Gender Matters pp 127-149 | Cite as

The De Graffenried Controversy: Class, Race, and Gender in the New South

  • LeeAnn Whites


In the winter of 1891, Clare de Graffenried, an investigator with the U.S. Bureau of Labor assigned to research the condition of wage-earning women and children, published an article in Century Magazine entitled “The Georgia Cracker in the Cotton Mills.”1 In it she discussed the condition of the states’ textile millworkers on the basis of hundreds of interviews that she had conducted among millworkers throughout the state, analyzed the factors she thought were responsible for labor conditions in the industry, and suggested how they might be ameliorated. The article met with approbation in the northern press and was widely cited as an authoritative statement of the condition of southern textile workers. In the South, however, it engendered widespread hostility and rejection. Journals as varied in political allegiance as the Manufacturers’ Record, an organ of southern business, and the Wool Hat, a Georgia Populist weekly, disputed the accuracy of the article and thereby created what came to be termed in the local press “The De Graffenried Controversy.”2


White Woman Protective Legislation White Supremacy Domestic Life Labor Reform 
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  1. 1.
    Clare de Graffenried, “The Georgia Cracker in the Cotton Mills,” Century Magazine XLI (February 1891): 483–498.Google Scholar
  2. Lala Carr Steelman, “Mary Clare de Graffenried: The Saga of a Crusader for Social Reform,” in Studies in the History of the South, 1875–1922, Joseph F. Steelman et al., eds. (Greenville, NC, Department of History, East Carolina College, 1966), 53–83Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    Clare de Graffenried, “Child-Labor,” Publications of the American Economic Association V (March 1890), 196.Google Scholar
  4. 15.
    Although the Womans’ Christian Temperance Union, under the influence of Frances Willard, had by this date become increasingly committed to promoting social reform from a gender perspective, the development of reform specific to the problems of labor had to await the work of settlement-house reformers of the mid-1890s. See Ruth Bordin, Women and Temperance: The Quest For Power and Liberty (Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1981)Google Scholar
  5. Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House (New York, New American Library, 1960)Google Scholar
  6. Allen F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement, 1890–1914 (New York, Oxford University Press, 1967).Google Scholar
  7. David L. Carlton, Mill and Town in South Carolina, 1880–1920 (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    See Josephine Bone Floyd, “Rebecca Latimer Felton, Political Independent,” Georgia Historical Quarterly XXX (March 1946): 14–34Google Scholar
  9. 41.
    Here Rebecca Feltons’ racial politics, as in the case of her class politics, were subsumed by gender categories. She was primarily concerned about maintaining what appeared to be the material prerequisites for a proper gender division of labor. Not only had the economic devastation and death of men exposed white women to market forces in a new way, but the emancipation of the slaves had also exposed them to a fundamental challenge to the racial hierarchy, a fact symbolized in Feltons’ mind by the image of white women reduced to field labor. As economic conditions continued to deteriorate in the 1890s, Felton held on to this gendered perspective—that the failure of white men to “protect” their women resulted in the “exposure” of white women. Ultimately this broke forth as a virulent racism on Feltons’ part; the whole gender problem was displaced upon black men who were accused of raping white women. See Rebecca Latimer Felton, “Racial Problems,” manuscript speech, n.d., Felton Papers; Joel Williamson, The Crucible of Race: Black-White Relations in the American South Since Emancipation (New York, Oxford University Press, 1984)Google Scholar
  10. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, “‘The Mind That Burns in Each Body’: Women, Rape and Racial Violence,” in Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson, eds. (New York, Monthly Review Press, 1983), 328–349.Google Scholar
  11. 43.
    Clare de Graffenried, “Child-Labor,” Publications of the American Economic Association V (March 1890): 196.Google Scholar
  12. 53.
    For a further discussion of Rebecca Feltons’ background, her own recollections are invaluable. See Rebecca Latimer Felton, Country Life in Georgia in the Days of My Youth (Atlanta, Index Printing Company, 1919).Google Scholar
  13. John E. Talmadge, Rebecca Latimer Felton: Nine Stormy Decades (Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1960).Google Scholar
  14. Anne Floor Scott, The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics, 1830–1930 (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1970), 121–133.Google Scholar
  15. 55.
    Clare de Graffenried, “The ‘New woman’ and Her Debts,” Appletons’ Popular Science Monthly XLIX (May-October 1896): 666–667.Google Scholar
  16. 76.
    See Jonathan M. Wiener, Social Origins of the New South: Alabama, 1860–1885 (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1978)Google Scholar
  17. 77.
    For further discussion of southern labors’ attempts to organize during this period see Melton Alonza McLaurin, Paternalism and Protest: Southern Cotton Mill Workers and Organized Labor, 1875–1905 (Westport, CT, Greenwood Publishing Corp, 1971).Google Scholar
  18. Richard H. L. German, “The Augusta Textile Strike of 1898–1899,” Richmond County Historical Journal IV (Winter 1972): 37–49.Google Scholar
  19. 83.
    When child labor legislation did come to the South, and to Georgia in particular, the legislation came late and was weak. Nevertheless, its very passage speaks to the relative strength of labor as opposed to womens’ organizations in the region. Although labor made repeated efforts to get child labor legislation passed in Georgia, usually during the periods of labor militancy, it met with little success. The eventual passage of the legislation was the result of the combined efforts of womens’ organizations in the state, especially the General Federation of Womens’ Clubs, and sympathetic ministers. As such it reflects the massive explosion of womens’ domestic organizations and influence in the 1890s. See Elizabeth H. Davidson, Child Labor Legislation in the Southern Textile States (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1939).Google Scholar

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© LeeAnn Whites 2005

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  • LeeAnn Whites

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