Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in History

First Advisor

Elizabeth Anne Payne

Second Advisor

David Wharton

Third Advisor

Charles R. Wilson

Abstract

This work paints an intimate portrait of rural people who lived in the hill counties of northeast Mississippi and southwest Arkansas between 1900 and 1940. Howard County, Arkansas and Union County, Mississippi serve as the representative counties for each hill-country region. Howard County is located in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains, and Union County is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. This study identifies who in the rural communities was most responsible for bringing positive changes to their communities, questions what motivated their efforts, and evaluates their successes and failures. To this end, the work first examines how rural people "made do" with limited resources by organizing mutual support systems. It argues that rural people who lived in close proximity, shared similar experiences, and held strong religious beliefs, developed a community consciousness. The study also examines how racial relations in the rural hill-country complicated the community consciousness. The study is particularly interested in the roles women played in their communities. It examines how rural women developed mutual support networks and why these networks were so important for progressive change. The study found that women who were active in their churches joined forces through both religious and secular organizations to reform their communities. Local efforts to diversify the economy are evaluated in both southwest Arkansas and northeast Mississippi. Civic leaders sought to bring industry to their individual counties. When industries arrived, however, the industries could not employ a significant number of rural people, and many times the industries failed after only a few years. Finally, the study examines the important work of agricultural extension agents and home demonstration agents and argues that only after becoming part of the communities they served could these agents truly transform the rural South.

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