May duBignon Stiles was born on May 2, 1894 in Savannah, Georgia, to parents John and Edith. After her mother’s death when May was seven, her father’s sisters had a large influence on her. Caroline Lovell was a noted writer and painter; Elizabeth Screven was a Georgia historian and supporter of patriotic causes; Isabel Marshall was a designer and artist in New York City; Margaret Stiles was an artist. These women helped shape May’s idea of how women could be a force for change in society.
May attended Brunswick schools and graduated from Glynn Academy. She continued her education in the nursing program at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City and then worked at Telfair Hospital in Savannah where she met Dr. Lee Howard, a pathologist. They married in 1916 and were together 44 years until his death in 1960.
May began her community leadership at Waters Avenue School in the 1920’s when Savannah schools were crowded with rural poor families who had come to town looking for work. She began the lunchroom program, addressing the nutrition of hundreds of children. She became president of the Chatham County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, serving from 1929-1931, where she focused on free dental inspections in the system schools.
From that post she chaired the state Child Hygiene Committee where she promoted medical screenings of at-risk children during the summer months. Her responsibilities broadened over many counties and her advocacy grew to include other issues of child heatlh and well being, including educating children with special needs.
May also understood that knowing the democratic process allowed individuals to participate and effect change, rather than being bystanders. She developed workshops for teaching parliamentary procedures and how to participate in public meetings in order to involve more citizens. This led to writing bylaws and handbooks for hundreds of PTAs. Her continued involvement at the state level resulted in her election as State Treasurer at age 70.
Although May was recognized as “Mrs. PTA” throughout Georgia, she was involved in other community organizations and causes. With her background in nursing, she served as the president of the Women’s Auxiliary to the Chatham County Medical Society and later as the president of the Medical Association of Georgia Auxiliary in 1942. She focused on two devastating illnesses of that time, polio and tuberculosis, and volunteered for the Department of Family and Children’s Services for 20 years.
May also was instrumental in organizing the United Community Service, now known as the United Way of the Coastal Empire. She served on its Board of Directors, and also served as a Trustee of the Savannah Foundation, a charitable trust committed to the public welfare. She was active in the Catholic Women’s Club, caught the Nancy Hanks train to Atlanta where she continued to lobby the General Assembly on behalf of the PTA, and she raised five children.
May duBignon Stiles Howard has been honored many times for her work. Governor Herman Tallmadge appointed May Howard as Georgia Delegate to the President’s Mid-Century Conference on Education in 1950. In 1953 the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce named her “Woman of the Year,” and in 1954 presented her with the Hillyer Trophy, its highest civic award. In 1960 May Howard Elementary School opened its doors on Wilmington Island.
May Howard followed her role models and inspired future generations by being an advocate for good causes, refusing to be limited by gender or age. Thousands of children and adults have benefited from her dedication.