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  • Leaders of Their Race: Educating Black and White Women in the New South by Sarah H. Case
  • Charles A. Israel
Leaders of Their Race: Educating Black and White Women in the New South. By Sarah H. Case. Women, Gender, and Sexuality in American History. (Urbana and other cities: University of Illinois Press, 2017. Pp. xii, 219. $28.00, ISBN 978-0-252-08279-5; $95.00, ISBN 978-0-25204123-5.)

Does a new South require a new approach to education for women? Sarah H. Case's compact volume sets out to answer this question by focusing on two Georgia women's schools in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Spelman Seminary continues today as a liberal arts college but began in an Atlanta church basement in 1881 teaching basic literacy skills to its earliest African American students. The Lucy Cobb Institute was founded in Athens in 1859 to train white young ladies of privilege in both academics and social graces. The two schools served students divided by race, but Case largely delivers on her promise that examining them together "provides a way to explore beliefs about women's roles and duties, racial and class divisions between women, and changes in expectations of women's citizenship rights and duties" (p. 2).

Appropriate to the era she is considering, Case devotes considerable attention to the concept of respectability, the racial differences in how it worked, and some of the historiographical disagreements about the concept. For the white "Lucies," training in proper manners, posture, and sexual purity helped ease their transition into a New South middle class that saw women increasingly likely to be working outside the home for wages, at least until marriage, and engaging in women' s clubs and social activism. For the black women of Spelman, protecting and projecting respectability was an essential part of counteracting the vicious racial narratives of the South, becoming ever more important in the era of disenfranchisement, as black women were not just working outside the home but also increasingly serving as ambassadors of the race.

Spelman Seminary and the Lucy Cobb Institute had different students and different missions, but both had white leaders. Case suggests that leadership was an important component of Spelman's success at courting substantial support from white northerners such as philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and Henry Morehouse, the executive secretary of the American Baptist Education Society and, for a time, president of the Spelman board of trustees. Case explores how the Spelman curricula interpreted the language of industrial education that was key to northern support while blending it with religious and academic instruction. Mildred Lewis Rutherford, 1867 graduate and longtime leader of the Lucy Cobb Institute, had a significant influence beyond the school in her role as historian general of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and founder of the Athens chapter of the organization. An antisuffragist who worried that white women's public and political participation would undermine [End Page 204] their moral standing, Rutherford nonetheless taught not only the descendants of planter families but also the daughters of the emerging middle class. While a more comprehensive approach to identifying and categorizing the schools' graduates might have been more revealing, Case provides short biographies of a number of graduates of each school, suggesting how the language of the school catalogs and the speeches of their leaders produced diverse outcomes. Many Spelman graduates became heavily involved in the Neighborhood Union and other social welfare organizations that sought to extend the focus on respectability beyond the seminary. Lucy Cobb Institute graduate Caroline Love Goodwin O'Day married a northern industrialist, became active in New York state suffrage campaigns, and in 1934 was elected to the first of four terms in Congress as a New Deal Democrat.

The halting emergence of public and college-level educational institutions forced some evolution of both schools in the twentieth century. Case makes productive comparisons between Spelman and other black educational institutions but is less successful situating the Lucy Cobb Institute in the landscape of white women's schools. She also explores the religious roots and influences of Spelman Seminary, opening questions about the continuation of religious training at the Lucy Cobb...


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