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Archive for the tag “Civil War”

Q&A with Dr. Carolyn Curry, author of SUFFER AND GROW STRONG: THE LIFE OF ELLA GERTRUDE CLANTON THOMAS, 1834-1907

By Elizabeth Tammi


In 2015, Dr. Carolyn Curry’s book Suffer and Grow Strong: The Life of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas released from Mercer University Press. Curry first got interested in the extensive diaries and life of this Georgia woman when she wrote her dissertation for her PhD.

Now, as we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage, Curry returns with an expanded edition of her celebrated biography. She spoke with me over the phone about the writing and research process, and what this book and historical figure mean to her on this pivotal anniversary.


Could you tell me about the process of creating this expanded edition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage? How did the idea to make an expanded edition come about?

Well, I’ve got to give credit to Marc Jolley, director of Mercer University Press. I was very fortunate that my original book sold through several editions. I made about 100 speaking engagements, trying to tell people about this woman that they had never heard of, but I thought she was important for them to know about, and also what women were doing in the nineteenth century.

The book really resonated with people, and women especially, but even some men. Marc and I talked about this being the hundredth anniversary of the vote for women so he just contacted me and said, “Carolyn, would you like to expand your book and take it up to 1920, when women finally were successful and got to vote?” After Gertrude died in 1907—along with all those women who fought so hard in the nineteenth century who also died around the turn of the century—the fight had to be turned over to a younger group of women. I loved the topic and told Marc “I’d be glad to do it,” so I jumped in and started doing research. I’ve been so pleased that this expanded edition has come out now and I’m going to be speaking on it some right away—it’s timely and so important to talk about, especially this year.

On this anniversary, what do you hope your readers can take away from Gertrude’s efforts in the suffrage movement as we look ahead?

When I first started doing this book, it was my dissertation topic for my PhD back in 1987. I wanted to find a Georgia woman who I could write a biography about. When I came through graduate school, that was the beginning of the writing about women. In the 70s and the 80s, when we were in school, there was no such thing as women’s studies or women’s history or anything like that. We were always asking in our classes, “Where are the women? Why aren’t the women included? What are the women doing?”

I really was passionate about finding the women and talking about the women who had been forgotten, because our stories have not always been told. I want young women to know how hard it was for women to get the vote. I want them to understand their history so that they will appreciate it. Women had to fight to get the right to vote and we’re still having to work to get women to go out and vote. Today, voter turnout in this country is very low, so we’ve got to all take the vote. It’s a real responsibility.

Delving more into the crafting of this book when you were first writing it, how did you go about making the decisions of how to divide different subjects and different time periods in this book?

This book took years of research. I had these volumes of her diary that I got the transcripts from. I had an advantage in that I was writing a biography, and if you’re writing a biography, you’re writing somebody’s life story. You have a natural chronology, and of course I had to start when she was fourteen years old because that’s when she started writing her diary.

I started there, and then I wanted to organize it around the changes in her life. I had to study the diaries, study the scrapbooks and her writings from later in life to just glean as much information as I could from various periods in her life. When I was talking about her going to Wesleyan, I went to Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and looked in their archives for any related material I could find. I interviewed her relatives, and did secondary research when I had to. I had a natural chronology, but I did have voluminous material to work through and select what I was going to talk about.

I very often ended a chapter with, “What will this lead to? Where will I end up?” I tried to keep my reader interested by making it read like a novel. People’s lives are interesting and if you can tell it in a way that draws people in, that’s important.

While you were doing all this research, did you ever come across a fact or bit of trivia that didn’t necessarily fit in the book but that stuck with you?

I did such voluminous research writing it for my dissertation. There were some things that I couldn’t put in just because when she was a young girl, she just loved to talk about what she was wearing every day. I did try to put every possible interesting tidbit I could in the book. I’ve been told that historians just have to stop and write the book, because you could do research forever. Research can be fun and frustrating at the same time, but I tried to put it all in.

What three words would you use to describe Gertrude?

