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Often referred to as the leader of inspiration in Appalachian studies, Helen Matthews Lewis linked scholarship with activism and encouraged deeper analysis of the region. Lewis shaped the field of Appalachian studies by emphasizing community participation and challenging traditional perceptions of the region and its people. Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia, a collection of Lewis’s writings and memories that document her life and work, begins in 1943 with her job on the yearbook staff at Georgia State College for Women with Mary Flannery O’Connor.

Editors Patricia D. Beaver and Judith Jennings highlight the achievements of Lewis’s extensive career, examining her role as a teacher and activist at Clinch Valley College (now University of Virginia at Wise) and East Tennessee State University in the 1960s, as well as her work with Appalshop and the Highland Center. Helen Matthews Lewis connects Lewis’s works to wider social movements by examining the history of progressive activism in Appalachia. The book provides unique insight into the development of regional studies and the life of a dynamic revolutionary, delivering a captivating and personal narrative of one woman’s mission of activism and social justice.

Helen Matthews Lewis has served as the director of the Berea College Appalachian Center, Appalshop’s Appalachian History Film Project, and the Highlander Research and Education Center. She is coauthor of Mountain Sisters: From Convent to Community in Appalachia and Colonialism in Modern America: The Appalachian Case.

Patricia D. Beaver, director of the Center for Appalachian Studies and professor of anthropology at Appalachian State University, is coeditor of Tales from Sacred Wind: Coming of Age in Appalachia.

Judith Jennings, executive director of the Kentucky Foundation for Women, is the author of Gender, Religion, and Radicalism in the Long Eighteenth Century: The “Ingenious Quaker” and Her Connections.

"This book will be welcomed by those of us who found in Helen a role model who combines the life of the mind, the thirst for social justice, and the wisdom of soulful humor. For those others who are looking for such a role model have you made a discovery!”—Richard A. Couto, editor of Political and Civic Leadership: A Reference Handbook

"This rich collection of memories, photographs, commentaries, and archival documents is an exemplary weave of history and biography—the lived story of Appalachian social movements over much of the twentieth century. The sweeping chronicle of Helen Lewis’s actions and words reveals how she continues to make history by living social justice and refusing to capitulate to unjust power. The lessons could not be more timely, instructive, and inspiring."--Barbara Ellen Smith, author of Neither Separate Nor Equal: Women, Race and Class in the South

"It is one thing to speak truth to power. Helen does that with intelligence and wit -- to southern segregationists, coal companies, and academic institutions. It’s another thing to speak truth with the powerless. On nearly every page of this wonderful book, Helen combines her commitment to those who lack power with trust in their agency. She breaks into the unruly and uncontainable, and wraps 'the belt of truth around our waist.'"--Anne Lewis, director of Morristown: in the air and sun

"In showcasing Helen Matthews Lewis, Beaver and Jennings remind us that an individual impassioned to do the right thing will make a positive difference. . . . the editors have also offered us Lewis' legacy as a challenge to examine our own roles vis-a-vis committing to transform our communities."--Courier-Journal

"Lewis has achieved the status of an icon among Appalachian activists and scholars. . . . An important book."--Appalachian Heritage

“Brings together in one volume Lewis’s many contributions to Appalachian Studies. . . . The book reveals the breadth and depth of scholarship and activism in Appalachia and will no doubt become a classic.”--West Virginia History

“Provides a more intimate insight into her life and her impact on people and society than a more formal portrait could. . . . Recommended.”--Choice

A fitting tribute to a woman who deserves greater acknowledgment and appreciation for her lifetime of work in Appalachia and for the betterment of struggling communities everywhere...The work is a success. -- Joseph Witt- -- Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

Winner of the Appalachian Writers Association’s Book of the Year Award for Nonfiction

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Helen Matthews Lewis, Women poitical activists, Appalachian region, Political activists


Appalachian Studies

Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia
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