William & Mary

Article by Beth English (Ph.D. '03) Picked for OAH's Best American History Essays of 2008

Beth English EssayThe Organization of American Historians has selected a recent article by Beth English (Ph.D. '03) for inclusion in the organization's Best American History Essays of 2008. The Best History Essays anthology is designed to "reach out to a larger public with the treasures of contemporary research and writing in American history," according to the OAH.

Now in its third year, the series annually republishes in one volume ten of the best articles in American history published between the summers of the preceding calendar years. Previous editions were edited by Joyce Appleby (2006) and Jacqueline Jones (2007) and have included articles by Drew Gilpin Faust, Joseph Ellis, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Gail Bederman, and Thomas Surgue among others. The 2008 edition will be edited by David Roediger, distinguished labor historian and Kendrick C. Babcock Professor of History at the University of Illinois.

English's article, "'I have...a lot of work to do': Cotton Mill Work and Women's Culture in Matoaca, Virginia, 1888-95," was first published in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (114, 3: 2006). The article is based on her William and Mary master's thesis, "Work and Play: Recreation and Reality in a Southern Female Textile World."

The article is a study of a late nineteenth-century working women's culture in Matoaca, Chesterfield County, Virginia and focuses on the 1888-1895 correspondence between Anthelia Holt, a textile mill worker at the Matoaca Manufacturing Company, and her friend Lottie Clark, who lived in neighboring Amelia County. English's article reveals the contours of the culture that existed among a community of women who were part of the first generation of female millhands in the New South where the worlds of factory and farm intersected.

English shows that Matoaca's mill women were grounded in traditions of work and recreation, values, and networks of mutual aid and assistance that were normative in rural communities throughout the region, but that within the context of their industrial reality, Matoaca's mill women gave them new meanings and fashioned them to function according to the dictates and regimens of factory work. The culture that these female millhands were active agents in shaping, largely defined their lives both as women and as workers, and underpinned bonds of commonality and solidarity that could be found among female mill workers in textile villages throughout the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century South.

English is the author of A Common Thread: Labor, Politics and Capital Mobility in the Textile Industry (Univ. of Georgia, 2006) and From the Workhouse to the Big House: Class, Crime, and the State, 1875-1925 (Routledge, forthcoming).