Well, you’ve got to say she was intelligent. She was compelled to ask questions. She lived an examined life. She was looking at her life intelligently and trying to make sense of it. I would definitely say inquisitive. She wanted to read newspapers, she wanted to read what people were thinking, she wanted to know what was going on. Then, I think hard-working. She was always trying to find a way to help the family after the war.

If you could only tell someone just one anecdote from Gertrude’s life that you think sums her up, what do you think that story would be?

There’s one that I have told over and over when I have gone to speak. I talk about when she was elected president of the Georgia Women’s Suffrage Association in 1899. This was a woman who grew up in a culture that said women should not speak in public. She stood up in the House of Representatives when she was elected president, and she said, “Woman was not taken from the head of man. She is not his superior. Woman was not taken from the foot of man. She is not his inferior. Woman was taken from the side of man, and there she should stand as equal in the work of the world.”

This was in 1899. This was 21 years before women got the right to vote, and how many women were saying in 1899 that women should be equal to men? Not many. She was in that handful who had the courage to stand up and I think that was really astounding and so progressive for that period in history. That summed up all her work. She was really devoted to the betterment of women.

As a historian, what do you feel that Gertrude’s diaries show about the Civil War era that might not be found through secondary sources?

I think the great thing about Gertrude’s diary is that she didn’t think anybody was going to read it except her children. She was very honest, and she ended up pouring her emotions into the diary. A historian can tell you the facts, but you read her diary and you know what it was like for people when troops were approaching their house or their city.

Gertrude might have given us the best picture of what women suffered in childbirth in the nineteenth century. If the baby was sick, they didn’t know what was wrong. The baby would get a fever and just die. It was emotionally wrenching for these women, and I think that comes through. It’s the emotion, the feeling, the anguish, and the fear. I mean, I teared up. When one of her babies died, she tried to reconcile it to her Christian belief. She said, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” But then she said, “But oh, it is so hard!”

How do you think that suffering makes people stronger?

Getting through something does make you stronger. Gertrude went through so much grief. She did learn how to turn outward. That’s one reason she became so concerned about the wellbeing of other women. She had suffered during the war, and she realized how important it was for women to have an education. She became more sensitive to other women than she would have been had she not suffered. She might not have been the person she was, if she had never lost her fortune or gone through the war.

It’s what we learn from the suffering, and hopefully we learn that we can survive, and that’s a good thing to know.

What do you think are some of the largest issues facing American women today?

Well, what I really believe, and this comes through Gertrude’s life too, Gertrude asked a lot of questions and she just didn’t accept what people told her. I think that’s very important for young women and young people to learn. We have to decide what we want our contribution to be. What do we want to do with our lives? That is a part of the educational process and maturation. I always encourage young people to find that thing that you love to do. When you do find it, do it with all of your heart and that’s going to make you happy. I’ve been passionate about learning about women. I have a nonprofit foundation that I’ve been running for 18 years called “Women Alone Together”. I try to help women who are coming off of grief—loss of a spouse, loss of a child. It’s helping women. We do seminars, groups, we’re doing something all the time.

Don’t be gullible. Make sound decisions based on what you know. That’s what education is all about—teaching us how to think for ourselves.


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Happy Birthday Abe!

Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday February 12

On this day in 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

Today we celebrate the birthday of one of America’s most admired presidents, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was born into a poor family in Kentucky.
Lincoln was the tallest president at 6′ 4 with record physical strength. He was a formidable wrestler in Illinois. Lincoln went on to become infamous for his dry humor and wit. After frustrating defeat after another Lincoln reportedly wrote to a general “if you are not using the army I should like to borrow it for awhile.” Lincoln was also an avid animal lover throughout his lifetime once saying “I care not for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.”

He attended school for only one year, but even as a child Abraham was a voracious reader constantly striving to improve is mind. As an adult, he lived in Illinois bouncing from job to job before entering politics. Many people are unaware of the fact that Lincoln didn’t begin his journey in politics. Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, was also a postmaster, surveyor and shopkeeper. After this small chapter in his life Lincoln went on to pursue politics.

