ABOUT MARY LETITIA ROSS - A LIFE HISTORY
On November 11, 1881, Mary Letitia Ross was born to parents, Caroline Mehrtens and John Dilworth Ross, in Camden County, Georgia. A few years after her birth, the family moved to Brunswick where her father worked as a bookkeeper in a furniture store. Mary attended elementary and secondary school in Brunswick, graduating from Glynn High School in 1898. Following graduation, she decided to become a teacher, and she relocated to Athens, Georgia, where she received her teaching certificate in 1906 from the State Normal School. She spent the next seven years as a school teacher, first in Brunswick and then in Tuscon, Arizona. Looking for a career change, Mary enrolled in the geography program at the University of Chicago in 1913, but she soon left there to attend the California State Normal School where she graduated in 1914. The following year she enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley, and in 1916 she received he B.A. in History. She became a student of Professor Herbert Bolton, well-known historian, and in 1918 she received her M.A. in history from Berkeley.
Mary Ross and Professor Bolton published a book, The Debatable Land: A Sketch of the Anglo-Spanish Conquest of the Georgia Country, that was to change her life. The book, published in 1925, was intended to show Spain’s claim to what is now Georgia back to the sixteenth century, but the authors misidentified tabby ruins along the Georgia coast as remains of Spanish missions. Noted Georgia historian, E, Merton Coulter, collected papers from historians and archaeologists and published Georgia’s Disputed Ruins, in 1937. Coulter’s work discredited, in part, the work of Bolton and Ross. Bolton was an established professor and researcher, and his reputation, though tarnished, survived. Mary Ross shouldered the blame for leading her professor astray, and as a result, she never published another history article or book. She moved back to Brunswick in 1953.
Always a dedicated researcher, Mary refocused her energies on acquiring and translating original Spanish documents relating to Florida and the early missions that stretched along the Georgia coast. Unable to travel to Spain to obtain documents herself, she contracted with Irene Wright, a researcher who resided in Seville, to select and copy documents that were then mailed to Mary in California and later to Brunswick. In this way, Mary accumulated a huge collection of more than one thousand documents, all written in archaic Spanish, which she spent the rest of her life compiling and translating. When Mary Ross passed away in January, 1971, she left behind this massive personal archive. Her collection was of such importance to the State of Georgia that her personal library and more than eighty cubic feet of documents, papers, and correspondence were acquired by the Georgia Department of Archives and History where they are currently available to researchers from around the globe.
J.S. R. Mendelson who compiled the catalog of the Mary Ross papers for the Georgia Department of Archives and History wrote the following tribute to Mary and her career:
“Mary Ross, a woman from Brunswick, a woman whose appreciation of learning and whose quest for knowledge transcended the boundaries of her county, never forgot Georgia, or Glynn, or her coastal roots despite all the years she spent in California. Even in her studies at Berkeley, she focused her investigations on the Spanish occupation of the Southeastern United States and the world discovered by Spanish subjects in the name of Christendom.”
Submitted by Chester B. DePratter, a 1965 Glynn Academy graduate, and currently Research Professor, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia SC.