Her Heart Belonged in Macon: Martha Bibb Hardaway Redding

The third and youngest of the Philomathean Society’s Founders was Martha Bibb Hardaway Redding.

Martha Bibb Hardaway was born on October 9, 1836, in Columbus, Georgia, and lived there until her marriage in 1861. Her father, Robert Stanfield Hardaway, was a planter, merchant and legislator. A man of wealth, he had several large plantations. For 10 years he served as president of the Mobile and Girard Railroad.

Her mother was Martha Bibb Jarrett, of Elbert County, Georgia. The Bibb name is a familiar and distinguished one in the history of the South. Two of Martha’s uncles were governors of Alabama, another was governor of Georgia and still another was chancellor of Kentucky. A cousin, Bibb Graves, also was a governor of Alabama.

“Bibb,” as Martha Bibb Hardaway was called, grew up in a family of four children. A brother, Robert, was a major in the Mexican War and colonel in the Confederate Army.  He was a civil engineer by profession and supervised the building of the railroad between Charleston and Savannah immediately after the Mexican War.

Bibb’s father gave his children the benefit of every educational and social advantage that wealth and culture could procure, and so it was that she was prepared to enter college at an early age. She first attended Slade’s Academy in Columbus, where she was awarded second honor. She then entered Wesleyan College, where she received second honor once again when she was graduated in 1853 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She received the customary Master of Arts degree awarded to distinguished students 10 years after graduation.

During her junior year, which she began at barely the age of 15, the Philomathean Society was founded, and she was one of the leading spirits of this organization. Her initiation date, like the others, is listed simply as “1852.” Martha Bibb Hardaway was described as studious and talented, with an outstanding personality, “radiating an atmosphere of refinement and culture.”

The summer following her graduation, she accompanied her father and mother on a trip to Canada. The trip covered a period of about six months, and was intended as a graduation present.

All of the young ladies with whom she associated said she was “doomed to be an old maid,” for she was not married until she had reached the age of 24. Her wedding to James T. Redding occurred on March 12, 1861, following an acquaintance and courtship of only six weeks, and she left immediately for the West where her husband had several large plantations in Louisiana and Texas.

At the time of her marriage to him, Mr. Redding was a widower with four children, the youngest being only 15 months of age. Scarcely a month after her marriage, just as she was assuming the duties of her new home with its many responsibilities, the War Between the States was declared after the fall of Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861. Her husband was exempted from military service on account of his family, but was required by the Confederate government to grow provisions for the army; thus he was able to remain at home during those trying years.

The close of the war in 1865 found Mr. Redding – like many others of the South – “land poor” and bankrupt, with a large family to support. His only opportunity seemed to be to return to Georgia where he had a small farm at Bolingbroke, near Macon.

The Reddings were absolutely without money; their only cash was the $300 they received by selling a mahogany bedroom suite which had been given to Bibb by her father as a wedding gift. This money was almost entirely gone when they reached their new home. Penniless and heavily burdened, they started anew to mend their broken fortune in spite of difficulties that seemed insurmountable.

Martha Hardaway Redding showed great courage and initiative in those trying days. She personally supplemented the education that was available to her children in the small town in which they were settled. Later the family moved to Macon.

Here in the town of her college days, she spent practically the rest of her life, giving her time to making a happy home, rearing and training her children. For a few years she lived elsewhere, once in Florida and later, for a short while, in the mountains of Northern Alabama, but she returned finally to Macon.

Martha Hardaway Redding died on October 15, 1893, just a few days after her 57th birthday. She is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Macon. Her husband survived her eight years. She had lost two children in infancy and one died in early boyhood. Of her remaining family of eight, seven were living at the time of her death.

One of the daughters, Mary Redding Devant became a Phi Mu at the Gamma Gamma Chapter in 1928. A greatgranddaughter of Martha’s, Harriet Cawley Dunlap, became an alumna initiate of the Alpha Iota Chapter in 1995.

Source: Lamb, Annadell. C. The History of Phi Mu: The First 150 Years. The Grace Group, 2002. Print