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All We Knew Was to Farm: Rural Women in the Upcountry South, 1919-1941
     

All We Knew Was to Farm: Rural Women in the Upcountry South, 1919-1941

by Melissa Walker
 

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In the years after World War I, Southern farm women found their world changing. A postwar plunge in farm prices stretched into a twenty-year agricultural depression and New Deal programs eventually transformed the economy. Many families left their land to make way for larger commercial farms. New industries and the intervention of big government in once insular

Overview

In the years after World War I, Southern farm women found their world changing. A postwar plunge in farm prices stretched into a twenty-year agricultural depression and New Deal programs eventually transformed the economy. Many families left their land to make way for larger commercial farms. New industries and the intervention of big government in once insular communities marked a turning point in the struggle of upcountry women—forcing new choices and the redefinition of traditional ways of life.

Melissa Walker's All We Knew Was to Farm draws on interviews, archives, and family and government records to reconstruct the conflict between rural women and bewildering and unsettling change. Some women adapted by becoming partners in farm operations, adopting the roles of consumers and homemakers, taking off-farm jobs, or leaving the land. The material lives of rural upcountry women improved dramatically by midcentury—yet in becoming middle class, Walker concludes, the women found their experiences both broadened and circumscribed.

Editorial Reviews

History: Reviews of New Books
Walker shows how women adapted to rapid change with courage, strength, creativity, and persistence... Walker's fine regional study will be useful to historians of women, the South, Appalachia, rural life, and labor issues. A valuable addition to the growing number of works on women in the early-twentieth-century South.

— Suzanne Marshall

Journal of American History - Valerie Grim
An engaging study... For upcountry southern women, the years 1919-1941 were indicative of the economic, political, and social chaos existing throughout segregated America... Walker capably demonstrates how families were forced by the limitations of race and class to choose situations that provided little or no real opportunity, but she also brilliantly illustrates how some rural people were able to adapt to change.

H-SAWH, H-Net Reviews - Elizabeth D. Schafer
Voices of ordinary women who experienced extraordinary changes resonate in Melissa Walker's incisive study of twentieth-century transformations of southern agricultural communities.

Journal of East Tennessee History - Gaul Graham
Melissa Walker has done an admirable job of mining oral interviews, TVA records, letters, diaries, and farming magazines to piece together the story of how women contributed to the family income... Walker deftly negotiates the intersection of race, class, and gender.

History: Reviews of New Books - Suzanne Marshall
Walker shows how women adapted to rapid change with courage, strength, creativity, and persistence... Walker's fine regional study will be useful to historians of women, the South, Appalachia, rural life, and labor issues. A valuable addition to the growing number of works on women in the early-twentieth-century South.

Journal of Appalachian Studies - Shaunna L. Scott
Historian Melissa Walker provides an account of changes in women's labor practices and economic activity in the upcountry South during the inter-war years... Readable, credible, and well-researched.

South Carolina Historical Magazine - Cline E. Hall
The theme of the study is to show how the status of farm women changes from 1919-1941 in a period of economic crisis. Changing from a region of subsistence farming to one of commercial farming and interference by government action during the depression and New Deal years, women learned to cope... [Walker's] descriptions of rural ways and beliefs are true to form.

Georgia Historical Quarterly - Rebecca Sharpless
Walker does a particularly good job of emphasizing the ambivalence that upcountry farm women felt about leaving the farms... All We Knew Was to Farm makes an extremely important contribution to rural literature by gendering the transformation of the upland South.

Journal of Social History - Kathleen Mapes
Walker provides a much needed account of the South that should be of interest to all those who study the twentieth century.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801869242
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
06/28/2002
Series:
Revisiting Rural America Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
344
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)

What People are Saying About This

Katherine Jellison
Walker's thoroughly researched study of upcountry farm women in the interwar era does for women of this region of the South what Mary Neth's Preserving the Family Farm does for midwestern farm women, meticulously recounting their experience as they cope with economic depression, the increasing influence in their lives of the federal government and urban institutions, and the beginnings of modern agribusiness. Her careful consideration of race and class moves us a step closer to dismantling the myth of Appalachian homogeneity. Her sources are appropriate, and her use of oral history material is particularly skillful.

Meet the Author

Melissa Walker is an associate professor of history at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

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