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Atkinson, William Yates


Lawyer and politician William Y. Atkinson was born in Oakland, Georgia on November 11, 1854. Atkinson graduated from the University of Georgia in 1877 after being named champion debater for the Demosthenian Literary Society. After graduation, he began a flourishing law practice in Newnan. In 1879, he was appointed solicitor of the Coweta superior court circuit. In 1886, Atkinson was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives - and by 1892 he was named Speaker. While serving in the General Assembly, Atkinson was instrumental in creation of the Georgia Normal and Industrial School for Girls (now Georgia College and State University) in Milledgeville. Atkinson was elected governor in 1894 and reelected in 1896, both hard-fought elections. As governor, he hired Ellen Dortch to serve as assistant state librarian—the first woman with an official position in Georgia state government. He also spoke out against lynching, established a prison commission to curb some of the worse abuses then prevalent in the system, and supported increased funding for education. In 1897 Atkinson vetoed a bill which would have outlawed football in the state of Georgia, passed after the death of University of Georgia football player Von Gammon. After a second term as governor, Atkinson returned to his law practice in Newnan. On a trip to Florida in 1899, he came down with dysentery and died on August 8, 1899. He is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Newnan. The General Assembly named a southwest Georgia county in his honor on August 15, 1917.

Atkinson, William Yates View large image

Source: Portrait in Georgia State Capitol, Photo by Ed Jackson