FromGone with the WindtoDesigning Women, images of southern females that emerge from fiction and film tend to obscure the diversity of American women from below the Mason-Dixon line. In a work that deftly lays bare a myriad of myths and stereotypes while presenting true stories of ambition, grit, and endurance, Margaret Ripley Wolfe offers the first professional historical synthesis of southern women's experiences across the centuries.
In telling their story, she considers many ordinary lives -- those of Native-American, African-American, and white women from the Tidewater region and Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta to the Gulf Coastal Plain, women whose varied economic and social circumstances resist simple explanations. Wolfe examines critical eras, outstanding personalities and groups -- wives, mothers, pioneers, soldiers, suffragists, politicians, and civil rights activists -- and the impact of the passage of time and the pressure of historical forces on the region's females.
The historical southern woman, argues Wolfe, has operated under a number of handicaps, bearing the full weight of southern history, mythology, and legend. Added to these have been the limitations of being female in a patriarchal society and the constraining images of the "southern belle" and her mentor, the "southern lady." In addition, the specter of race has haunted all southern women. Gender is a common denominator, but according to Wolfe, it does not transcend race, class, point of view, or a host of other factors.
Intrigued by the imagery as well as the irony of biblical stories and southern history, Wolfe titles her workDaughters of Canaan. Canaan symbolizes promise, and for activist women in particular the South has been about promise as much as fulfillment. General readers and students of southern and women's history will be drawn to Wolfe's engrossing chronicle.
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