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North Carolina Women

Their Lives and Times

Michele Gillespie

Publication Year: 2014

North Carolina has had more than its share of accomplished, influential women—women who have expanded their sphere of influence or broken through barriers that had long defined and circumscribed their lives, women such as Elizabeth Maxwell Steele, the widow and tavern owner who supported the American Revolution; Harriet Jacobs, runaway slave, abolitionist, and author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; and Edith Vanderbilt and Katharine Smith Reynolds, elite women who promoted women’s equality. This collection of essays examines the lives and times of pathbreaking North Carolina women from the late eighteenth century into the early twentieth century, offering important new insights into the variety of North Carolina women’s experiences across time, place, race, and class, and conveys how women were able to expand their considerable influence during periods of political challenge and economic hardship, particularly over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

These essays highlight North Carolina’s progressive streak and its positive impact on women’s education—for white and black alike— beginning in the antebellum period on through new opportunities that opened up in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They explore the ways industrialization drew large numbers of women into the paid labor force for the first time and what the implications of this tremendous transition were; they also examine the women who challenged traditional gender roles, as political leaders and labor organizers, as runaways, and as widows. The volume is especially attuned to differences in region within North Carolina, delineating women’s experiences in the eastern third of the state, the piedmont, and the western mountains.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Southern Women: Their Lives and Times

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-x

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Michele Gillespie and Sally G. McMillen

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pp. 1-11

North Carolina has had more than its share of accomplished, influential women. Many of them quietly—a few noisily—expanded women’s sphere of influence or broke through barriers that had long defined and circumscribed women’s lives. North Carolina is a curious state, with its three distinct geographies (coast,...

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The Edenton Ladies: Women, Tea, and Politics in Revolutionary North Carolina

Cynthia A. Kierner

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pp. 12-33

In October 1774 fifty- one women from the town of Edenton and its environs resolved to support the suspension of all trade to protest the latest in a long line of unjust imperial policies. Th e women’s seemingly unexceptional intent—to support their men and their country—belied the novelty of their actions. By...

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Sister Anna: An African Woman in Early North Carolina

Jon Sensbach

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pp. 34-53

A worn but legible notebook housed in an archive in Winston- Salem, North Carolina, contains an unusual and precious document: the “Diary of the Negro Congregation in and around Salem.” A record of one of the state’s earliest African American churches founded during the slavery period, the diary, kept...

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Elizabeth Maxwell Steele: “A Great Politician” and the Revolution in the Southern Backcountry

Cory Joe Stewart

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pp. 54-72

In the fall of 1780 in the backcountry town of Salisbury, North Carolina, Elizabeth Maxwell Steele wrote a letter to her brother- in-law in Pennsylvania seeking information about the war that had engulfed the newly formed United States. Th rough her various contacts, Steele already understood much about the conflict...

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Rose O’Neal Greenhow: “Bearer of Dispatches to the Confederate Government”

Sheila R. Phipps

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pp. 73-93

At daylight on October 1, 1864, a Confederate soldier overseeing salvaging operations found a woman’s lifeless body washed ashore near Wilmington, North Carolina. Th e body was that of Rose O’Neal Greenhow, Confederate spy, who had almost reached shore on her return from England when tragedy struck....

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Catherine Devereux Edmondston: “My lines are cast in such pleasant places”

Suzanne Cooper Guasco

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pp. 94-116

November 1863 was a dismal time for the Confederacy. Th e year opened with the pronouncement of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which transformed the Civil War into a battle to end slavery and finally destroyed any likelihood that Great Britain or France would aid the southern pursuit of...

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Harriet and Louisa Jacobs: “Not without My Daughter”

Jim Downs

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pp. 117-132

“Reader, be assured this narrative is no fiction. I am aware that some of my adventures may seem incredible; but they are, nevertheless, strictly true.”1 Harriet Jacobs penned these now famous words as the prelude to her autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in 1861. Jacobs’s emphasis that her narrative...

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Cornelia Phillips Spencer: The Foremost Daughter of North Carolina and the Contradictions of a Nineteenth- Century Public Life

William A. Link

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pp. 133-151

Cornelia Phillips Spencer belongs to a long tradition of conservative women in North Carolina, though few of them articulated their views with the same vigor, enthusiasm, and effectiveness. Today she is perhaps best remembered for her deep- seated beliefs in the inferiority of black people and in their inability...

