In this excellent triple biography, Hall (Like a Family) follows Elizabeth, Grace, and Katherine Lumpkin, whose lives and work touched many elements of 20th-century social history. They were born in late-19th-century Georgia, daughters of a Klansman who raised them to be persuasive orators at Confederate veterans’ reunions. Elizabeth (1888–1963) stayed true to the Lost Cause, even having a Confederate-themed wedding. Her progressive younger sisters, however, rebelled. Grace (1891–1980) and Katharine (1897–1988), influenced by liberal Christian denominations and women’s colleges, moved north and wrote in favor of equality for women and black people. Katharine earned a PhD in social work; in middle age, she wrote a landmark autobiography, The Making of a Southerner, and worked as a teacher and a journalist, often under FBI surveillance for her leftist leanings. Grace was a labor journalist and wrote fiction, but after her proletarian novel, To Make My Bread, was published in 1932, she slipped into poverty, ending up conservative, bitter, and begging back in the South. Hall alternates among the sisters’ stories, concentrating on Katharine and Grace and connecting them to broader elements of 20th-century America (including the Scottsboro Boys, mill strikes, Communism, world wars, Brown v. Board of Education, the FBI, the YWCA, and the ACLU). These admirably crafted biographies of the Lumpkins, their cohorts, and their causes opens a fascinating window on America’s social and intellectual history. Photos. (May)
A sweeping, against-the-grain panorama of American history in the first half of the twentieth century.
I loved this beautifully researched and expertly executed study of three women who were just as distinct, complicated, and problematic as the region they called home. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall again proves herself to be one of our nation’s most relevant scholars.
At a time when millions hunger for hope that a better America is possible, one of our wisest historians uncovers a past we urgently need.
The word befitting this work is ‘masterpiece.’ Sisters and Rebels is an impassioned, elegant, evocative narrative that turns biography into art and scholarship into the profound understanding of a South searching for its soul.
A tour de force from a remarkable historian. Jacquelyn Hall’s long-awaited chronicle of the Lumpkin sisters offers unparalleled insight into the complexities of gender and race in the lives of white southerners.
An absolutely necessary, totally engaging history. Hall speaks from her own long relationship with the sisters as well as her rigorous and comprehensive scholarship, adding yet another dimension to this fine history that reads like a novel.
A history of 20th-century sisters who bore witness to Southern culture, politics, and values.
In 1973, Hall (Revolt Against Chivalry, 1993, etc.), director of the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina, interviewed two sisters, "improbable voices from the deepest South," who each had grappled with her heritage and was shaped by a "maelstrom of historical events and processes." Grace Lumpkin (1891-1980) and her younger sister, Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin (1897-1988), are the central characters in a sweeping, richly detailed intellectual and political history of America from the 1920s to the 1980s, an absorbing narrative based on impressive scholarship: the women's published and private writings; their racist father's "bitter, murderous memoir," in which he discloses participating in the Ku Klux Klan; and abundant archival sources and oral history interviews. William Lumpkin boasted that he taught his children "to love the Lost Cause"—i.e., the South's past glory and the Confederacy's "brilliant and heroic" fight. The Lumpkin sisters, however, came to see their Southern past "as both a burden and an opportunity" as they sought to create "new patterns in the tangled threads of memory and history." Both sisters observed racial violence and "grinding class inequity" that led them to redefine the meaning of whiteness and their complicity in America's social structure. Both were educated at Brenau, a women's college that drew its white students from relatively wealthy families. Grace took a degree in domestic science; Katharine became a student leader and, after graduating, worked as a traveling secretary of the YWCA, whose mission was to save souls and nurture "independent womanhood." As Grace gravitated to fiction writing, Katharine continued her education in sociology and politics, where ideas from Darwin to John Dewey shook her preconceptions. Hall traces the sisters' professional careers, their campaigns against the oppression of blacks and women, their love affairs (Katharine lived with a woman for more than three decades) and involvement in communism, and, eventually, the divergent paths that resulted in their becoming "the most intimate of strangers."
Sharply etched biographical portraits focus a compelling history.
Hall (history emerita, dir., Southern oral history, Univ. of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Revolt Against Chivalry) plumbs the story of the Lumpkin sisters of Georgia, who were born in the 19th century into a culture steeped in white supremacy, and whose father was a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan. Katharine, the youngest, was influenced by both liberal Christianity and exposure to black activists through the YWCA. She underwent a shifting of consciousness, which would inspire her to a life of advocacy. Grace Lumpkin was similarly drawn to progressivism and believed capitalism gave rise to oppression and division, particularly in the South, where racial fears were stoked to further political ends. Hall devotes considerably less ink to eldest sister Elizabeth, who was a standard bearer and orator for the mythology of the Old South and the Lost Cause. It is primarily through the lens of Katharine that the author traces the journey of a Southerner to remake and improve the region she calls home. Hall's perceptive and elegant writing and her extensive, decades-long research into the sisters' lives provides rich context for the creation of Southern reformers as a political force. VERDICT Highly recommended for readers interested in women's history and American intellectual history.—Barrie Olmstead, Lewiston P.L., ID