- Tennessee Women: Their Lives and Times, Vol. 2, ed. by Beverly Greene Bond and Sarah Wilkerson Freeman
In this second volume about Tennessee women in the University of Georgia Press series Southern Women: Their Lives and Times, the editors have selected sixteen essays that examine how Tennessee women not only reflected but also changed their times. Building on the first volume, which included essays on women from as early as the 1700s, this volume is divided equally into two parts focusing on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. African American and white women are examined in essays that explore themes ranging from “the interconnectedness of race, class and gender” to the activism of feminist reformers (p. 2). Some authors highlight individual women’s lives, while others examine the activities and experiences of groups of women. Taken together, the essays represent geographic regions throughout the state, and they expose female perspectives on the history of the state and the nation.
Part 1 opens with two essays that focus on two groups of women whose lives are difficult to reconstruct: enslaved women and “common white women in farming households” (p. 36). Both essays glean important information from an array of public documents to highlight, among other topics, the significance of migration and labor in shaping women’s lives. African American women, both slave and free, most often experienced forced migration into Tennessee from North Carolina, and the restrictive laws and regulations governing slavery and racial distinctions reflected those they left behind. Similar to pioneer farm women on other frontiers, white farm women came to Tennessee in search of opportunities that were often balanced against painful separation from their families. Both groups of women made substantial contributions to the economy of the region: enslaved women through plantation production and reproduction, and white farm women through textile production.
The Civil War and its aftermath serve as the backdrop for the remaining five essays in Part 1, as the authors explore the many ways Tennessee women participated in the construction of social spaces and historical memory during and after the war. For example, in “‘Graceless Yankee Tramps and Secesh She-Devils’: Union Soldiers and Confederate Women in Middle Tennessee,” Laura Mammina explores interactions between Union soldiers and Confederate women that challenged gentlemanly and ladylike behavior and “called into question traditional notions of masculine and feminine behavior, revealing them to be permeable and ambiguous” (p. 63). In “Forming a ‘Sisterhood Chain’: Women, Emancipation, and Freedom Celebrations in Tennessee,” Antoinette G. van Zelm shows how freedwomen celebrated emancipation publicly alongside freedmen and how their participation in these public events forged an influential sisterhood rooted in “women’s emancipation experiences” (p. 81). Additionally, in “The Right to Be a Lady: Ida B. Wells and Social Reform,” Sarah L. Silkey explains how Wells fought against the marginalization of middle-class African American women by insisting on being seated in the ladies’ car on passenger railways, among other issues. Wells’s claim of respectability challenged segregation of social spaces and [End Page 717] demonstrates the complex intersection of race, class, and gender in turn-of-the-twentieth-century efforts for reform.
Part 2 turns the reader’s attention to the twentieth century and Tennessee women’s “audacious” activism (p. 177). Sarah Wilkerson Freeman’s introductory essay for this section concludes “that Tennessee women provided the cutting edge of women’s rights activism and interracial cooperation in the South, making Tennessee exceptional” (p. 180). There is much useful information in these essays. Three of the nine focus on individual women active in temperance, suffrage, prostitution, and education reform efforts. Other essays, such as Elton H. Weaver III’s “‘Working with Our Own Hands’: Church of God in Christ Women in Tennessee, Early 1900s–1950s,” analyze the work of groups of women. Richly contextualized, Weaver’s essay argues that women from the Church of God...