Miss Louie Lane: The Jane Addams of Athens

Louisa Adelaide Lane was born in Milledgeville, Georgia, on October 4, 1860, and moved to Athens at age 12 when her father, Rev. Charles Whitmarsh Lane, became pastor at the First Presbyterian Church. “Miss Louie,” as she was known, took over the care of her father and his household after her mother’s death in 1878 and lived with him until his death in 1896. After 1896, Miss Louie devoted herself fully to public service.

Louisa Adelaide Lane (far left) stands with her sister, father, and niece in front of their home at the Presbyterian Manse on Henderson Avenue (then called States Rights Street) in Athens. Miss Louie’s father, the Reverend Charles Whitmarsh Lane, served as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Athens from 1873 until his death in 1896.

Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room

The Night School was featured in the Athens Daily Banner on June 16, 1901.

Known as “the Jane Addams of Athens,” Miss Louie was instrumental in establishing the East Athens Night School in 1897, so that children who spent their days laboring in local cotton mills would have access to formal education. Miss Louie was the school’s first teacher and principal. After the Night School was taken over by the Athens Public Schools, Miss Louie opened The Neighborhood House on Oak Street, which served millworker families as a settlement house and community center. The Night School closed in 1928 after 31 years, and the Neighborhood House remained a vibrant community center until the Depression hit in 1929. By this time, Miss Louie was entering the final decade of her life and the Neighborhood House deteriorated until it was demolished in 1939. (For more on Miss Louie and her work, see Maxine Easom and Patsy Arnold’s Across the River: The People, Places, and Culture of East Athens.)

Miss Louie’s charitable work extended across multiple local organizations, including the Bessie Mell home where she was on the Board. More central to her enormous local reputation, however, was the informal network of support that she nurtured and provided. In her book, Remembering Athens, Susan Frances Barrow Tate summons the image of Miss Louie’s “little brown house in East Athens” (Tate 197) where children could always drop in to get warm, have a biscuit, and to request help for their families.

Susan Frances Barrow Tate records her childhood memories of Miss Louie in Remembering Athens, published in 1996.

In this 1915 note, Miss Louie wrote Mrs. Thomas, presumably one of the “charitably-minded ladies” on her list to request a $5 check for Mrs. Morris. “Lovingly,” Miss Louie suggests that Mrs. Thomas “get [Mrs. Morris] to tell you her story.”

Hargrett Library, UGA

To respond to the many community needs that came to her attention, Miss Louie kept a list of “charitably-minded ladies with families who could be depended on” to pass along their hand-me-down clothing and help out families in need. Susan Frances Barrow Tate’s mother was on Miss Louie’s list, and when Miss Louie would call “Mother would then collect what she had found and take the clothes to Miss Louie. Mother would sometimes take me with her to see Miss Louie, which is how I got to know and love her” (Tate, 199-200).

In 1927, the City of Athens recognized Miss Louie Lane for her remarkable accomplishments and generosity by making her the first recipient of the Erwin cup. As the Banner-Herald reported,

Miss Louise has ceased to be an individual—she has become a symbol. She represents, more than any other personality in this community, the spirit of unselfish service.

Miss Louie Lane with the Erwin cup, which she was awarded in 1927.

Hargrett Library, UGA

Patsy Arnold, an Eberhart family member, donated Miss Louie’s afghan to UGA. It now hangs in the foyer of the UGA School of Social Work.

Hargrett Library, UGA

A specific story of Miss Louie’s generosity was told to Jane McPherson by Lucille Eberhart Hancock, who lived with and helped her mother, Ezzie Eberhart, care for Miss Louie during the last years of Louie’s life.  According to Lucille (who was 14 years old when Miss Louie died), one day when Miss Louie was sitting on the front porch, a neighborhood woman stopped to visit with her. Miss Louie, who noticed that the woman’s shoes were falling apart, called inside to Ezzie and asked her to fetch her “Sunday shoes” to give to the visitor. According to Lucille, Miss Louie only owned two pairs of shoes and Ezzie protested, “Why not give her the shoes on your feet?” but Miss Louie persisted and gave the woman her best pair of shoes.

Miss Louie was always generous and left few personal possessions when she died in 1939. Miss Louie’s secretary-type desk stayed with the Eberhart’s until they moved from Oak Street and, now graces the foyer of Oconee Methodist Church. Her knitted afghan, was given to Louie by the “charitably-minded ladies,” was left, along with her home, to the Eberhart family who had been her caretakers. The afghan was donated to the University of Georgia by Patsy Arnold, an Eberhart family member, in 2021, and now hangs in the foyer of UGA School of Social Work.

In keeping with her lifelong commitments, Miss Louie specified that no money should be spent on marking her grave with a tombstone. The record confirms that Miss Louie was buried in an unmarked grave in her family plot at Oconee Hill Cemetery alongside her mother and father. According to the Eberhart family, however, Ezzie Eberhart could not bear the idea that Miss Louie’s grave would have no monument. Ezzie, who had known and loved Miss Louie since she accompanied her own father to his Night School classes when she was a very small child, determined to mark the grave and laid the uncarved stone that still identifies the location of Miss Louie’s final resting spot.

The stone that Ezzie Eberhart laid marks Miss Louie’s grave within the Lane family plot. Charles Whitmarsh Lane’s large headstone and grave enclosure are located just uphill from his daughters anonymous stone.

Photograph courtesy of Jane McPherson

Cite this Article

McPherson, J. (2024, January 6). Miss Louie Lane. Complex Cloth. https://complexcloth.org/miss-louie-lane/