For someone who grew up in a small town in Georgia, going away to college is often the goal. However, this was not Flannery O’Connor’s initial plan. Even after growing up and graduating high school in Milledgeville, O’Connor planned to stay, attending the Georgia State College for Women from 1942 to 1945.

Flannery, known as Mary Flannery before her college years, was often described as an awkward girl by those who spent time with her. Rather than living on campus, Flannery lived at the Cline House on Greene Street,  with her mother, Regina, and older aunts, a block from the main GSCW campus. Flannery didn’t hang out with a lot of the girls in her class, known as “Jessies,” whose focus seemed more interested in politics or dating. However, when forced to attend the first freshman class gathering of the school year, she sat alone, apart from the other students. “When asked why she was sitting alone in a corner, she replied, ‘Well, I’m anti-social.’”[1] 

Flannery O’Connor (center) and the 1945 Corinthian Staff, image courtesy Georgia College Special Collections.

Flannery soon became known for her comic strips published in the Corinthian, the school’s literary magazine, in her freshman year. Flannery would sign her pieces with the initials MFOC, Mary Flannery O’Connor, after GSCW, she would drop Mary and be known as just Flannery. While Flannery’s writing style soon became her staple, it was not popular with one of her English professors. One such professor, Dr. William Wynn, “did not even give the young writer even the benefit of the doubt of a high grade,”[2] thus keeping her from achieving the first quarter’s dean’s list. O’Connor went as far as changing her major from English to Social Sciences to avoid any further classes with  Dr. Wynn. That is not to say that Flannery did not have any support among the GSCW teaching staff, however. One of the teachers Flannery would stay in touch with when she moved to Andalusia in 1951 was Miss Hallie Smith. Miss Smith was an English professor who would teach Flannery’s elective course, Advanced Composition. Miss Smith was immediately a fan of Flannery’s work and urged her to publish some of her pieces in the Corinthian.

After graduating from Georgia State College for Women, Flannery would leave for Iowa to pursue the writing program offered to her. Though leaving a community of friends and family could not have been easy, Flannery thrived for several years before moving back to Milledgeville in early 1951, to recuperate from her diagnosis of lupus. She and her mother moved to the family farm, Andalusia. 

Flannery’s diagnosis in no means slowed her successful career as a fiction author. She attended many schools and spoke in front of many professors and auditoriums about her writing. In Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor author, Brad Gooch covers her time at the GSCW and the time she spent after graduating. “She [Flannery] kept up friendships with her teachers Hallie Smith and Helen Greene, and English Department Chairwoman, Rosa Lee Walston.”[3] Living only 4 miles from her alma mater, it was no surprise she kept in touch with the staff at GSCW, including the president at the time, Robert “Buzz” E. Lee, who seemingly sweet-talked Flannery into speaking at the Georgia State College for Women.

Daily writing, to continually improve her craft, is how she spent her years at the farm, Flannery was committed to speaking in as many places as possible. Her efforts to travel and speak at schools and venues, while battling lupus, adds to the element of strength she exhibited in her life. Georgia State College for Women became Georgia College and State University in 1971 and, to this day, commemorates Flannery O’Connor’s memory in a variety of ways.

[1] Brad Gooch, Flannery A Life of Flannery O’Connor, (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2009), 92.

[2] Ibid., 93.

[3] Ibid., 283.

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