Bridging Two Eras: The Autobiography of Emily Newell Blair 1877-1951

Article excerpt

Bridging Two Eras: The Autobiography of Emily Newell Blair, 1877-1951. Edited by Virginia Jeans Laas. (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, c. 1999. Pp. xxiv, 382. $29.95, ISBN 0-8262-1254-9.)

Emily Newell Blair, introduced by Susan Ware in Beyond Suffrage: Women in the New Deal (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981) as one of twenty-eight prominent New Deal women, has been mentioned in articles and anthologies, but this volume evokes Blair's own voice. Her handsomely produced autobiography is both representative and remarkable. At various stages Blair drafted and revised her life story, but the manuscript circulated only privately until family members intervened after her death to secure a publishable version edited by a professional historian. The editor's empathy and knowledge inform her approach to her subject. The editing, with copious details to provide historical perspective and context, is exemplary. An instructive introduction, a concise statement of methodology, an appropriate chronology, a judicious bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and a comprehensive index complement the splendid narrative. Organized in two books, the work is usually fluent and animated, although some passages are opaque, the result of formal prose. Blair acknowledged this flaw and explained: "I've never quite forgiven Carlyle and Macaulay for their effect on my writing style. The long, encumbered sentences will fall from my pen, even today, though I have fought valiantly for terseness and brevity" (p. 39).

Blair's voice emerges here unequivocally and unambiguously. Birth and residence in Missouri shaped her regional identity, but Blair achieved national status by capitalizing on her genteel background, eastern education, and travels. …


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