An Impromptu Stop at Stillman College Helps Young Woman Find Her Roots
Will what you do today matter 100 years from now? While this question may not have crossed Emily Estes Snedecor’s mind, the answer reverberated throughout the Stillman College community on Tuesday, July 30, when Katharin Taylor, one of Snedecor’s great-great-granddaughters, appeared unexpectedly on the campus.
The 23-year-old, who was raised in Salem, Oregon and recently completed an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, California, had never been to Alabama and knew virtually nothing about her family’s connection to Stillman. She was driving from Oregon with her father, Bill Taylor, on her way to Charleston, South Carolina, where she is about to begin the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear Power School, when he suggested that they stop in Tuscaloosa. But they were not pulling over for a routine fuel and coffee break.
A week prior to their road trip, Bill Taylor’s curiosity about Stillman was peaked when he began doing on-line research about his wife’s family. He had continued his research as he and his daughter traveled, and learned that one of the first buildings constructed on campus was named in honor of Snedecor. Armed with this fascinating information, they pulled off the highway in Tuscaloosa and headed toward the campus. Although they had a long journey ahead of them, they were determined to see Snedecor Hall.
Katharin Taylor, whose mother, Margaret Herrmann Taylor, was not with them on the road trip, says that entering a building named for her great-great-grandmother was a “surreal” experience. “It was very emotional for me to see that my family had been so instrumental to the College and that I knew nothing about any of this.”
Word of the Taylors’ visit spread quickly across the campus. Jacqueline Currie, Director of Student Development, who happened to be in Snedecor when Taylor and her father arrived, was thrilled to hear their story. Currie sensed that the Taylors should not leave campus without meeting Robert Heath, Dean of the College’s Sheppard Library. She led them to the library and, no sooner than they entered, they realized that their impromptu stop in Tuscaloosa could prove to be a genealogical goldmine. In mere minutes, Dean Heath, Librarian Evelyn King and Media Director James Dumas located priceless documents to share with Taylor about her heritage and the construction of Snedecor Hall, which Stillman students helped to build in 1929. Taylor was visibly moved when Dean Heath proceeded to narrate a touching power point presentation highlighting Emily Estes Snedecor’s remarkable contributions to the College.
But this was not the end of the story. Taylor, who also happens to be the great granddaughter of Julia Searcy, discovered that the Searcy family is listed among the founders of Stillman College. Thus she is intricately linked to Stillman’s history by both her Searcy and her Snedecor ancestry.
“As I understand it, Emily Estes Snedacor and John James Snedacor had a son named Estes Snedacor. His first wife was Julia Searcy. They had a child named Katharin Snedacor—my grandmother. Julia Searcy died when my grandmother, Katharin, was a couple of years old. Estes Snedacor remarried and moved to Oregon with my grandmother. My grandmother married my grandfather and lived in Oregon. Eventually they had my mother, who stayed in Oregon and married my father,” explains Taylor.
Heath, a Stillman graduate who has served the College for over 45 years, says that he is constantly amazed by stories of families such as the Searcys and the Snedecors and individuals such as Dr. Stillman who, inspired by their Christian faith, contributed so much to the College in its early years.
“The women of the Presbyterian Church collect funds for various projects during their annual Birthday Offering,” Dean Heath informed Taylor. “Because your great-great-grandmother was such an influential member of the church, she was able to convince women to contribute to the construction of Snedecor Hall. God used her to help this College grow. Her husband was the fifth ‘head’ of Stillman College—we didn’t use the term ‘president’ at the time—and she served as Dean of Women. The building was named in her honor because she was so successful in raising funds for its construction.”
“This was shortly after the Civil War, so they must have been heavily criticized for their efforts. Yet you look at our beautiful campus today, and you realize that it is here because of their sacrifices,” Heath added.
Although it may seem as though a series of coincidences led Taylor to the most important history lesson of her life, Dean Heath is convinced that there was nothing coincidental about her visit.
“The Lord had this prepared because all of the materials were right there,” he stated unequivocally.
Once she could compose herself long enough to make sense of everything that had transpired during her brief but eventful stop in Tuscaloosa, she said, “I am on my way to becoming a submarine officer, and it inspires me to know that my great-great-grandmother was able to make a difference at a time when women had so few rights.” But the word Taylor used most frequently to express her emotions was simply “surreal.”
When Emily Estes Snedecor set out to raise funds to construct a new building on the Stillman campus, she knew that it would benefit many students, but she could never have imagined what it would mean to a 23-year-old passing through Alabama nearly one hundred years later.
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