Radical southern women: Eliza Frances Andrews and Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin

By Jamil Zainaldin

Two spirited Georgia women of the post-Civil War era are remarkable for the clarity of their voices, their roots in the state, and their achievements. If in some ways they are alike, they are also profoundly different.

Eliza Frances (“Fanny”) Andrews was born in 1840 in Wilkes County; Kathryn Du Pre Lumpkin was born in 1897 in neighboring Oglethorpe County. Each benefited from the prominence of their families. Each lived long and productive lives of much consequence — lives bound up with place and time that make them uniquely southern and Georgian. But they came to different conclusions on race, one of the burning issues of their day. Andrews was a white supremacist; Lumpkin was an advocate of racial equality.

How do we explain such variances as we look back on the paths taken in personal lives, and paths not taken?

Fanny Andrews enjoyed the carefree childhood of one born into the pre-Civil War world of southern privilege. Her father was a highly regarded judge; he also owned 200 slaves, a cotton plantation, and “big house” in the influential community of Washington, in Wilkes County. There, Andrews received a classical education at the local academy and afterward, earned a degree from LaGrange Female College (today LaGrange College). She read French, Greek, and Latin, and had close familiarity with the classics of English, French, and American literature.

The Andrews family associated with the elite of the countryside — the Toombses, Semmeses, Tuppers, Barnetts, and Ficklens, Georgia’s ruling class.

The state’s secession from the Union divided her family, as it did many in Georgia. Her father opposed secession, believing it would be the ruination of the South and of their privileged lives, a position he never veered from. Nevertheless, secession fever swept up the rest of their household, including Andrews and her siblings (three of whom served in the Confederacy).

Near the end of the war, Andrews began keeping a diary, one that in time made her famous. With an insider’s view, she proved a talented writer and astute observer. Her War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, 1864-1865 is one of the truly important published diaries of the Civil War home front. Filled with equal parts praise and vitriol, she sang the virtues of the Confederacy and the slaveholding South and damned the Yankees as she painted a picture of a war-torn home front.

In the words of New Georgia Encyclopedia editor John Inscoe, her diary is especially notable for the description of “her harrowing retreat from her home in Washington; as [Sherman’s] Union forces approached, she moved across ravaged areas to find refuge at her sister’s plantation in the southwestern part of the state.”

Returning home in April 1865, she documented Confederate president Jefferson Davis’s passage through Washington while being pursued by federals, the eventual Union occupation of her town, and the freedmen of the county who flocked to the Union encampment, leaving behind their former masters. And she describes the wandering masses of Confederate soldiers after Lee’s surrender, passing literally through their back yard, most on foot with no provisions, tattered clothes, and homes as far away as Texas.

The diary is filled with Andrews’s fiery, spirited persona that surely contributed to Margaret Mitchell’s depiction of the character Scarlett O’Hara (Andrews’s hair was red, incidentally). It is hard to imagine that Mitchell, a journalist and writer, would not have read War-Time Journal (published in 1908), a well-known book written by a respected female author from her own state.

After the war, with her family “near-penniless,” Andrews (also not unlike Scarlett) set out on her own. In her diary she announces that marriage “is incompatible with the career I’ve marked out for myself.” Never mind that there were few males of marriageable age; the former antebellum belle was about to create for herself a new kind of southern life, one of almost defiant independence outside of one of society’s most sacred institutions.

For a time she lived near a brother in Alabama, teaching school. She moved back to Washington to recuperate from a serious illness, and then took a job as a newspaper editor, only to be fired later when the owner discovered she was a woman (she had used a pen name).

By this time she was already writing with some earnestness, placing articles in regional and national journals and newspapers on topics humorous and witty but also serious. She even completed two novels and had started work on a third.

Then, Wesleyan Female College in Macon (today’s Wesleyan College), the world’s first degree-granting institution for women, conferred on her an honorary degree for her expertise in Latin, French, and literature. An invitation to teach at Wesleyan followed, which she gladly accepted in 1885.

