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From Gone with the Wind to Designing Women, images of southern females that emerge from fiction and film tend to obscure the diversity of American women from below the Mason-Dixon line. In a work that deftly lays bare a myriad of myths and stereotypes while presenting true stories of ambition, grit, and endurance, Margaret Ripley Wolfe offers the first professional historical synthesis of southern women's experiences across the centuries.

In telling their story, she considers many ordinary lives—those of Native-American, African-American, and white women from the Tidewater region and Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta to the Gulf Coastal Plain, women whose varied economic and social circumstances resist simple explanations. Wolfe examines critical eras, outstanding personalities and groups—wives, mothers, pioneers, soldiers, suffragists, politicians, and civil rights activists—and the impact of the passage of time and the pressure of historical forces on the region's females.

The historical southern woman, argues Wolfe, has operated under a number of handicaps, bearing the full weight of southern history, mythology, and legend. Added to these have been the limitations of being female in a patriarchal society and the constraining images of the "southern belle" and her mentor, the "southern lady." In addition, the specter of race has haunted all southern women. Gender is a common denominator, but according to Wolfe, it does not transcend race, class, point of view, or a host of other factors.

Intrigued by the imagery as well as the irony of biblical stories and southern history, Wolfe titles her work Daughters of Canaan. Canaan symbolizes promise, and for activist women in particular the South has been about promise as much as fulfillment. General readers and students of southern and women's history will be drawn to Wolfe's engrossing chronicle.

Margaret Ripley Wolfe is professor of history at East Tennessee State University. A native of the South, she is the author of Kingsport, Tennessee, as well as numerous other books, articles, and essays.

"A tour de force."—American Historical Review

"Full of earthy insight, raw humor and lots of particulars."—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Drawing on two decades of study and reflection and a lifetime of experience and observation, she has produced an insightful, vivid, frequently startling, and sometimes shocking work of revisionist feminist history."—Choice

"A lively, insightful, and vivid work of synthesis and interpretation; the southern women she describes are flesh-and-blood women."—Journal of American History

"This study is the first attempt to synthesize historical scholarship on the Southern woman from colonial times to the late twentieth century."—Journal of Women's History

"General readers and new scholars will fins this wide-ranging book attainable as well as engaging."—Library Journal

"A notable addition to the bookshelf of scholarship on Southern history."—Louisiana History

"Has punctured the stereotypical picture of the ladies who live below the Mason Dixon line."—Louisville Courier-Journal

"The scope of this book is epic."—Paintsville (KY) Herald

"Draws on scores of written sources to present Southern women’s lives from the early 17th century to the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1950s and ‘60s."—Publishers Weekly

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Southern women, Southern women's history


Women's Studies

Daughters Of Canaan: A Saga of Southern Women
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