She recorded both name and rank of thousands of soldiers. Every donation was listed, and acknowledgements of appreciation written. It was noted that 1,138,626 meals were served. The original journal, written in her beautiful hand, is preserved at Knox College, Illinois. Copies are held at the Greene County
Historical Society and the county courthouse. Jennie became a leader in the Georgia Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and served
as president from 1900 – 1905. She was later made honorary president. As superintendent of legislation and petition, she attempted to have two bills introduced to the Georgia legislature, one to increase the age of consent and the other for child welfare reform. The Georgia women also
advocated for prison reform and the establishment of separate facilities for women and juvenile offenders. They urged Georgia legislators to build an industrial school for girls, to pass child labor laws, and to provide for compulsory education. Jennie became a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1907 and spoke at the Georgia state capitol that year, coinciding with the state suffrage convention. As superintendent of the Legislation Department of the WCTU, she continued to work for woman’s suffrage. In a 1915 WCTU report, she mentioned suffrage petitions she had submitted to Congress and the state legislature in recent years. She was a prominent member of the Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Chosen many times to represent the state at National WCTU conventions, Jennie was one of the World’s delegates to London in 1895 representing Georgia and South Carolina.
She assisted in presenting the Polyglot Petition to Queen Victoria. The petition was the first worldwide proclamation against international trade in liquor and drugs and the first major campaign to raise public awareness of the need for international agreements on controls for opium. The petition was first presented to President Cleveland in Washington, then sent on a steamship with 150 American women conveying it to London. Jennie’s collection of memorabilia includes invitations to meetings and receptions at Queen’s Hall, Langham Place, Royal Albert Hall, and The Mansion House in London. Lady Henry Somerset held a reception at Reigate Priory, Surrey. Jennie
was among delegates traveling there by special train.
Though especially known for her 35 years of service to the Temperance Movement, Jennie also served on the board of the Georgia Normal and Industrial College. She was allied with organizations against cruelty to animals, and for child labor reform. She donated the land for the First Presbyterian Church in Union Point. Among the beautiful church windows, attributed to Tiffany, is a memorial to Sallie F. Chapin, a devoted friend, author, and fellow WCTU leader.
Jennie created the first landscape garden in Greene County and founded the first garden club. An additional service to the community was the study and practice of homeopathic medicine. Her daughter, Jennie S. Lamb wrote “My mother had always had a homeopathic physician attend us children when sick, so when she moved to Union Point after my father’s death, she brought with her this book, Homeopathic Domestic Physician, and a wooden medicine chest. The sick and needy were cared for without money and without price.”
After a decline in health, Jennie Hart Sibley died June 19, 1917 at her beloved Hawthorn Heights. A memorial service was held in Union Point. Afterward, her body was taken by train to Augusta for burial beside her husband. Few women were as widely and universally known and honored. She was prominent in social, religious, philanthropic, and literary circles. Her home, always a social center, was a place where a wonderful influence for good was felt by all who entered. Obituaries further noted that her sphere was as broad as the needs of humanity. Mrs. Dillard, state president of the WCTU eulogized the life and work of Mrs. Sibley at graveside. “She was truly one of the great women of Georgia.” Mrs. Dillard placed at the head an offering from the state WCTU of immortalis, lilies, and roses. The purple cross banded with white ribbon and lettered in gold from the Augusta WCTU was laid at the foot. There was a flower mission card bearing the motto: For with Thee is the fountain of life, in thy light shall we see light. Banks of flowers covered the grave.
From a newspaper article by the State WCTU:
“Cover the mound with flowers Where mother earth enfolds The
form beloved and honored A dauntless spirit has passed Cover
the mound with flowers!”
Following her death, representatives of The National Christian Temperance Union came to Union Point and held a memorial service in her garden. They planted a Deodar cedar, which still flourishes. The majestic tree is symbolic of her life and service to humanity.
Written by Jennie Lamb Bryan Sheffield, great granddaughter
In her words, Jennie Sheffield remembers:
The house fascinated me as a child. Though Union Point was a small town, my daily visits to Hawthorn Heights were like a trip around the world with furnishings and exotic collections gathered from travels. The third floor was filled with trunks of vintage clothing; a wedding dress worn by five generations of brides. The walls were hung with portraits and pictures. Family history was recorded and valued traditions observed. I grew up reading and hearing stories about my ancestors. My great grandmother, Jennie Hart Sibley is family legend. When family things were distributed, I came to hold some of her belongings and memorabilia. This year, I began to research her work with the WCTU. I knew she was a leader and served as President of the Georgia chapter. I learned that the WCTU became the largest organization of women in the 19th Century and that it increasingly saw its role as an organization advocating for broad social as well as political change. I read about Frances Willard’s “Do Everything “ policy. The World Conference of 1895 in London was of special interest as my great grandmother was a delegate, and in her small travel case I found memorabilia from the conference. I realized that many privilegerights, and reforms of today are due largely to the work of the WCTU which continues to preserve the past and transform the future. I am grateful for that work. We do indeed stand on the shoulders of giants.