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In 1907, author, poet, essayist, and folk art historian Eliza Calvert Hall (1856–1935) published Aunt Jane of Kentucky, a collection of stories about rural life infused with the spirit and gentle good humor of its elderly narrator, Aunt Jane. The book and several sequels achieved wide popularity, reaching an estimated one million readers in her lifetime, and placed Hall in the front ranks of “local color” fiction writers of her time.
Eliza Calvert Hall’s life and work unfolded during a time of restlessness and change for American women. Born Eliza “Lida” Calvert in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Hall experienced the upheaval of both the Civil War and family scandal. Forced to help support her mother and four siblings by teaching school, she became a published poet, adopting her grandmother’s name, Hall, as her pseudonym. At twenty-nine, she married William A. Obenchain, and in the space of eight years gave birth to four children. As Hall struggled to balance her writing career with the duties of a nineteenth-century wife and mother, suffragist Laura Clay was lobbying for every woman’s right to vote. Hall joined the battle, writing fearlessly in support of suffrage and equality. While her passionate essays served as a direct appeal for this cause, her creative writing also carried a feminist spirit, celebrating the strength, humor, love, and art of the common woman.
In Eliza Calvert Hall: Kentucky Author and Suffragistl, Lynn E. Niedermeier tells the story of this remarkable Kentuckian for the first time. Hall’s challenge was to balance the artist’s creative ambitions with the crusader’s passion for achieving the goal of political equality for American women. Her successes did not stem from privilege or leisure; although she was an acclaimed writer, Hall was an ordinary woman, a wife and mother of moderate economic means. Through the power of her words, she challenged others to match her courage, independence, intellectual energy, and loyalty to her sex.
"Supplies a valuable history of the women's rights movement in Kentucky, and also introduces the reader to an overlooked author of compassionate and witty fiction."—Bonnie Jean Cox, former director of the University of Kentucky's Women and Gender Studies program
"Lynn Niedermeier's book is biography at its best. She weaves the threads of the writer's compelling life into a masterwork that will satisfy, inspire, and endure. Offering a wealth of new information about a little understood writer and activist, it tells a remarkably good story."—Morris A. Grubbs, editor of Home and Beyond
"This well-documented biography follows the activities of the poet, essayist, author and folk art historian. Neidermeier presents a compelling picture of a woman who survives the upheaval of a family scandal and becomes a teacher, writer, housewife, mother and widow. She has given us a timeless story of an ordinary but still extraordinary woman who finds the requirements of being a wife and mother interfering with her creative pursuits."—Carol Crowe Carraco, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green Daily News
"Through careful scrutiny of the three parallel tracks of Lida’s life, she [Niedermeier] sheds light on the process by which critical changes in women’s legal and political rights took place. . . . Carefully researched and insightfully arranged, this book reveals striking commonalities in the lived experience of women across generations."—Ohio Valley History
"Eliza Calvert Hall will interest historians of woman suffrage, those tracing the influence of mainline Protestantism on nineteenth-century economic behavior, literary historians, scholars of women’s careers from frontier to modernity in the South, and students of family dynamics."—Journal of American History
"This biography will be enjoyed by readers of Kentucky history, women’s literature and politics, and, especially, the Aunt Jane of Kentucky stories. It is needed in every library of Kentucky, and of colleges and universities elsewhere."—Kentucky Philological Review
"This book has much to recommend it. It is well-written, carefully researched, and brings to light a woman long overlooked by women’s historians."—West Virginia History
"Lynn E. Niedermeier’s Eliza Calvert Hall: Kentucky Author and Suffragist offers a thoroughly fascinating biography of a long-neglected author and women’s rights advocate."—Journal of Southern History
"Eliza Calvert Hall: Kentucky Author and Suffragist is insightful...depicts an intelligent and courageous woman who deserves to be rediscovered and acknowledged as a pioneer for women’s rights."—Northern Kentucky Herritage
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Eliza Calvert Hall, Kentucky, Suffragists, Kentucky authors
Literature in English, North America
Niedermeier, Lynn E., "Eliza Calvert Hall: Kentucky Author and Suffragist" (2007). Literature in English, North America. 54.