Lilla Kennerly Mills was born on February 1, 1908, in Camden, South Carolina, the daughter of Laurens Tenney Mills and Margaret Johnstone Mills. She attended Converse College and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Agnes Scott College in 1928, and then received a degree in Library Science from the George Peabody College for Teachers in 1939. She also received a certificate in preservation and administration archives from American University in 1948.
She married Foreman McConnell Hawes on May 29, 1936. Hawes moved to Savannah in 1935 to take a position as a chemistry professor at the newly organized Armstrong Junior College. By 1942, he was named Dean of Students and later served as acting president for a year and a half before being chosen as the third president of the institution by the Georgia Board of Regents in 1944. He served as president from 1944 to 1964 and was instrumental in promoting the expansion of the school, culminating in 1963 with the designation of Armstrong as a four-year senior college. After his retirement from Armstrong, Hawes briefly entered politics and ran an unsuccessful race for state senator in 1964.
Mrs. Hawes began working at the Georgia Historical Society library in the 1930s, when it also served as Savannah’s public library. She eventually became the librarian and director of GHS, serving from 1948 until 1976. During her tenure, the GHS also served as the library for Armstrong Junior College. With Mrs. Hawes as director, GHS became a branch repository of the Georgia Department of Archives and History in 1966, a designation that was completely redefined by privatization in 1997.
Mrs. Hawes edited 8 published volumes of the Collections of the Georgia Historical Society. She also co-edited the publication of The Mackenzie Papers (co-edited with Albert S. Britt, Jr., 1973), and edited an edition of Charles Colcock Jones’s Jones Sees a Ghost (1981).
GHS established the Lilla Mills Hawes Award in 1994 to honor the best book published in county or local Georgia history. She received the Daughters of the American Revolution Award of Merit through the Lachlan McIntosh Chapter in 1956.
Mrs. Hawes died on August 15, 1994, in Kershaw, South Carolina, at age 86. Mr. Hawes died on May 18, 1981, age 81, in Savannah. They are both buried in the Quaker Cemetery in Camden, South Carolina.
The Lilla M. Hawes Fund was established in 1978 by the Board of Curators to honor Mrs. Hawes and her lifetime of dedication and contributions to Georgia history.