Last week we looked at what life might have been like for Scarlett at the fictional Fayetteville Female Academy, and now we're pleased to explore the real life inspiration behind Miss O'Hara's school. As many of you may already know, Margaret Mitchell based her heroine's alma mater on the real Fayetteville Academy. Located in the Georgia town of the same name, Fayetteville Academy was actually a coed institution, one that was attended by Mitchell's grandmother, Annie Fitzgerald. The Academy was housed in antebellum mansion, which today is known as the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum. (If the Holliday name sounds familiar to you, you aren't imagining things--the house was built in 1855 by John Stiles Holliday, uncle to the infamous "Doc" Holliday, whose connection to GWTW you can find here.)
To get the inside story on Fayetteville Academy, we reached out to John Lynch, City Historian for Fayetteville, Georgia and curator of the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum, who was kind enough to email us about the Academy's history and its relationship to MM, which we've excerpted for you:
"The academy was built and organized around the mid 1850's and was very popular with the surrounding planters and well-to-do people (which were not the majority). They sent their children here due in part because of the reputation of the founding professors - George C., Morgan, and M.V. Looney (brothers). There really was no female academy although one was proposed in the 1840's and never came to be. So the 1850's academy was coed. Dr. John Stiles Holliday was one of the founding trustees of the academy and after building his home (present HDF Museum), he allowed some students and faculty to board in the house. One of the boarders was (at times) Miss Annie Fitzgerald (the grandmother of Margaret Mitchell). To say the least the academy was the premier place in the county for educating young people. Most of the other schools were one-room affairs that belonged to planters or wealthy farmers who built them for the use of their own children and surrounding neighbors' children. We do have some information on a few of these. Fayette County was not a very wealthy county as counties go in those days, although there were a few families of moderate wealth. Most of the time these families tended to marry into each other...
"I should say that as far as local legends go there are numerous stories about M.M. and the people that lived around here. Every family seems to have a story or connection to M.M. I would gather to say that about 90% of them or erroneous or greatly exaggerated. However, Margaret Mitchell was very fond of Fayetteville and spent a lot of time here while helping the local woman's club in organizing the library. One of those ladies was Mrs. R.E.L. Fife (last owners of the HDF House). She and her husband entertained M.M. at the home in 1937 at which time the young M.M. said the house "would make a good shot in the new movie GWTW.""
--John Lynch, City of Fayetteville Historian and Curator of the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House
We agree with MM that the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House would have made a good shot in GWTW. In fact, we blinked a few times upon seeing it ourselves, as it does remind us somewhat of Tara in the movie. Isn't it interesting to see how real life compares against reel life?
The Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House. Image from fayetteville-ga.gov. Tara from Gone with the Wind. Image from fanpop.com.