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Helen Matthews Lewis

Living Social Justice in Appalachia

Helen M. Lewis

Publication Year: 2012

Often referred to as the leader of inspiration in Appalachian studies, Helen Matthews Lewis linked scholarship with activism and encouraged deeper analysis of the region. Lewis shaped the field of Appalachian studies by emphasizing community participation and challenging traditional perceptions of the region and its people. Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia, a collection of Lewis’s writings and memories that document her life and work, begins in 1943 with her job on the yearbook staff at Georgia State College for Women with Mary Flannery O’Connor. Editors Patricia D. Beaver and Judith Jennings highlight the achievements of Lewis’s extensive career, examining her role as a teacher and activist at East Tennessee State University in the 1960s, as well as her work with Appalshop and the Highland Center. Helen Matthews Lewis connects Lewis’s works to wider social movements by examining the history of progressive activism in Appalachia. The book provides unique insight into the development of regional studies and the life of a dynamic revolutionary, delivering a captivating and personal narrative of one woman’s mission of activism and social justice.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front Cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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p. v

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

OUR FIRST THANKS must go, of course, to Helen Matthews Lewis for her lifelong commitment to social justice. This book would not have been possible without her faith, her vision, her words, and the time, care, and patience she gave us over the last...

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pp. 1-11

Many in the Appalachian studies community have been urging Helen Lewis for years to find the appropriate context to tell her story, to reflect upon a life that has been at “the nexus of social movements in the region calling for social, economic, and environmental...

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Chapter 1: The Making of an Unruly Woman, 1924–1955

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pp. 12-43

Helen Matthews Lewis grew up, attended college, became a social justice activist, and married in Georgia. She both loved and worked to change the land-based society that shaped her formative years. As she learned and developed, Georgia developed...

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Chapter 2: Breaking New Ground, 1955–1977

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pp. 44-81

Helen Matthews Lewis moved to southwest Virginia in 1955. Witness to the impact of the coal industry in central Appalachia, Helen became an activist educator and an outspoken critic of the devastation occurring in the resource rich region that she now...

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Chapter 3: Local to Global, 1975–1985

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pp. 82-123

I first met Helen Lewis in 1974, about the time her work reflected in this chapter begins. I was living in Clairfield, Tennessee, trying to understand how a British-owned multinational had developed its corporate power in rural east Tennessee and east...

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Chapter 4: Participatory Research, 1983–1999

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pp. 124-171

Participatory research and Helen Lewis were made for each other. They came together at the Highlander Research and Education Center in the late 1970s, when Helen joined the research team and made connections with the participatory research movement...

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Chapter 5: Telling Our Stories, 1999–2010

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pp. 172-220

In May 2000, Helen Lewis joined Frederick Buechner, the well-known Presbyterian minister and author, in receiving an honorary doctorate from Wake Forest University. Buechner was named Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of his distinguished literary...

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The Final Word

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pp. 221-230

After reading Helen’s influential writings, innovative ideas, and world-travel stories, coeditors Pat Beaver and Judi Jennings invited her to meet with them to discuss her thoughts and reflections on more than eighty years of living social justice. Steve Fisher...


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pp. 231-236


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pp. 237-248

Contributing Activists and Scholars

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pp. 249-256


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pp. 257-263

E-ISBN-13: 9780813134543
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813134376

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 21 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 785337721
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Helen Matthews Lewis

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Community life -- Appalachian Region, Southern -- History -- 20th century.
  • Political activists -- Appalachian Region, Southern -- Biography.
  • Social justice -- Appalachian Region, Southern -- History -- 20th century.
  • Appalachian Region, Southern -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • East Tennessee State University -- Faculty -- Biography.
  • Appalachian Region, Southern -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women college teachers -- Tennessee, East -- Biography.
  • Social movements -- Appalachian Region, Southern -- History -- 20th century.
  • Lewis, Helen Matthews.
  • Women political activists -- Appalachian Region, Southern -- Biography.
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