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Alice Morgan Person: “My life has been out of the ordinary run of woman’s life”

Angela Robbins

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pp. 152-173

On January 31, 1884, Alice Morgan Person stepped off the train in Charlotte and into a new phase of her life and career. Person’s family had been among the state’s slaveholders, and their losses aft er the Civil War, combined with her husband Joseph’s debilitating stroke, led Alice to assume an unexpected duty...

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Mary Bayard Clarke: Design for “Upsetting the Established Order of Our Dear Old Conservative State”

Terrell Armistead Crow

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pp. 174-191

Mary Bayard Devereux Clarke (1827– 86), by birth and upbringing, should have followed the traditional domestic role ascribed to elite white women in antebellum North Carolina. Instead, she described herself as “intensely individual in my thoughts and sentiments” and advised one of her sons, “live your own life,”...

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Anna Julia Cooper: Black Feminist Scholar, Educator, and Activist

Vivian M. May

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pp. 192-212

Anna Julia Cooper was born into slavery in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1858 and passed away in her Washington, D.C., home in 1964 at age 105. An internationally known black feminist educator, scholar, and activist, she is remembered for demonstrating how the politics of race, gender, nation, and empire...

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Sallie Southall Cotten: Organized Womanhood Comes to North Carolina

Margaret Supplee Smith

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pp. 213-240

“Here I am! again in Chicago to attend a special session of the Board of Lady Managers where I have the privilege of again serving in Mrs. Kidder’s place. . . . It is like a dream, like an Arabian Nights tale, this wonderful city of all nations— with its buildings grand within and without—glittering in the sun and holding...

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Annie Lowrie Alexander: “A Woman Doing a Great Work in a Womanly Way”

James Douglas Alsop

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pp. 241-262

Annie Lowrie Alexander was an early leader in maternal, child, and community health care in North Carolina and a successful professional and businesswoman in Charlotte from 1887 to 1929. She was born on the family farm in Lemley Township, Mecklenburg County, on January 10, 1864, and died on October 15,...

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Sarah Cowan “Daisy” Denson: The Lost Matriarch of State Public Welfare Reform

Sarah Wilkerson- Freeman

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pp. 263-290

On a freezing morning in January 1903, the state legislature debated a juvenile reform school bill while only blocks away Claude Baker Denson, executive secretary of the North Carolina Board of Public Charities, lay critically ill in his Raleigh home. During his thirteen years in government office, Denson had...

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Sarah Dudley Pettey: “A New Age Woman” and the Politics of Race, Class, and Gender in North Carolina

Elizabeth Lundeen

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pp. 291-312

“Th ere has been a tendency for centuries remote to crush the aspirations of womanhood, if those aspirations rose above the level of the common housewife. It was thought that her mission was to prepare the food, sweep the house, mend the clothes and rock the cradle. Well this may have been the height of the Colonial...

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Mary Martin Sloop: Mountain Miracle Worker

John C. Inscoe

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pp. 313-336

Th e frontispiece of Mary Martin Sloop’s 1953 memoir, Miracle in the Hills, consists of a remarkable photograph made in the late 1910s. It depicts two doctors, in surgical garb, standing over a patient laid out on a crude kitchen table in a cramped, low-ceilinged mountain cabin with concerned family members (one...

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Edith Vanderbilt and Katharine Smith Reynolds: The Public Lives of Progressive North Carolina’s Wealthiest Women

Michele Gillespie

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pp. 337-258

Married to two of the wealthiest men in North Carolina, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser Vanderbilt (1873– 1958) and Katharine Smith Reynolds (1880– 1924) used their elevated social status, command of financial resources, and strong spousal support to lead significant reforms in their communities and across...

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Arizona Nick Swaney Blankenship: Becoming Cherokee

Sarah H. Hill

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pp. 359-382

Th e life of Arizona Nick Swaney Blankenship is a tapestry woven of many threads. Granddaughter of a Cherokee- black marriage and daughter of a Cherokee- white union, she grew up on the Cherokee reservation in western North Carolina, attended a predominantly black school in Virginia, worked...

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Samantha Biddix Bumgarner: Country Music Pioneer

Robert Hunt Ferguson

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pp. 383-396

In early August 1936 a young Harvard student, aspiring folksinger, and four-string banjo player named Pete Seeger made the long drive from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Asheville, North Carolina. His destination was the eighth annual Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, organized each year by the amateur...


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pp. 397-400


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pp. 401-421

E-ISBN-13: 9780820346540
E-ISBN-10: 0820346543
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820339993

Page Count: 408
Illustrations: 18 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Southern Women: Their Lives and Times