Friday, June 12, 2009

Merritt Collection Now Open!

A collection of correspondence, clippings, speeches, journals photographs, audiovisual material, and memorabilia belonging to the second woman to serve in the Georgia State House of Representatives is now available for research at the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies.

Janet B. Scarborough Merritt was elected to represent Sumter County (at the time, the 68th district) in the Georgia State House of Representatives in 1964. The only woman in the State House when she was elected, and the first to represent Sumter County, Merritt called herself a “full-time” representative. During her tenure she authored or co-authored over one hundred bills. Of particular note was Merritt’s ongoing battle to change Georgia’s state flag. In 1969, Merritt sponsored a bill to change the Georgia flag adopted in 1955, shortly after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, back to the 1879 version, which did not include the Confederate battle flag. After a rousing speech on the House floor from former Governor Marvin Griffin, who strongly opposed the change, the bill was tabled and later re-introduced in 1971, when it was defeated. Merritt also supported improved retirement plans and higher salaries for civil workers and school teachers, and was a proponent of tourism in Georgia, helping to establish the Andersonville Civil War Prison as a National Historic Site. Merritt also had a strong interest in rural housing issues, and was active in the state planning and community affairs committee.

In 1972, after a reapportionment, Merritt was defeated for re-election by her former colleague in the House, Oliver Oxford, in a run-off. She ran against Oxford a second time in the 1974 election, but was again narrowly defeated. The collection documents Merritt’s six campaigns, her time in the state legislature, and her community activities including heavy involvement in the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) and the Order of Women Legislators (OWLS). The topic of the role of women in government is thoroughly documented throughout her numerous speeches and writings.
Above Right: Gov. Jimmy Carter signing an executive order establishing the Study Commission on Andersonville to create a Civil War memorial. Representative Merritt , a member of the commission, is wearing an oversize confederate flag tie after her attempt to change the Georgia State flag was defeated. Merritt introduced two bills to change the State flag back to the 1879 version and was defeated in both 1969 and 1972
Above Left: “Merritt’s Merry Maids” during her first campaign in 1964.

The Russell Library is open for research from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. For further information on the Janet B. Merritt Papers, please contact or visit

Post by Katherine Shirley, Head of Arrangement and Description, Russell Library

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