By now she was gaining literary notice not only in the South, but also nationally. With a modest financial independence from her books, she retired in 1896 to focus on her love of botany, writing textbooks as well as scholarly articles on the subject. She also occasionally taught in Washington’s local academy.

In 1911 she relocated to Rome, Georgia, to be near a brother and to continue her work in botany. In 1927 the International Academy of Literature and Science nominated her as a fellow, the first American woman accorded that honor. She died in 1931, at the age of 90.

Andrews’s long and remarkably productive life spanned antebellum Georgia to the eve of the New Deal (1840-1931). It also abounded with contradictions. Living out a professional career as a single woman, giving her the freedom she craved, she opposed ratification of the 19th Amendment (1920), which gave women the freedom to vote.

She was educated and cosmopolitan, traveling around the United States and in Europe, yet like many in her day, remained strongly bigoted. Fears of race war consumed her, and she actively promoted separation of the races and black disfranchisement, which became a reality when Georgia amended its state constitution in 1908. She never tired of praising the aristocratic gentility of the Old South, though she identified herself (as did Who’s Who) as a “Socialist.” Indeed, she mocked the rise of Henry Grady‘s “New South” as just another ploy of northern industrialists to accomplish their true Civil War goal of making “wage slaves” of everyone. (Like a good Marxian, she saw the elimination of chattel slavery as just the first step).

Perhaps the biggest paradox of all is that one of such a keen mind and independent spirit, one who was so immersed in the classics of Western civilization and who thrived on freedom, would be so unwilling to see freedom extended to others like her, white and black.

But perhaps this is not a matter of paradox at all, but a universal story in its local setting. Her fondest lifelong memory was the thrilling “secret” that she kept from her pro-Unionist father. In the days before Georgia officially seceded, she and her young friends secretly stitched a “Bonnie Blue” flag of rebellion. It was this flag that townspeople joyfully hoisted atop the county courthouse the day secession was announced, as she proudly looked on.

Some secrets can torment. For her, it was defining. For all of Andrews’s extraordinary “modern” ambition and supreme scientific accomplishment, she remained an unapologetic voice for an Old South. She would not, or could not, emerge from under the plantation’s long shadow of patrician class and racism.

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Then there is Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, in some ways an almost mirror image of Andrews, though of a later generation (1897-1988). Like that of Andrews, Lumpkin’s heritage extends back to Georgia’s antebellum planter elite, and includes a governor, judge, state supreme court justice, and founder of the University of Georgia Law School (not to mention a county named in honor of her family). The Lumpkin family in fact knew the Andrews family, which lived in the next county over.

The Lumpkins also contributed sons to the Confederacy’s war effort, and like their planter neighbors, experienced the war’s aftermath as a personal and economic catastrophe. Lumpkin and Andrews were alike in other ways: both valued education, and both chose an academic career over marriage, a radical alternative in their own day. And both excelled as scholars—rarities among women at the time.

And there is this astounding fact: both became avowed Socialists who rebelled against capitalism’s treatment of workers.

In one important way, Andrews and Lumpkin are not alike: If Andrews was an ardent defender of white supremacy, for Lumpkin, white supremacy became the burden of her life, a southern inheritance that she devoted a career to uprooting. Can we explain their different turns at this “Y” in the road?

Let’s look more closely at Lumpkin’s childhood and early adult years, which Lumpkin wrote about in The Making of a Southerner, part family history, part autobiography, and part sociological study. According to New Georgia Encyclopedia author Scott Romine, it “describes Lumpkin’s transition from passive inheritance of white supremacy to conscious rejection of the racial values of a segregated South.”

Her father, William Lumpkin, served in the Confederate army. After the war, he married, scraping and scrambling for a living as a lawyer and farmer — as did so many other sons and daughters of the old planter elite. The family moved several times during her childhood, as her father pursued work and opportunities.

