The decades between the Progressive Era of the 1920s and the
civil rights struggles of the 1960s were a period of profound
change in the lives of southern women. The life of Sarah Towles
Reed (1882-1978) illuminates and parallels many of these
transformations. Over the course of her long public life as a
teacher, labor union lobbyist, and activist for the rights of
public school teachers, Reed emerged as a groundbreaking leader,
unafraid of taking on the educational and political hierarchies of
the South. "A Will of Her Own" is the life story of a woman who had
a lasting impact on her times as well as the story of the times
themselves. Reed engaged the most significant concerns of the
liberal reformers during the first half of the twentieth
century--the struggle for economic independence for women and the
fight for women's rights, the effort to maintain intellectual
freedom in the face of cold war paranoia, and the pursuit of racial
justice. Her successes, as well as her failures, lend a personal
perspective to these national trends. Her career also helps to
clarify what it meant to be a southern liberal in the twentieth
century and how the region's peculiar circumstances shaped the
politics and strategies of southern reformers.
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