- Women of the Mountain South: Identity, Work, and Activism ed. by Connie Park Rice and Marie Tedesco
As part of the Ohio University Press Series in Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in Appalachia, Connie Park Rice and Marie Tedesco aim to provide an “introduction to the history of women in the Mountain South” (3). There is no one particular era, place in the region, or category of women that defines the focus of this book. The volume covers information from the colonial period in America to events that happened in the 2000s; sites from Birmingham, Alabama, to Weirton, West Virginia; and women from various class backgrounds, racial and ethnic identities, ages, and sexualities. This range of historical analysis leaves some work to be done by the reader, and this work is an important part of the process of deconstructing and reconstructing place, gender, and the role of women in Appalachia’s history.
To assist us in this task, Rice provides a helpful introduction, and the editors include questions for discussion at the end of each section. Rice and Tedesco also include an epilogue roundtable discussion where the volume’s authors reflect on “the concept of place,” which complements Rice’s introductory discussion of Appalachia as socially constructed, as well as the book’s organizational themes: identity, work, and activism. These resources will be useful [End Page 87] to instructors, students, and other readers seeking to make sense of the varied topics, experiences, and contributions of women documented in this book.
Of particular interest to West Virginians and West Virginia enthusiasts are five chapters that focus on the Mountain State exclusively. Many a West Virginian has had the experience of pointing out with pride that Grafton, West Virginia, is the founding site of Mother’s Day. In Chapter Two, Katharine Lane Antolini takes a closer look at this West Virginia factoid by examining the lives of Anna Jarvis and her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. She unearths the elder Jarvis’s record of activism and public speaking, which conflicts with the younger Jarvis’s accounts of her mother as embodying the classed and racialized ideals of the “cult of true womanhood.” We also see evidence of a connection to mainstream gender and family ideals within Appalachia supported by churches and other social organizations. In Chapters Seven and Ten, both included in the “Work” section of the volume, Barbara J. Howe and Louis C. Martin document women workers in West Virginia during two different time periods. First, in “Cyprians and Courtesans, Murder and Mayhem: Prostitution in Wheeling during the Civil War,” Howe challenges “any traditional images of Appalachian women” by analyzing city ordinances, census data, and court records to uncover the “seamy underside of urban life in the largest city of the Mountain South at the time” (195) as well as gendered moral values and social contexts of work and crime. Then, in “Flopping Tin and Punching Metal: A Survey of Women Steelworkers in West Virginia, 1890–1970,” Martin also challenges traditional ideas of Appalachian women by combining primary and secondary sources that document women’s work in the Northern Panhandle steel industry. Although Martin shows that women were employed in factories dating back to the beginning of the industry, he also describes the economic, technological, and cultural forces that kept women in marginal positions until the 1960s when, ironically, the industry started to decline. Finally, in the third section of the volume, Lois Lucas and Joyce M. Barry document several influential women activists who have impacted West Virginia. In Chapter Thirteen, “Garrison, Drewry, Meadows, and Bateman: Race, Class, and Activism in the Mountain State,” Lucas highlights the stories of four African American women who fought for equality through community organizing, social work, education, and politics. Offering historical context for their work, Lucas points out that the historical record of black women’s lives is limited but that even these partial stories are essential to understanding women’s history in the state. In Chapter Fifteen, “‘Remembering the Past, Working for the Future’: West Virginia Women...