About Martha Newell Daniel

newell and her daughters

Martha Daniel Newell, ‘42, brings the quaint hillside village to life.

Using broad strokes and vibrant, energizing colors, she cast the yellow and orange Italian village against the purple mountainside and sky. 

She sketches clouds and shadows before putting down her brush to analyze her work.

“I’m more the renegade artist,” she said. “While everyone around me uses precise strokes and muted colors, I’m the loudest one in the class. I go for the zest with bold colors. You paint the way you feel.”

The Georgia College alumna approaches her weekly watercolor class the same way she lives life — with optimism, passion and a yearning to learn.

“Life is like painting with watercolors – it’s full of surprises,” she said. “It can run and do things after you’ve finished. You don’t always know until later what you’ve done.” 

At 89, Mrs. Newell maintains her zest for life and learning. She takes classes, plays bridge and dines with her friends and neighbors each evening. 

She stretches and exercises in an indoor pool four days a week and spends her afternoons playing, by ear, big band swing pieces on her grand piano. She admits she never learned to read music.

“I’m not a trained musician,” she said. “Music has never interfered with my playing.”

Every night she tunes into “The Charlie Rose Show” to keep up with world events and sharpen her mind.

A native of Atlanta, Mrs. Newell chose Georgia State College for Women because her mother, Myrtice Johnson Daniel, was a 1912 graduate of Georgia Normal & Industrial College, the university’s original name. 

Newell was well prepared for the academic challenges.

“I studied so hard in high school that my classes were easy for me compared to other girls,” Newell said. “I was there to improve my mind, and that’s what I did.”

Mrs. Newell lived in Bell Hall and Sanford Hall, and served as president of the Student Government Association while earning a degree in home economics in 1942. 

She met Samuel W. Newell Jr. at an Atlanta Symphony performance and married the Georgia Tech graduate in 1943. As the wife of a military man, she watched her pennies and moved across the country.

The night before Mr. Newell was to begin a doctoral program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he told his wife he had a calling to the ministry.

“You can imagine my surprise. I thought I had married an English teacher,” Mrs. Newell said. “I had to give up all my vices overnight to become a minister’s wife. I think I did a pretty good job.” 

Dr. Newell’s Presbyterian ministry took them to a small church in South Carolina and then to Davidson College in North Carolina where he served 1,200 male students. 

“It was a wonderful experience,” Mrs. Newell said. “We spent a lot of time with our girls on the campus. But when the oldest turned 13, it was time to move the girls away from all those men.”

The family moved to Richmond, Virginia, where Dr. Newell served River Bend Presbyterian Church for 15 years. The daughters attended Presbyterian-sponsored Collegiate School where the grandchildren followed and Dr. Newell served as a trustee. Now, Mrs. Newell’s two great-granddaughters are enrolled at the prestigious private school for this coming fall.

Mrs. Newell returned to Georgia College for her 50th class reunion in 1992. She made a second trip to the university in 2009 with her three daughters – Patti Williams, Scottie Slater and Meg Gottwald, who all live in Richmond.  “I wanted to show my daughters where Mom went to school,” she said. “I think the girls have learned a lot about their mother during recent years.”

Also accompanying her on the visit was a niece, Barbara, from Macon and two of her 1942 classmates, Miriam Jones Chamberlain of Newborn, Georgia, and Jean Stewart Jones of Greensboro, Georgia.  Friends for 72 years, their fond memories of Georgia College and their enduring friendship prompted a spontaneous vocal rendition of the French National Anthem, La Marseillaise, in perfect French, during a luncheon for the visitors hosted by President Leland.

Philanthropy is not new to the Newell family. Using money from the sale of family property, Mrs. Newell has enriched the lives of students at Union Theological Seminary and the Collegiate School in Richmond and Davidson College as well as at Georgia College. She also supports cancer research at the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in honor of her grandson, Carrington, who has a brain tumor. 

The Newells were married for 58 years before his death in 2001. “I often wonder what Sam would think about all that I’ve done. I think he would be proud.”

Establishing the Endowment

When Martha Daniel Newell decided she wanted to make an impact on students at Georgia College, the idea of bringing top-notch scholars to campus for a year-long visit to provide special instruction in their areas of expertise excited her.

“Establishing a visiting scholars program really appealed to me,” she said. “I can see real value, in say, a Shakespearean scholar coming to work with faculty for a year.”

The 1942 alumna’s desire to improve the minds and lives of others led her to make what was at the time the single largest individual gift in the history of Georgia College. Her $1 million endowment created the Martha Daniel Newell Visiting Scholar program.

Newell’s gift will benefit the university in perpetuity, said Dr. Dorothy Leland in accepting the gift as Georgia College President in 2009.  “The Martha Daniel Newell Visiting Scholar will be a prestigious appointment designed to attract top scholars in their fields and also elevate the academic profile of Georgia College and its liberal arts disciplines.” 

Scholars will be selected from the arts, humanities, social sciences and physical sciences – the traditional disciplines of a liberal arts college and at the heart of a public liberal arts mission.

The gift came after Mrs. Newell watched Georgia College’s transformation during the past six decades from a women’s college to a regional co-ed college to the state’s designated public liberal arts university.

“What a transformation!” she said.  “I started paying attention to the school as it became a liberal arts university. Then I began to see Georgia College mentioned in U.S. News & World Report and Kiplinger’s as a university to watch.”

Mrs. Newell knew she wanted to take part and offer expanded opportunities for students at Georgia College.

“I wanted to do something for the university that would offer a little extra to the students, and I wanted to do something for myself,” she said.

During a Fall 2009 visit to Georgia College, Mrs. Newell met with Dr. Leland and finalized her plans for the donation to establish the Martha Daniel Newell Visiting Scholar Endowment.

 “Endowments are lasting legacies to the donor and to the college,” noted Leland. “We are grateful recipients of this generous gift that will impact students and faculty for years to come.”

Personal Reflections

Martha Daniel Newell kept a personal memoir which included these entries about her years at Georgia College.

We weren’t allowed to ride in cars with boys. So our social life was rather restricted. We could go to dances at GMC under heavy chaperonage, and we had a couple of “free” weekends each semester when we could be away. Otherwise our dates had to be on campus dancing in the rec halls or walking or sitting on one of the many benches around. We had a night watchman to check on our behavior.

I was a class officer my freshman year and a winner in the “Miss Charming Smile” contest, also was in a movie-star lookalike contest, looking like Olivia DeHaviland or Andrea Leeds. Didn’t study much but managed to make decent grades.

During my sophomore year I was a class officer and had many dates with boys at Emory, Georgia Tech, University of Georgia and occasionally at Mercer University. 

Music in the late thirties and forties was wonderful – at least for the teenage and college crowds. I remember once at a University of Georgia dance hearing Frank Sinatra sing when he was just a skinny kid with a good voice.

My junior year I was elected a student government officer, so my political career continued. I had decided to major in Home Economics – a grave mistake? What I should have majored in was French or Library Science. But hindsight is better than foresight. I did live in the “Practice House” one semester, plan and cook meals, etc., though I think I could have picked this up on my own at some point.

My senior year I was elected president of the student body. This new duty consumed even more of my time away from my studies so I never got any scholastic honors.

On December 7th of that year, our world spun off in a different direction when suddenly the Japanese destroyed our naval fleet at Pearl Harbor and World War II began. All of our boyfriends, brothers, cousins and even some uncles and fathers were suddenly called into service.

The information on this page has been adapted from articles in the Spring 2010 Connection magazine.