Julia Cherry Spruill, Historian of Southern Colonial Women
Most famous for her 1938 book, Women’s Life and Work in the Southern Colonies, Julia Cherry Spruill’s research anticipated the methods and interests of later feminist and social historians. From her youth, Spruill defied convention, promoting women’s rights and standing out academically. Yet, although her intellectual abilities were recognized—she was awarded both academic prizes and research funding, and obtained an MA degree at the University of North Carolina—she never held more than a part-time academic position. In her later life, she focused primarily on her domestic role, apparently accepting the conventional values of her region. Decades later, the innovativeness of her research was rediscovered. Spruill had developed a detailed analysis of ordinary women’s lives during the colonial period, utilizing painstaking investigation into unusual sources. Her work revealed many new aspects of colonial women’s experiences, and demonstrated that women had participated in public life in hitherto unexpected ways. Her book became a model and a source of insight for later historians investigating under-researched groups. It is still assigned in college classes, and is today considered a classic of historical analysis.