Katharine and R. J. Reynolds: Partners of Fortune in the Making of the New South

Overview

Separately they were formidable—together they were unstoppable. Despite their intriguing lives and the deep impact they had on their community and region, the story of Richard Joshua Reynolds (1850–1918) and Katharine Smith Reynolds (1880–1924) has never been fully told. Now Michele Gillespie provides a sweeping account of how R. J. and Katharine succeeded in realizing their American dreams.

From relatively modest beginnings, R. J. launched the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, ...

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Overview

Separately they were formidable—together they were unstoppable. Despite their intriguing lives and the deep impact they had on their community and region, the story of Richard Joshua Reynolds (1850–1918) and Katharine Smith Reynolds (1880–1924) has never been fully told. Now Michele Gillespie provides a sweeping account of how R. J. and Katharine succeeded in realizing their American dreams.

From relatively modest beginnings, R. J. launched the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which would eventually develop two hugely profitable products, Prince Albert pipe tobacco and Camel cigarettes. His marriage in 1905 to Katharine Smith, a dynamic woman thirty years his junior, marked the beginning of a unique partnership that went well beyond the family. As a couple, the Reynoldses conducted a far-ranging social life and, under Katharine’s direction, built Reynolda House, a breathtaking estate and model farm. Providing leadership to a series of progressive reform movements and business innovations, they helped drive one of the South’s best examples of rapid urbanization and changing race relations in the city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Together they became one of the New South’s most influential elite couples. Upon R. J.’s death, Katharine reinvented herself, marrying a World War I veteran many years her junior and engaging in a significant new set of philanthropic pursuits.

Katharine and R. J. Reynolds reveals the broad economic, social, cultural, and political changes that were the backdrop to the Reynoldses’ lives. Portraying a New South shaped by tensions between rural poverty and industrial transformation, white working-class inferiority and deeply entrenched racism, and the solidification of a one-party political system, Gillespie offers a masterful life-and-times biography of these important North Carolinians.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
He was born in 1850. She was 30 years younger and college educated while he was rougher, educated in the tobacco fields and markets. In the first biography of Katharine and R.J. Reynolds, Gillespie (history, Wake Forest Univ.) shows how they achieved more together than either would have alone. During their 13-year marriage, they saw R.J. Reynolds Tobacco freed from James Buchanan Duke's American Tobacco Company monopoly and producing its best brands, Prince Albert smoking tobacco and Camel cigarettes. Katharine gave R.J. advice about trends and consumer tastes. He gave her freedom to build Reynolds Estate, which was to include a house, model farm, dairy, village, schools, and churches. Never challenging the current political or social status quo, they worked to improve the town of Winston-Salem, NC, including their factories there, knowing that better conditions for the African American community would lead to a better workforce. VERDICT Gillespie has meticulously drawn the business, political, and social climate of the reinvented South. Though scholarly, the book is highly readable, having at its core the story of two people who genuinely respected and loved each other. A good choice for anyone interested in the business of tobacco in the South and related race and gender roles.—June Parker, formerly with Sheppard Memorial P.L. Greenville, NC
From the Publisher

“Michele Gillespie’s sophisticated examination of the intertwined lives of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds represents an exceptional contribution to the historiography of the modern South. At once a penetrating portrait of a marriage and an acute analysis of the many ways in which the lives of the partners shed light on business and social history, Gillespie’s book provides readers with dazzling new insights regarding the dynamics of power in the rapidly modernizing region the Reynoldses called home.”—Peter A. Coclanis, Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Deeply researched, beautifully written, and cogently argued, this is an engrossing study of a power couple extraordinaire, R. J. and Kate Reynolds, which will appeal to a wide readership. Telling us much about an unusual relationship, Michele Gillespie also provides a new way to understand how the post-Reconstruction New South elite helped construct business structures, social relations, and racial hierarchies. The result is an important addition to our understanding of the industrial South in the North Carolina Piedmont heartland.”—William A. Link, author of The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 1880-1930

“This innovative, beautifully written dual biography is carefully contextualized in the history and historiography of its region and era, and as a result it makes a significant scholarly contribution to several fields of history not always recognized as being related.”—John B. Boles, William P. Hobby Professor of History, Rice University

“[T]he range and depth of Gillespie’s work coupled with clarity of her writing combine to create a read that will be welcomed by students of history — both amateur and academic — who want an interview view of the world occupied by the founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Mary Katharine Smith.”—Tim Revis, Northeast Georgia Living

“Michele Gillespie provides a sweeping account of how R. J. and Katharine succeeded in realizing their American dreams. . . . Deeply researched, beautifully written, and cogently argued, this is an engrossing study of a power couple extraordinaire.”—Bob Edmonds, McCormick Messenger

"Ms. Gillespie uses Katharine's life and work as a kind of prism through which to view the prejudices and predilections of Southern culture in the 1910s and 1920s. The author . . . also offers an impressively researched essay on the emergence of the post-bellum Southern economy. . . . Ms. Gillespie has . . . produced a rich and original history of misunderstood period, one drawn almost entirely from primary sources."—Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal

“Gillespie . . . masterfully builds a contextual framework around which to construct and present complementary biographies of two compelling individuals. The result is engaging and thought-provoking narrative history, which is also informative about the social, economic, and political issues of the time and region.”—B. M. Banta, Choice

“In this examination of Katharine and Richard Joshua Reynolds, Michele Gillespie achieves a rare feat: turning a dual biography into a tour de force. . . . Gillespie has produced a top-notch study of a powerful couple negotiating the shifting socioeconomic world of the New South and early corporate America.”—Bruce Eelman, Journal of American History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820332260
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2012
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 234,119
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Michele Gillespie is a professor of history at Wake Forest University. She is author or editor of eight previous books including Free Labor in an Unfree World: White Artisans in Slaveholding Georgia, 1789–1860 (Georgia) and Southern Society and Its Transformations.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 Making a Business of It 15

2 A Hardworking, Painstaking Student 47

3 Making Money 77

4 Dearest of All 121

5 Brains and Backbone 163

6 A Thousand Cattle on a Hill 213

7 A Woman for a New Day 262

Epilogue 291

Notes 299

Bibliography 359

Index 375

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