Before the presidency Lincoln served in the Illinois legislature from 1834 to 1836, and then became an attorney. In 1842, Lincoln married Mary Todd; and had four sons. Lincoln returned to politics during the 1850s, when disagreements over slavery began to escalate. Lincoln proposed a restriction of slavery to the states where it existed. As president on January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy.

 

For Civil War Enthusiasts….

Upcoming Civil War titles:

A Just and Holy Cause?

Cracking the Solid South:The Life of John Fletcher Hanson, Father of Georgia Tech

Summon Only the Brave!: Commanders, Soldiers, and Chaplains at Gettysburg

Confederate Sharpshooter Major William E. Simmons: Through the War with the 16th Georgia Infantry and 3rd Battalion Georgia Sharpshooters

MUP Authors to Attend Decatur (GA) Book Festival!

Mercer University Press is proud to announce a number of our fine authors will be attending the Decatur Book Festival!

Stephen Davis (What the Yankees Did to Us)
Robert Jenkins (The Battle of Peach Tree Creek)
Daniel Cone (Last to Join the Fight)
Raymond Atkins (Sweet Water Blues)
Carolyn Newton Curry (Suffer and Grow Strong)
Megan Sexton (Swift Hour)

 

WhatTheYankees    PeachTreeCreek     Last to Join.jpgCurry_Suffer_Jacket01.inddSexton-Cvr-02.indd

 

 

Decatur BookFest

MUP Remembers Leonidas Polk

Bishop/ROBINS_dj080306On this day in 1864, Leonidas Polk, one of the Confederacy’s more unique generals as he was also an Episcopal bishop, died this day in 1864 during William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. In fact, Sherman was directly involved in Polk’s death as the general spotted a cluster of Confederate officers scouting along a ridge. On his orders, the 5th Indiana Battery opened fire and General Polk was nearly cut in two.

Today, Glenn Robins joins us to discuss his biography of Polk, The Bishop of the Old South, and Polk himself.

1. Why do people remain interested in Leonidas Polk?

Aside from a basic interest in the mid-nineteenth century, I think people are fascinated with why a high-profile and well-liked cleric accepted a combat assignment with the Confederate army rather than serve as a chaplain. The noted Civil War historian James McPherson contends that the Civil War armies may have been the most religious in American history. And yet, there is really no one comparable to Polk, a bishop who became a general. Also, the dramatic and unusual circumstances of Polk’s death—being killed by artillery fire—seem to have created something of a sympathetic figure. Some people see him as a symbol of the Confederate cause by conflating his religious devotion, his reputable personal character, and his military service. Finally, religious generals such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are viewed simply as Christian, whereas Polk is a decidedly Episcopalian figure, which appeals to a certain population.

2. What were your reasons for writing this biography of Leonidas Polk?

Generally, Leonidas Polk is known as the Bishop-General and his life is viewed through the narrow lens of the Civil War. I wanted to construct a narrative of Polk’s life that emphasized his prewar activities, particularly his ministerial career, his ownership of a large sugar plantation, and his role in developing the University of the South.

3. What surprised you the most about Polk’s prewar life?

First, in economic terms, he was a very successful sugar planter. He used innovative farming techniques and employed a slave management system that afforded slaves more responsibility and greater autonomy. Second, he was deeply committed to his ministerial responsibilities. He helped make the Louisiana Diocese a vibrant Episcopal organ in the South that challenged the societal influence of the region’s larger protestant denominations. Third, Polk had a remarkably ambitious vision for the University of the South. He did not envision the university as an insular institution—quite the contrary. He hoped that the university would compete with the premier universities of the nation and of Europe. He intended to recruit world-class scholars, promote academic excellence, and cultivate the Episcopal faith, as well as make the university a gathering place for social elites and public intellectuals. Of course, the war and Polk’s death changed all of that.

