THE SECRET EYE: The Journal of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889 by Virginia Ingraham--Ed. Burr

THE SECRET EYE: The Journal of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Candid, gracefully written journals kept from 1848-1889 by a slaveholder's wife who became a working woman and an activist. Even as a rich young southern belle, Gertrude Thomas was not entirely typical of her class, being better educated than most and having broad interests in the issues of the day. Nevertheless, she took her privileges for granted and enjoyed them, as she did the early days of her marriage to the wealthy slaveholder whom she loved and respected. She took for granted, too, her primary role as wife and mother (of ten, four of whom died young) and her right to the services of slaves. As war came and then Reconstruction, she recorded not only the drastic changes in her own life, but also those in the world around her. We see her beloved house burned, her aging husband destroyed by his losses and turning to alcoholism; we see her turning over to him her own inheritance to bail him out; we see her slaves freed and learn how much she paid for their labor when they were willing to hire out to her; we catch glimpses of Jefferson Davis being paraded through the streets of Augusta like a criminal; and we see her, when all resources fail, going to work as a poorly paid schoolteacher to support the family. The journals cease when--as explained in an excellent introductory essay by Neil Irvin Painter--she becomes a busy crusader for women's suffrage and for temperance. Exceptionally well-edited by Thomas' great-granddaughter, the journal entries balance nicely between Thomas' private life and the events of the time, thus allowing few stretches that do not cast light on the lives of women, the relations between slaves and masters, and the destruction of the economy and culture. An involving and intriguing addition to the personal histories of the period, then, told by a privileged woman who gathered strength and independence from disaster.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1990
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina Press