Spartanburg Methodist College will host author Carolyn Curry for a talk and book signing on Tuesday, March 25th from 3 to 4 p.m. in the SMC Davis Mission Chapel. Curry’s “Suffer and Grow Strong, The Life of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1834–1907,” is destined to become a classic in women’s studies, and is as enjoyable as it is educational.
Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas’s journals have long been an indispensable source for anyone seeking to understand the nineteenth-century South and Southern white women’s experiences,” says Michele Gillespie, Presidential Professor of History at Wake Forest University. “Yet surprisingly, Thomas has never been the subject of a full-length biography. Carolyn Curry’s welcome new book carefully documents Thomas’s life story and puts her journals into an intriguingly fresh context.”
Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas was an intelligent, spirited woman born in 1834 to one of the wealthiest families in Georgia. At the age of fourteen she began and kept a diary for forty-one years. These diaries of her life before, during, and after the Civil War filled thirteen hand-written volumes with 450,000 words. In the early years she described her life of leisure and recorded the books she read. Her father recognized her love of learning and sent her to the first college for women in America, Wesleyan Female College in Macon, Georgia. After college graduation in 1851, she was a “gay young girl of fashion” who met and married her Princeton-educated husband in 1852. However, with the coming of the Civil War and its aftermath, her life changed forever.
Thomas experienced loss of wealth, bankruptcy, the death of loved ones, serious illness, and devastating family strife. She gave birth to ten children and saw four of them die. But, through it all, she kept pouring thoughts into her diary. Thomas examined what was happening, asked questions, and strived to find ways to improve her family’s dire economic straits. She started a school in her home and later ran a boarding house out of the old family mansion.
In 1893, Thomas left Augusta and moved to Atlanta where she became active in many women’s organizations. She found comfort in her work with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Suffrage Movement. She began producing articles for newspapers, keeping them in scrapbooks that tell the story of her life after she quit keeping a diary. In 1899 she was elected president of the Georgia Woman Suffrage Association. Because of her own losses, Thomas was sensitive to the well-being of other women. As she said, she had “suffered and grown strong.” Her life is an amazing story of survival and transformation that speaks to women in our own time.
History has been a great silencer of women, but on Tuesday, March 25th SMC invites you to experience this masterfully researched and inspirational story of a remarkable Southern woman, written by a Southern woman, with women, like yourself, from around the Upstate at the 3 p.m. talk and book signing event. The public is invited and admission is free of charge.
Carolyn Newton Curry holds a BA in English from Agnes Scott College and MA and PhD degrees in History from Georgia State University. She has taught at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta and The University of Kentucky. Curry is the founder and chair of Women Alone Together®, a non-profit foundation created to meet the needs of women who are alone in our culture. The well-being of women past and present has been her lifelong passion. Curry resides in Atlanta, Georgia.