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FW: Murray on Coryell et al,_Negotiating Boundaries of Southern W omanhood_

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  • A.J. Wright
    fyi..aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... From: Kriste Lindenmeyer [mailto:lindenme@umbc.edu] Sent: Friday, July 06, 2001 5:54 PM To: H-WOMEN@H-NET.MSU.EDU
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      -----Original Message-----
      From: Kriste Lindenmeyer [mailto:lindenme@...]
      Sent: Friday, July 06, 2001 5:54 PM
      To: H-WOMEN@...
      Subject: RVW: Murray on Coryell et al,_Negotiating Boundaries of
      Southern Womanhood_


      H-NET BOOK REVIEW
      Published by H-South@... (May 2001)

      Janet L. Coryell, Thomas H. Appleton, Jr, Anastatia Sims, Sandra
      Gioia Treadway, eds. _Negotiating Boundaries of Southern Womanhood:
      Dealing with the Powers That Be_. Southern Women Series. Columbia
      and London: University of Missouri Press, 2000. 233 pp. Index.
      $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-8262-1295-6.

      Reviewed for H-South by Gail S. Murray <murray@...>,
      Department of History, Rhodes College

      Making the Invisible Visible

      Ever since Anne Firor Scott adopted the title "making the invisible
      woman visible" for her 1984 survey of southern women's history,
      historians of southern women have sought not only to infuse women's
      agency into the narratives of southern history, but also to redefine
      the parameters of that history by questioning definitions of
      political power, class identity and agency, and racial ideology. The
      eleven essays in _Negotiating Boundaries of Southern Womanhood_ do
      just that as they examine women who "confronted, cooperated with,
      and sometimes were co-opted by" existing power structures (p. 2).

      Drawn from the Fourth Annual Conference of the Southern Association
      of Women Historians, the work of these young scholars vibrantly
      reflects the diversity and complexity of female experience in the
      nineteenth- and twentieth-century South.[1] These essays are not
      arranged chronologically, nor grouped by methodology, race, or
      region. Perhaps like southern women's history itself, this random
      ordering across time, space, class, and race highlights the
      interconnectedness of southern women's experience. _Negotiating
      Boundaries_ is a must read for all those interested in the South,
      women's experience, or race and class dynamics.

      Beginning with the antebellum South, five essays highlight the
      struggles with "the powers that be" of particularly marginalized
      women. The efforts of free women of color to negotiate labor and
      hierarchy find careful chroniclers in Beverly Greene Bond, "The
      Extent of the Law: Free Women of Color in Antebellum Memphis," and
      Diane Batts Morrow, "Our Convent: the Oblate Sisters of Providence."
      Bond gives definition to the small network of African American
      women, either born free or recently emancipated, who labored to
      support themselves and their families on the margins on white
      society in antebellum Memphis. Ties of "intermarriage, residency,
      and friendship" connected free women of color to prominent white
      families (p. 25). Her actors vibrate with agency, negotiating the
      boundaries of power with skill, diplomacy, and tenacity. Professor
      Morrow's Providence Oblate Sisters represent the oldest permanent
      female order of African descent in the country, dating from 1828.
      They not only negotiated their way through the church's male
      hierarchy and the rivalries within Baltimore's African American
      community, but they also used traditional gender ideology to enlarge
      their realm of service to the poor.

      Though privileged by race, unmarried white women in the antebellum
      South also contested their marginalization. Kirsten Wood examines
      lives of slaveholding widows and their families in the Old Southeast
      in "The Strongest Ties That Bind Poor Mortals Together." She finds
      that widows submitted to the advice of male kin, manipulated "ideals
      of familial relationships in order to demand help, justify their
      conduct, and critique their kin," and thus to some extent,
      challenged their powerlessness as unmarried women (p. 155).

      In a similar vein, Christine Jacobson Carter studies the familial
      expectations of women who did not marry in "Indispensable Spinsters:
      Maiden Aunts in the Elite Families of Savannah and Charleston."
      Carter struggles to find agency in women who were expected to serve
      their family, yet were denied the respect and honor accorded
      southern wives and mothers. More successful in challenging male
      prerogatives are the Texas women in Angela Boswell's "Married
      Women's Property Rights and the Challenge to the Patriarchal Order."
      Although her study is based on only one county, Boswell discovers
      numerous examples of laws granting women legal powers, not as a
      challenge to their husbands' authority, but for the practical
      conduct of business, thus moving these married women directly into
      the public and financial sphere.

