Julia Flisch was an advocate for young women’s rights, education, and independence. She strove to advance the cause of women’s higher education in Georgia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Julia Anna Flisch was born in Augusta on January 31, 1861, the second child to Pauline and Leonard Flisch, Swiss-German immigrants. Shortly after her birth, her father, a confectioner, moved the family to Athens, where he opened a sweet shop and ice cream parlor near the University of Georgia (UGA) campus. In 1877 Flisch graduated with honors from the Lucy Cobb Institute, but it was UGA, the all-male state university, that she longed to attend. She applied but was denied admission. This rejection inspired her to work for women’s rights and higher education, first as a journalist and author, then as an educator and scholar.
In 1882 Flisch submitted an anonymous letter to the editor of the Augusta Chronicle, asking the public to give young women opportunities to pursue financial and social independence. She became a regular contributor for the Chronicle, even while a student at Cooper Union in New York City, where she studied business, and her articles were printed in newspapers in Georgia. She also wrote fiction, and her first novel, Ashes of Hopes, which told the story of three young women’s search for independence, was well received upon its publication in 1886.
Flisch’s efforts to improve the state of higher education for women were successful, and in 1890 she was the only woman asked to participate in the dedication ceremony for Georgia Normal and Industrial College (later Georgia College and State University), a women’s institution in Milledgeville. Influential in the development of the new college’s curriculum, she first taught stenography and typing there in 1891 and later served as professor of history, from 1891 to 1905. While at Georgia Normal, she enrolled in summer classes at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at the University of Chicago in Illinois. In 1899, more than two decades after it had denied her admission, UGA awarded her an honorary degree. She left her Milledgeville post in 1905 to enroll as a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where she studied under Frederick Jackson Turner and Ulrich Bonnell Phillips. There she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history.
Upon returning to Georgia in 1908, Flisch resumed teaching history at the Tubman High School for Girls in Augusta. She was a devoted teacher and role model, actively lobbying for woman suffrage and state grants for women’s higher education. Moreover, she was a woman ahead of her time who advocated collective bargaining rights for teachers. Flisch served as dean of women and professor of history at the Junior College of Augusta (later Augusta State University) after its founding in 1925 until failing eyesight forced her into retirement in 1936. She remained in Augusta until her death on March 17, 1941, and was buried in the Magnolia Cemetery. Obituaries hailed Flisch as “having done more than any other person to advance the cause of women’s [higher] education in the state of Georgia.”
In 1994 Flisch was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement.