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Former UA Professor to discuss Gorgas' life

The Sundown Lecture Series on Amelia Gayle Gorgas will be held in the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion.  CW | Danielle Parker

Heather Buchanan

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Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins, a former UA history professor and Gorgas historian, will present the lecture on Amelia Gayle Gorgas in the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion. Light refreshments will be available beginning at 5:15 p.m. with the lecture to follow from 5:45-6:30 p.m. This lecture is part of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society’s Sundown Lecture Series.

“Our mission here at the [Tuscaloosa County] Preservation Society is to educate and let people know what preservation is all about: what it has been in the past, what it is now and what it needs to be in the future,” said Lucy Murphy, event coordinator for TCPS. “The Sundown Lecture Series is our outreach program to, more or less, get the community involved and let them know what’s happening and why preservation is important.”

Gorgas was known as the “campus mother,” Wiggins said, for many students who were away from home for their first time. While living in a house on 
campus now known as the Gorgas House Museum, Gorgas served as a nurse matron in the infirmary and postmistress in the University’s first post office — both of which were located in her home — as well as a librarian. The Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library at the heart of the campus is named after her.

Wiggins said she plans to start the lecture with what she has discovered most people want to know about a person: what they looked like, what their personality was and how they fit into their family. Gorgas was petite, barely reaching five feet tall and was known for her “fun” and 
“delightful” personality.

“She’s just a lady with tremendous personality, and this is true when she’s young and throughout the entire period of her life,” Wiggins said.

After introducing the audience to her subject, Wiggins then discuss Amelia’s education and what she went on to 
do with it.

Wiggins said Gorgas’ long, dynamic life draws interest from people of many different backgrounds and interests. She appeals to Civil War buffs as the wife of a confederate general, to University of Alabama students and alumni as an important campus figure and to those in medicine for her connection to her son, a sanitation officer for the U.S. military who played an important role in the construction of the Panama Canal.

“She lived to be 87-years-old, so the sections of her life appeal to different 
people,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins has been researching the Gorgas family since the 1980s as an offshoot from her field of Reconstruction history. What began as a study of Josiah Gorgas in the reconstruction era eventually led to what she called “a lifetime project.”

“From [Josiah’s journals], it just led from one thing to another,” Wiggins said. “I began writing essays about the material that was in the manuscript collection and in the diary. Then I discovered there were other diaries in the collection by other family members for 
various periods.”

Murphy said the lecture is slated to wrap up around 6:30 p.m., at which point the floor will open for a question and answer session with Wiggins.

Parking is available on the street or in the lot next to the Jemison Mansion. Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society members receive free admission; everyone else is charged $5. In addition to the lecture, a TCPS member will be dressed in character as Amelia.

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Former UA Professor to discuss Gorgas' life