      Three essays examine women's lives during the Civil War. "Cartridge
      Makers and Myrmidon Viragos" by E. Susan Barber draws from an
      extensive study of female labor in Confederate Richmond in order to
      contrast the public perception of two quite different groups of
      women. While the forty-three girls and women who were killed in a
      munitions plant explosion in 1863 were heralded as "war heroes," the
      public heaped derision on a group of women from the same
      working-class neighborhood who marched on the business district with
      axes and sticks to protest the food shortages in Richmond.

      Another Virginia Confederate, Mary Geenhow Lee, is profiled by
      Sheila Rae Phipps in a creative analysis of the function of the
      "social call" and social "connexions" with others as vehicles for
      ascribing social status during the disruptions of war time. In
      "Their Desire to Visit the Southerners," Phipps creatively
      deconstructs Mary Lee's use of a female rite to make political
      statements and to wield social power.

      Moving beyond the War, Michelle A. Krowl's essay traces the advocacy
      of African American women who sought widow's pensions in post-war
      Virginia in "Her Just Dues: Civil War Pensions of African American
      Women in Virginia." Because widows first had to document their
      pre-war marriage to a soldier in order to qualify for their "just
      due" as pensioners, Krowl shows the inventiveness and tenacity of
      African American petitioners. She argues that "black women
      understood the aspect of entitlement that underlay an application,"
      (p. 55) and thus they entered the political landscape and battled
      federal pension bureaucrats for financial support. Because "the
      specifics of respectability remained contested," (p. 69) and their
      prewar marriages as slaves were not legally recognized, these women
      found themselves defending their personal morality even as they
      tried to prove they had been legitimate marital partners of
      soldiers. As does Bond in her essay on free women of color in
      Memphis, Krowl make impressive use of census data, federal records,
      and local court proceedings to bring to light "invisible" actors.

      Essays set in the post-war South include Antoinette G. Van Zelm's
      examination of women's redefinition of citizenship in two groups of
      Virginia women who memorialized the past by creating public
      ceremonies. African American women played critical roles in
      establishing important community celebrations around Emancipation
      Day, even though their roles became less visible as the decades
      passed. White Virginia women used their active support of the Lost
      Cause, fund-raising for various memorial associations, and the
      United Daughters of the Confederacy to establish a public presence.
      Van Zelm concludes that [W]omen of both races affirmed their
      communal identities. . . .and created new patterns of civic life"
      (p. 88).

      Ruth Montgomery also uses women's role in the Lost Cause to
      brilliantly question race and class in the shaping of a southern
      progressive reform agenda. Her essay "Lost Cause Mythology in New
      South Reform" uses Georgia sources to trace the strategies of women
      reformers. Whether the reforms were child labor, prohibition,
      compulsory education, or improved agricultural methods, these women
      usually cast their advocacy in terms of rehabilitating the South's
      "character" in the eyes of the rest of the nation. Meanwhile,
      reformers sought to protect the "southern way of life" with all its
      assumptions of white superiority and class "elevation," even as they
      advocated social improvements. Like other scholars working the field
      of "citizenship," Montgomery reminds us that "significant political
      movement occurs outside the realm of partisan politics" (p. 198).

      Elite African American women also reflected an acute awareness of
      class and color according to Kibibi Voloria Mack-Shelton's essay,
      "The Elite African American Women of Orangeburg, South Carolina:
      Class, Work, and Disunity," which is based principally on oral
      histories. Active in the state federation of Colored Women's Clubs,
      these women also formed other invitation-only organizations and did
      not socialize with working-class or other middle-class African
      American women. Although Mack-Shelton finds some uplift activities
      among these Orangeburg elites, her conviction that women of color
      observed strict color lines challenges scholarly convictions of
      African American sisterhood on behalf of racial uplift.

      The triennial SAWH Conference has become a testing ground for
      innovative research and stimulating conversations about southern
      women. The eleven essays of this collection embody the vigorous
      scholarship afoot in southern women's history and reveal the
      persistence and ingenuity that southern women showed in "dealing
      with the powers that be."

      [1]. Previous collections from SAWH triennial conferences, all
      published by the University of Missouri Press, include Virginia
      Bernhard, et. al., eds., _Southern Women: Histories and Identities_
      (1992); Virginia Bernhard, et. al., eds., _Hidden Histories of Women
      in the New South_ (1994); Janet L. Coryell, et. al., eds., _Beyond
      Image and Convention: Explorations in Southern Women's History_
      (1998).

      Copyright 2001 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the
      redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit,
      educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the
      author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and
      H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed
      use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at
      hbooks@mail.h-net.msu.edu.
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