The Vagabond: Ada Tolson Ralls


By Danny Crownover

In 1947, Mayor J. Herbert Meighan, on behalf of the City of Gadsden, accepted the gift of two fine paintings of Noccalula Falls executed by Mrs. Ada Tolson Ralls, who was member of one of the oldest and most prominent families of Gadsden.

The above two paintings are on display at the Gadsden Public Library.

At the artist’s request, a marker between the two paintings acknowledging Ralls’ debt to her mother, Mrs. Claudia Meredith Tolson, and Dr. A.E. Ewing, a noted physician, for their unfailing encouragement.

Ada Tolson Ralls was born in August of 1856 in Lauderdale, Miss., and died on November 30, 1955, in Putnam, Fla.

Ada Tolson Ralls was the first art teacher in the Gadsden schools, and her work was always regarded as excellent. Her youth and early married life were spent in this area. “Gadsden is the city I have always loved most,” she wrote. “It has given me most in happiness.”

Ada Tolson, who later lived at “Rallsmere” in Manneville, Fla., married John P. Ralls, Jr., on Decem-ber 23, 1884, at the Gadsden Methodist Church. John P. Ralls was a successful local businessman for many years, and his father was the well-known Dr. John Perk-ins Ralls, Sr.

Ada Tolson Ralls was the daughter of James D. Tolson, a prominent local businessman, and Mrs. Claudia Meredith Tolson, the was the daughter of Thomas Meredith. He was the founder of Meredith College at Raleigh, N.C., a standard college for women.

The Tolson home was located on the southwest corner of Chestnut and Ninth streets and it was one of the most beautiful in the city. The house eventually was torn down to provide space for the brick colonial home of C.E. Snead. The only thing left of the old place is a magnificent mag-nolia tree that was planted by Mrs. Tolson. There are also magnolia trees on the family plot in Forrest Ce-metery and in the yard of the Ralls’ home on Chestnut Street, opposite the Nowlin Apartments.

An interesting incident happened to Ada Tolson Ralls. On February 17, 1915, she was the subject of an article in an Atlanta, Ga., newspaper entitled, “Woman Commanded the Situation – Man Tried to Move His Stuff Out of the House He Had Rented and the Owner Got a Gun and Stopped Him.”

“Mrs. Ada T. Ralls of 33 Irwin Street believes in women’s suffrage and a woman’s right to protect herself. She does not need to call in a man to fight her battles for her. Mrs. Ralls rented a house to one Roscoe Carden, who runs a garage. She claimed that Carden owed her rent. So, when Carden and a dray-man went to the house to take away some things Carden had stored there, Mrs. Ralls appeared at the window of her house next door with a 38-caliber revolver. “Carden did not stop loading things into the dray, so Mrs. Ralls fired the weapon.

Carden claims she fired at him, but Mrs. Ralls said she shot into the air to scare the drayman. When the police arrived, they found Mrs. Ralls in command of the situation.”

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