Katharine and R. J. Reynolds
Partners of Fortune in the Making of the New South

Michele Gillespie

The first biography of a fascinating couple who helped shape the New South


"Michele Gillespie's sophisticated examination of the intertwined lives of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds represents an exceptional contribution to the historiography of the modern South. At once a penetrating portrait of a marriage and an acute analysis of the many ways in which the lives of the partners shed light on business and social history, Gillespie's book provides readers with dazzling new insights regarding the dynamics of power in the rapidly modernizing region the Reynoldses called home."
—Peter A. Coclanis, Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"Gillespie uses Katharine's life and work as a kind of prism through which to view the prejudices and predilections of Southern culture in the 1910s and 1920s. The author . . . also offers an impressively researched essay on the emergence of the post-bellum Southern economy. . . . Ms. Gillespie has . . . produced a rich and original history of misunderstood period, one drawn almost entirely from primary sources."
—Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal

"This innovative, beautifully written dual biography is carefully contextualized in the history and historiography of its region and era, and as a result it makes a significant scholarly contribution to several fields of history not always recognized as being related."
—John B. Boles, William P. Hobby Professor of History, Rice University

"[T]he range and depth of Gillespie's work coupled with clarity of her writing combine to create a read that will be welcomed by students of history — both amateur and academic — who want an interview view of the world occupied by the founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Mary Katharine Smith."
—Tim Revis, Northeast Georgia Living

"Michele Gillespie provides a sweeping account of how R. J. and Katharine succeeded in realizing their American dreams. . . . Deeply researched, beautifully written, and cogently argued, this is an engrossing study of a power couple extraordinaire."
—Bob Edmonds, McCormick Messenger

"Michele Gillespie offers readers of all persuasions an eminently readable take on the wonders and warts of one of the American South's most compelling time periods."
—Matt Sutherland, ForeWord Reviews

“Deeply researched, beautifully written, and cogently argued, this is an engrossing study of a power couple extraordinaire, R. J. and Kate Reynolds, which will appeal to a wide readership. Telling us much about an unusual relationship, Michele Gillespie also provides a new way to understand how the post-Reconstruction New South elite helped construct business structures, social relations, and racial hierarchies. The result is an important addition to our understanding of the industrial South in the North Carolina Piedmont heartland.”
—William A. Link, author of The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 1880-1930

"Gillespie . . . masterfully builds a contextual framework around which to construct and present complementary biographies of two compelling individuals. The result is engaging and thought-provoking narrative history, which is also informative about the social, economic, and political issues of the time and region."
—B. M. Banta, Choice

“Carefully researched and elegantly written, this thoughtful and engaging dual biography of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds is a story that needed to be told.”
American Historical Review

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Separately they were formidable—together they were unstoppable. Despite their intriguing lives and the deep impact they had on their community and region, the story of Richard Joshua Reynolds (1850–1918) and Katharine Smith Reynolds (1880–1924) has never been fully told. Now Michele Gillespie provides a sweeping account of how R. J. and Katharine succeeded in realizing their American dreams.

From relatively modest beginnings, R. J. launched the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which would eventually develop two hugely profitable products, Prince Albert pipe tobacco and Camel cigarettes. His marriage in 1905 to Katharine Smith, a dynamic woman thirty years his junior, marked the beginning of a unique partnership that went well beyond the family. As a couple, the Reynoldses conducted a far-ranging social life and, under Katharine's direction, built Reynolda House, a breathtaking estate and model farm. Providing leadership to a series of progressive reform movements and business innovations, they helped drive one of the South's best examples of rapid urbanization and changing race relations in the city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Together they became one of the New South's most influential elite couples. Upon R. J.'s death, Katharine reinvented herself, marrying a World War I veteran many years her junior and engaging in a significant new set of philanthropic pursuits.

Katharine and R. J. Reynolds reveals the broad economic, social, cultural, and political changes that were the backdrop to the Reynoldses' lives. Portraying a New South shaped by tensions between rural poverty and industrial transformation, white working-class inferiority and deeply entrenched racism, and the solidification of a one-party political system, Gillespie offers a masterful life-and-times biography of these important North Carolinians.

Page count: 448 pp.
49 b&w photos, 1 table
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $26.95

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Michele Gillespie is a professor of history at Wake Forest University. She is author or editor of eight previous books including Free Labor in an Unfree World: White Artisans in Slaveholding Georgia, 1789–1860 (Georgia) and Southern Society and Its Transformations.