Scarlett's Sisters: Young Women in the Old South

Scarlett's Sisters: Young Women in the Old South

Scarlett's Sisters: Young Women in the Old South

Scarlett's Sisters: Young Women in the Old South

Synopsis

Scarlett's Sisters explores the meaning of nineteenth-century southern womanhood from the vantage point of the celebrated fictional character's flesh-and-blood counterparts: young, elite, white women. Anya Jabour demonstrates that southern girls and young women faced a major turning point when the Civil War forced them to assume new roles and responsibilities as independent women.

Examining the lives of more than 300 girls and women between ages fifteen and twenty-five, Jabour traces the socialization of southern white ladies from early adolescence through young adulthood. Amidst the upheaval of the Civil War, Jabour shows, elite young women, once reluctant to challenge white supremacy and male dominance, became more rebellious. They adopted the ideology of Confederate independence in shaping a new model of southern womanhood that eschewed dependence on slave labor and male guidance.

By tracing the lives of young white women in a society in flux, Jabour reveals how the South's old social order was maintained and a new one created as southern girls and young women learned, questioned, and ultimately changed what it meant to be a southern lady.

Excerpt

In my office in the Department of History at the University of Montana, a “Gone With the Wind” mouse pad has been my constant companion for the past decade. Now curling and dingy, this usually pedestrian object is enlivened by a Technicolor image of a swooning Scarlett O’Hara supported by the handsome Rhett Butler against a background of the flames that consumed Atlanta near the end of the Civil War.

I purchased this item when I first came to Montana as a whimsical commentary on my field of study—southern women’s history—which seemed somehow anomalous in a western state that granted women the right to vote in 1914 (six years before the ratification of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment) and gave the nation its first congresswoman, Jeannette Rankin, three years later. Yet over the years, countless people have been captivated by the image; a stunning number of my northern-born-and-bred visitors exclaim, “Gone with the Wind is my favorite movie (or book)!” These comments gradually taught (or reminded) me of a fundamental truth that scholars of the South sometimes prefer to ignore (or forget): Americans’ ideas about the South—and particularly about southern women—continue to be shaped by Margaret Mitchell’s Depression-era account of the Civil War South and by David Selznek’s tremendously popular film adaptation of the novel.

For all of historians’ efforts over the past three decades to dispel the myth of the southern lady—Laura Edwards’s recent synthetic account, Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, might well be subtitled And She Never Did—the image of Scarlett O’Hara, the quintessential southern belle, continues to dominate the popular imagination. Given the focus of most histories of southern women, this is not surprising. Although scholars have recently —and rightly—expanded their definition of “southern women” to include nonslaveholding white women, free black women, and enslaved African American women, as well as elite plantation mistresses, they have not yet turned their attention to young women of any class or racial background. Indeed, while southern historians of gender have begun to investigate elite . . .

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