- The University of Alabama Libraries
- Division of Special Collections
- Digital Exhibitions
- A Complex Legacy: Three Woman Writers from Alabama
Digital archives from the University of Alabama Libraries Division of Special Collections
Curated by Kate Matheny, Digitization Outreach Coordinator
Looking to the past can force us to confront complicated issues and even more complicated people. Among the three women presented in this exhibit, one wrote antifeminist novels, some that are propaganda pieces for the antebellum southern way of life; one was a white woman who wrote African-American folktales, often in dialect; and one simply did not accept the new changing face of modern poetry.
But understanding these women is a matter of perspective — multiple perspectives, specifically. Seen another way, these women are pretty remarkable: the novelist counseled her best friend on the difficulties and rewards of being a female writer; the folktale writer helped bring traditional, often oral, narratives to a wider audience; and the poet continued creating in the style she knew and believed in, even when the artistic landscape around her seemed hostile and alien, just as she continued sending letters to her children when an illness made her handwriting all but illegible.
Augusta Jane Evans Wilson, Julia Neely Finch, and Martha Strudwick Young were all born before the Civil War’s end, and all lived into the twentieth century. Wilson and Finch witnessed the Civil War firsthand. All saw the South come through a period of reconstruction, coinciding with the country’s industrialization. Finch and Young saw the world disrupted in the War to End All Wars (WWI), and Young lived long enough to realize that it wasn’t. Seen from our twenty-first century perspective, their ideas are often problematic, but that perspective is a product of the very changes they lived through — in science and art, philosophy and society.
Some of those changes had to do with the status and role of women, which was growing more diverse and complex every day. These women, who all lived into their seventies, represent a range of life experiences regarding marriage and family: Wilson married in her 30s and had no children, Finch married in her late teens and had three children, and Young neither married nor had children. Use the links above to take a look at the intersection of their lives and works in more depth.