Quiet and soft-spoken, Sarah Randolph Bailey was a woman who touched the lives of everyone she met, and made a profound impact on multiple organizations and systems within the state of Georgia. She excelled at a great many things, including her education. She finished first in her class in 1901, and took a teaching position straight away. After teaching for nine years, she was appointed to Maryland M. Burdell School, where she spent 35 years as a teacher and principal.
A missionary at heart, Bailey’s teaching extended far beyond chalkboards and classrooms. After one of her students was sent to Macon’s Old Detention Home, Bailey began to volunteer to teach Sunday School at the Home. After several influential friends visited the Home with Bailey, it was transformed into the Negro Training School for Girls, implementing a program for rehabilitation and life preparedness. Today the Home is known as the Youth Development Center or YDC and is managed by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.
Perhaps her greatest passion was the Girl Scouts, and providing African-American girls the same experience and benefits, despite the fact that the Girl Scouts did not allow black troops until the 1940s. Bailey organized groups called the Girl Reserves in 1935, a movement of the YWCA that offered young black girls the same experience as the Girl Scouts. Within two years, Macon had 15 Girl Reserve groups. Her work did not go unnoticed, and in 1945 the Girl Scouts of the USA invited the formation of black troops, and Bailey was appointed chairwoman of the Central Committee for Macon’s troops. They were formally recognized by the national organization in 1948. Bailey’s work as a troop leader, district and council leader, and camp director was recognized with the Thanks Badge, at the time the highest honor that could be given to an adult worker in Scouting. A permanent campsite was dedicated Camp Sarah Bailey in 1961.
Bailey’s contributions to the Girl Scouts have left a lasting legacy, and in 1994, Macon’s Girl Scout Center was renamed the Sarah Bailey Service Center to honor her. Those nominating her for the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame recognized her positive influence over thousands of students and Girl Scout members. In her handwritten account of her own life, she explains her motivations: “I shall be rewarded on Earth according to the way I’ve lived. To me a healthy body, sound mind and equal opportunities mean more than wealth; and happiness and success are the products of our gifts to the world and of our fairness and sincerity to ourselves and others. There are still experiences in my life I have not mentioned here because they are too sacred to be shared; some too bitter to remember. But I hope these pages will be sufficient to prove to you that my life has been a struggle upward.”