"Interesting, informative, and original. Lester's work is impressively researched, well written, and carries an authoritative tone grounded in true expertise on its topic. Up from the Mudsills of Hell will undoubtedly join the short list of classic Southern state studies on the agrarian revolt of the Gilded Age, and should represent the last word on the subject in Tennessee for a long time."
"This is a well-written, carefully researched, solidly documented, intellectually sophisticated study of Tennessee's agrarian communities. . . . This is an excellent and welcome study of Tennessee agrarianism, which no doubt will earn for itself a prominent place on our list of sources."
"Connie L. Lester provides a penetrating analysis of the possibilities and pitfalls of agrarian movements in this study of Tennessee farming that covers farmer organizations from 1870 to the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. . . . Her exhaustive research pays off with some remarkable observations from the farmers themselves. . . . Lester's book is one of the best available at analyzing the profound differences between large landowners and small farmers in building cooperative networks, as well as underscoring how Tennessee farmers crossed some significant racial and gender lines in organizing. This is a careful and nuanced analysis that should serve as a model for other scholars studying the disparate movements of farmers at the turn of the twentieth century."
—Journal of Southern History
"This book demonstrates the complexities of this important aspect of Tennessee's political history. Lester does an excellent job of explaining the political challenges of Tennessee's geography as well as the significance of lingering feelings within the state about the Lost Cause. . . . This book is a welcome addition to the body of scholarship of agricultural and political history. It is also an excellent interpretation of the place of the farm movement in Tennessee history."
—Journal of East Tennessee History
"There is much to admire in this book. The research . . . is impressive indeed, and the extended chronological and organizational focus is welcome and valuable . . . this book effectively demonstrates the perseverance, complexity, and periodic effectiveness of farm protest movements. It is a significant contribution to a new crop of scholarship on rural history generally, and readers of this journal will particularly appreciate its bridging the sometimes artificial boundary between the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era."
—Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Lester ties together a rich and often contradictory history of cooperativism, prohibition, disfranchisement, labor conflicts, and third-party politics to show that Tennessee agrarianism was more complex and threatening to the established political and economic order than previously recognized. As farmers reached across gender, racial, and political boundaries to create a mass movement, they shifted the ground under the monoliths of southern life. Once the Democratic Party had destroyed the insurgency, farmers responded in both traditional and progressive ways. Some turned inward, focusing on a localism that promoted—sometimes through violence—rigid adherence to established social boundaries. Others, however, organized into the Farmers’ Union, whose membership infiltrated the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension Service. Acting through these bureaucracies, Tennessee agrarian leaders exerted an important influence over the development of agricultural legislation for the twentieth century.
Up from the Mudsills of Hell not only provides an important reassessment of agrarian reform and radicalism in Tennessee, but also links this Upper South state into the broader sweep of southern and American farm movements emerging in the late nineteenth century.
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List price: $44.95
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