4. What stands out about Polk’s Civil War generalship?

Polk was a mediocre corps commander serving in a theater dominated by mediocre generals. Despite his West Point education, Polk had no real military experience and was probably not deserving of such a high-ranking appointment. It’s counterfactual history, but I have always wondered how Polk would have fared in the Army of Northern Virginia under that army’s superior leadership. Whatever limitations Polk had as a fighting man, he was widely popular with his men. Late in the war Polk became more involved in the religious life of the Army of Tennessee. He baptized several generals, including Braxton Bragg, which was truly bizarre considering that each man attempted to have the other stripped of his command.

5. Having reached the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the death of Leonidas Polk, do you have any thoughts about future studies in these areas?

I think for those individuals who survived the war more work needs to be done on their postwar lives and not just on their involvement in the political reconstruction of the nation and their respective states. Instead, there needs to be a greater emphasis on how the war impacted the participants as individuals and as families, and on how groups and individuals understood and assigned meaning to the war. As for those figures like Polk who died in battle, we need clear assessments of their initial view of the war and to know if their view of the war changed over time, and why. And for those individuals who have become symbols of a particular version or interpretation of the war, we need to examine whether the memory of the man matches the realities of the man.

Related Titles

Cobb Curry_Suffer_Jacket01.inddWalkerFurl

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Georgia’s Confederate Monuments Released Today!

Confederate Monuments  Today, the Press released Georgia’s Confederate Monuments and its author, Gould B. Hagler, Jr., has graced the blog with an interview.

 

 

1. Did you sense any sort of emotional pattern to the various monuments throughout the state?

There is a pattern that changes over time. The earlier monuments were expressions of grief. Every family was in mourning. These memorials evoke strong feelings a century and a half later. Take, for example, the cenotaph on Greene Street in Augusta. The names of Richmond County’s dead are so numerous that they spill over from the tablets on the sides to the steps of the base below. Or consider the small memorial built by the Linwood Sunday School, which lists the twenty-three young men from that one country church who lost their lives.

Soon the monuments took on another function, evoking a sense of pride. The Confederate soldier fought with bravery and determination against great odds. While the monuments continued to function as expressions of grief, they also praised the martial qualities of the Confederates living and dead.

The monuments also have things to say about the cause for which the Confederates fought. The obelisk in Decatur is the best example. A long inscription argues the legitimacy of the Confederate case and says emphatically that might does not make right, that the constitutional principles remain valid.

 

2. Well, you’ve seen them all now. What’s your favorite and why?

Many of the monuments have features that make them special. I could not pick one favorite, but I will mention three that are special in different ways.

The monument on Broad Street in Augusta, my home town, is one of several Georgia monuments built on a grand scale. It has a statue of the Confederate Everyman at the top, and statues of four generals at the base. It is covered with beautiful carvings and inspiring words. This monument is a beautiful and unique work of art.

The monument in Fayetteville is quite different. It is a very modest granite slab honoring the Confederate heroes of Fayette County. What makes this one special is its date: 1934. During the Great Depression, when people were struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead, they still remembered.

The Brunswick statue is close to my heart because of what I had to do to get the picture. I took a decent picture but it did not have the qualities I wanted. Because of the monument’s orientation and the surrounding trees, in order to get a good shot I had to be there near the summer solstice and late in the afternoon. Plus the weather had to be exactly right. And there was a deadline to meet. One July day, I knew it was now or never. I drove five hours to Brunswick, spent an hour or so taking pictures—and then turned around drove home. So instead of having a rather pedestrian shot of this fine monument, I managed to get what I think is the best photograph in the book.

 

3. Had memorializing wars been significant in Georgia prior to the Civil War? What made this war unique in that sense?

There are some monuments and memorials related to the Revolution, I am sure, but I do not know whether any were built prior to the Civil War. Two Georgia towns have names related to the Mexican War—Ringgold and Buena Vista.

