Last month a woman wrote to me and asked whether a town called Emory, Georgia, once existed. The answer, she said, might smooth the way for her mother’s international travel.
Her mother had been born at Emory University Hospital in 1944 and had always been told that she was born in the city of Atlanta. The problem was that when the mother recently ordered a certified copy of her birth certificate to apply for a passport, the space for “place of birth” indicated “Emory, DeKalb County” — suggesting that Emory was a town. This seemed to pose a potential complication for the passport application — Atlanta or Emory as place of birth?
After a little investigation, the daughter found that a 1940 U.S. census map showed three “cities” in DeKalb County: Scottdale, Decatur, and Emory. But was Emory really a city or a town? Or just a census tract?
Local folks whom the woman asked mostly said that Emory University was in the city of Decatur until January 2018, when it was annexed into the city of Atlanta. Staff at the DeKalb County department of vital statistics weren’t sure whether Emory had ever been a town or not, but they said the birth certificate was not a mistake. Births in 1944 would have indicated Emory in the town field because “that’s just how they filled them out” back then.
The question, then: In 1944, was Emory University Hospital in (A) the town of Emory, (B) the city of Decatur, (C) the city of Atlanta, (D) unincorporated DeKalb/militia district 531, or (E) something else?
By coincidence, I had recently been digging into something like this very question because I wanted to know when Emory began to use an Atlanta postal designation.
When Emory University began operations in Druid Hills in 1916, it was set in a suburb of Atlanta in unincorporated DeKalb County. It remained in unincorporated DeKalb County until January 1, 2018, when it was annexed into the city of Atlanta. It’s still in DeKalb County, of course, but for the first time it is within the boundaries of an incorporated city.
Back in 1916, the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad (now CSX) built a train station where the train tracks skirted the new campus. That station had its name painted on one wall: “EMORY, GA.” In 1947, the sign was repainted to read “EMORY UNIVERSITY, GA.”
In fact, the mailing address of the university was Emory University, Georgia, until May 1, 1958, when it was changed to Atlanta, Georgia 22, later Atlanta, Georgia 30322.
Campus stationery and letters to administrators through the first decades of Emory’s Atlanta sojourn were inconsistent. Sometimes the address was “Emory University, Georgia,” and sometimes “Atlanta, Georgia” or even “Druid Hills, Atlanta, Georgia.” Either way, Emory remained outside the city limits. The campus was still in an unincorporated section of the county and was not a city or town in its own right.
The original Emory post office bears the name EMORY UNIV., GA in the photo below, from the 1940s. This post office occupied the corner where the Center for Rehabilitation Medicine now stands, next to Egleston Hospital.
So, to answer the question: in 1944 Emory was not a town, was not in the city of Decatur, was not in the city of Atlanta, but was in unincorporated DeKalb County with its own mailing address. I’m not sure what that does for the mother’s passport application, but at least there’s an explanation for the oddly named location of birth.