Women's History Trail Franklin NC


WHT Barbara Sears McRae Academic Scholarship


In an effort to increase awareness about the Women’s History Trail, the importance of women’s heritage, and the impactful roles they play in a student’s life, especially career and educational goals, the Women’s History Trail established an annual scholarship for graduating seniors in Macon County (Franklin, Highlands, Nantahala).

Applications are available through your guidance counselor / school office. Once the application process is complete, a WHT selection committee reviews applications, the recipient is chosen, and the student is recognized in the spring.

Named after the late Women’s History Trail visionary and founder, Barbara Sears McRae, this scholarship awards $500 to a candidate that strongly exemplifies community involvement, volunteerism, and academic achievement.

Callie Roper from Franklin High School was selected for the 2023 WHT Barbara Sears McRae Academic Scholarship.

Past Scholarship Recipients:

2019 -
2020 -
2021 - Hannah Faith Angel and Amber Ruth Trine
2022 -


WHT Barbara Sears McRae Academic Scholarship Franklin NC

A Life Well Lived


FRANKLIN – Barbara Sears McRae died peacefully at her home on March 2, 2021. Her loss is felt deeply by countless family members, friends and colleagues whose lives she touched. Barbara’s life was centered on her love for seeing good things happen in this community.

Born September 29, 1942 to career Air Force officer Robert Sears and his Georgia-born wife Mary, Barbara grew up as a service brat, moving from posting to posting. She graduated from high school in Wiesbaden, Germany, and earned her B.S. in Biology from St. Louis University in 1964. Returning to her mother’s hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, she went to work as a systems engineer for IBM. She married Atlanta artist Jim McRae in 1972 and moved with him to Macon County. They settled first in the Jones Creek community but moved to Franklin in 1992. 

In 1976, she went to work as a reporter for The Franklin Press, leaving in 1982 to take a job in corporate communications with Nantahala Power and Light (now Duke Energy). She retired from Duke after 20 years and returned to The Press. After 10 years as editor, she retired a second time and plunged into public service. 

In 2013, Barbara was elected to a four-year term on the Franklin Board of Aldermen (now Town Council). She was re-elected in 2017 and selected to serve as vice-mayor. During this time, she represented Franklin on Mountain Partners, the group that created Nikwasi Initiative. This nonprofit community development organization includes representatives from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Mainspring Conservation Trust, Macon County, and the Town of Franklin. In May 2019, after months of discussion, town council unanimously agreed to transfer ancient Nikwasi Mound to the organization, which is dedicated to preserving it, improving its accessibility, and interpreting its history for the public. 

Barbara was long involved in community efforts. She was one of several interested persons who renewed the charter of the inactive Macon County Historical Society, and she served many years as a board member and president. With Jessie Sutton and others, she played an important role in creation of the Historical Museum and such projects as the county’s 1992 Comprehensive Historical Site Survey and the publication of Macon County Heritage. 

The original Franklin Main Street program was another effort that fully engaged her, leading to an enduring interest in community development. While she was president, Main Street members and supporters built the downtown gazebo, began the ever-popular Pickin’ on the Square, and launched Pumpkinfest. The group also began efforts to create a greenway along the Little Tennessee River. Though the dream had to be shelved because of limited resources, it was resurrected several years later by Duke Power Company. Barbara was assigned to the project with marketing, community outreach, and grant-writing responsibilities. Its successful conclusion was a highlight of her career with the utility.

Barbara participated in the organization of what was then called Nikwasi Land Trust (now Mainspring) and served as a board member during the early years of that fine organization. She was on the initial board of the Macon County Community Foundation. During service on the Macon County Arts Council board, she took on publication of a literary/arts journal, Wayah Review. She also served on the Macon County Public Library and Fontana Regional Library boards and was involved in numerous special community projects. 

In 2018, Barbara was honored with the Director’s Award of the multi-county civic group, One Dozen Who Care, in recognition of her many contributions, including assisting author Ann Miller Woodford with the publication of her book, When All God’s Children Get Together. Additionally, She was named Macon County’s Citizen of the Year for 1999; and in 2005 she was presented with the Governor’s Award as Conservation Communicator of the Year from the NC Wildlife Federation in collaboration with the National Wildlife Federation. 

Health and fitness became important passions in Barbara’s life. At age 70, she began working out with a personal trainer. Recognizing the impact that strength training and proper nutrition had on her own life led her to join the trainer in starting a nonprofit, U-Turn America. This organization is developing ways to bring nutritional information and fitness training to everyone, regardless of income. 

Barbara initiated the successful Women’s History Trail (WHT), a project of the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County. The WHT encourages people to walk in the footsteps of many remarkable women who made their mark in Franklin and Macon County through the years. The project has garnered regional, state, and national recognition as the first women’s history trail in North Carolina and created strong alliances with women’s groups in surrounding counties. A major undertaking by the WHT is a public sculpture honoring three women, pioneer, enslaved, and Cherokee, who played important roles in the early development of the town and county. Sculptor Wesley Wofford has been commissioned to create this monumental work, which will become a centerpiece of Franklin’s emerging river district. 

During her initial tenure at The Franklin Press, Barbara began writing weekly columns on nature and local history. She continued those pursuits through the years and took on other freelance writing and publishing projects as well, including several books on local history. She had special interests in birdwatching and nature photography.