The Civil War was unlike anything before or since. The casualties were enormous, unique in American history. The battles were fought here, Georgia men dying on Georgia battlefields, buried by the thousands in cemeteries near these battlefields, near their homes. Georgia women nursed the wounded and dying. No family was untouched. This was not something they read about in the newspapers. They saw it. They lived it. They endured it.

 

4. We’ve had significant conflicts since the Civil War, but local memorializing of them does not seem nearly as common. Why do you think that is?

You are right; it is not as common. World War I was not nearly as costly as the Civil War, so that is a factor. I should say not nearly as costly to Americans. Go to Canada and everywhere you will see memorials to the men who died in the Great War.

It is interesting that four of our monuments honor Georgia’s Confederate veterans and Georgia men who served in the United States Army in World War I.

Few monuments were built after the Second World War, but now interest is increasing. There are now many “all-wars” monuments, and many of these new ones have elements honoring Georgia’s Confederates along with the veterans of other wars from the Revolution to Afghanistan.

 

5. Was there a sentiment you were surprised to find absent among the memorials?

No, quite the opposite. They cover the whole range. As I said before, they mourn the dead, honor the bravery of the living and the dead, and honor the Confederacy itself. But they do more than that. As time went on, the theme of reconciliation appeared. There is the famous Peace Monument in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. The monument in Westview Cemetery quotes the verse from Isaiah about beating “swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.” Two monuments in Atlanta honor the men who fought on both sides at Peachtree Creek. More recently, two monuments in the North Georgia mountains honor local men who fought for the Union as well as those who fought for the Confederacy.

Interest in this era is not waning. Almost all the monuments are well maintained. Many have been cleaned more than once since I started photographing them in the early 1990s. Some have been damaged over the years and have been carefully repaired.

Even more significant is the construction of new monuments. Not counting the “all-wars” monuments, there are thirty-one that have been built in the last twenty-five years, one of which was too recent for inclusion in the book. I know of one being planned, and there are probably others I don’t know about—yet.

 

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Remembering the Battle of Resaca (Georgia, 1864)

ResacaAs the first battle of Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign, the Battle of Resaca can be said to be one of the first death knells of the Confederacy. It would also be the first major encounter between field commanders William T. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston. Join the battle and the first steps towards Atlanta’s demise in Mercer’s Battle of Resaca! Enter discount code MUPNEWS when you order at the Press’s website and receive a 20% discount plus free USPS Media Mail shipping on your entire order!

Two Books to the Mill This Week!

Under the watchful eye of Marsha, another two books have made it to the mill! Gould Hagler’s Georgia’s Confederate Monuments and Martin Harmon’s The Warm Springs Story are bound to please the history buff in your family. Click on the images below and order your copies today!

 

Confederate Monuments    The Warm Springs Story

Great Review of Daniel Cone’s Last to Join the Fight

Daniel Cone’s close examination of the 66th Georgia Infantry receives a great review from Civil War Books and Authors! Take a look at it here.

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Carolyn Newton Curry at Agnes Scott College This Saturday

Carolyn Newton Curry will be signing her new book Suffer and Grow Strong: The Life of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1834-1907! Come out and meet the biographer of this Southern suffragette this Saturday, April 26, at the Agnes Scott Bookstore.

 

Agnes Scott Bookstore Lobby
Alston Campus Center, Ground Floor
Agnes Scott College
141 E. College Avenue
Decatur, GA 30030

 

Open to the Public
2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Call (404) 471-6350 for more information

 

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Remembering the Author of the “Lost Cause” Mentality

Today in 1886, Father Abram J. Ryan died, a poet whose book Poems, Patriotic, Religious and Miscellaneous would go through forty editions and three generations of Southern children, Father Ryan shaped the minds and memories of Southerners, particularly in regard to romanticizing the Southern defeat in the Civil War. Read more about him and other significant Civil War figures in Mercer University Press’s line of Civil War biography!

Furl    Bishop/ROBINS_dj080306    Cobb    Walker

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