Lumpkin enjoyed regaling his children with tales of the “old times” on the family plantation. “Tell us another story about the old days, Pa,” the children would ask. And well they might, for the stories he relayed were filled with peace, prosperity, and happy times, even for slaves, who were bound to the master and his family (so the story went) not by chains, but by ties of loyalty and affection.

William Lumpkin’s stories of that bygone era in fact merged perfectly with the day’s rising Lost Cause mythology that also swept up Andrews. Indeed, William Lumpkin was among its earliest and best-known proponents and his children, like so many other white children across the South, an enthusiastic audience.

Then one day a crack in this picture showed itself.

In The Making of a Southerner, Katharine Lumpkin remembers as a young child having “gone aimlessly out into the yard before breakfast” one morning when, “Of a sudden in the house there was bedlam—sounds to make my heart pound and my hair prickle at the roots. Calls and screams were interposed with blow upon blow.”

Peeking through the kitchen window, she saw her father with a stick beating “our little black cook, a woman small in stature.” Her face was “distorted with fear and agony” and her father’s face was marked by “stern rage.” It was not a face she recognized. “Having seen and heard, I chose the better part of stuffing my fists in my ears and creeping away on trembling legs.”

How searing that experience was for Lumpkin, not only in the shock of the moment, but in the seed it sowed.

Her mother, Annette Caroline Morris Lumpkin, who before marriage was an educator, watered that seed by her teaching. Possessing a keen intellect, Annette Lumpkin was described by Katharine as the “family’s prized possession.” In that relationship came encouragement for the development of Lumpkin’s mind and the freedom to read, think, and converse.

After graduation from Brenau College in Gainesville, Lumpkin worked for the YWCA, where she learned of the Social Gospel movement that applied Christian ethics to social concerns, including also those of African Americans in the South. It was the dawn of another awakening.

Pursuing this area of interest—work and equity—she attended Columbia University in New York, receiving an M.A., and the University of Wisconsin, where she received a Ph.D. in sociology. Her specialty was the new field of “industrial relations,” with a focus on wages, hours, and working conditions for child and adult workers in agriculture, factories, and mills.

In the course of her academic career she wrote and published on that subject—the brunt of which exposed society’s economic inequities and the effects of racism. She also wrote a biography of the great nineteenth-century reformer and feminist, Angelina Grimke.

What do we make of these two southern stories—Andrews and Lumpkin, so much alike in their origins, yet ultimately so different in their conclusions about society?

It has been said that the South is a nation unto itself: its agonies and glories, its depths and heights, would seem to plumb the vast ocean of human experience. Certainly the region’s literature and music, stories and art, visionaries and reformers reflect this amazing diversity of experience.

And consider this list of southern-born presidents (there are others), hardly cookie-cutter images of one another: Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Truman, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton.

Diversity in all its multitudes is the stated, and sometimes unstated, truth of life in the South, and Lumpkin’s own family is exhibit A: one of her sisters actively supported the Communist Party in the 1930s, while the other picked up their father’s mantle to become a lifelong devotee and teacher of Lost Cause mythology.

What can we learn from these stories? James Baldwin, a southerner by heritage and the grandson of a slave, believed that “people are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.” How formative is place in our journey to adulthood? How significant are the subtle (and not so subtle) influences of parents and community, not to mention traumatic events of the kind Lumpkin herself witnessed at a tender age? And what of our educational experiences? Lumpkin’s experience at Brenau and later, Columbia University, widened her exposure.

In reflecting on these two women’s lives, we are reminded that each of us is molded by environment, but also each of us has inner resources that may lead us to challenge the assumptions we grow up with. The different philosophies embraced by these women underscores that each of us has choices to make about the time we live in: to embrace its values or to challenge them.

What will future generations say about our choices as individuals? What lens will they use to judge our behavior, our priorities?

This article appeared in an earlier form as part of “Jamil’s Georgia” on the SaportaReport.

Jamil Zainaldin is the president of Georgia Humanities.