Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America (Paperback)

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Winner of the 2020 PEN America/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, the 2020 Summersell Prize, a 2020 PROSE Award, and a Plutarch Award finalist



“The word befitting this work is ‘masterpiece.’ ” —Paula J. Giddings, author of Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching


Descendants of a prominent slaveholding family, Elizabeth, Grace, and Katharine Lumpkin were raised in a culture of white supremacy. While Elizabeth remained a lifelong believer, her younger sisters sought their fortunes in the North, reinventing themselves as radical thinkers whose literary works and organizing efforts brought the nation’s attention to issues of region, race, and labor. National Humanities Award–winning historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall follows the divergent paths of the Lumpkin sisters, tracing the wounds and unsung victories of the past. Hall revives a buried tradition of Southern expatriation and progressivism; explores the lost, revolutionary zeal of the early twentieth century; and muses on the fraught ties of sisterhood.


Grounded in decades of research, the family’s private papers, and interviews with Katharine and Grace, Sisters and Rebels unfolds an epic narrative of American history through the lives of three Southern women.



About the Author


Jacquelyn Dowd Hall is the founding director of the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the coauthor of the prize-winning Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Praise For…


Hall is a herculean researcher.… [She] expertly gives these extraordinary sisters the recognition they deserve.
— Tony Horwitz

A rich, revelatory story of twentieth-century America.… For all that it is a book for scholars, it is also a gripping tale to put by your bedside and read.
— Kirsten Swinth

An absolutely necessary, totally engaging history.… Embedded within the extraordinary lives and works of the Lumpkin sisters, we find the ‘personal yet epic narrative’ of their times—and of the South itself, especially its women. In graceful, illuminating prose, Hall speaks from her own long relationship with the sisters as well as her rigorous and comprehensive scholarship, adding yet another dimension to this fine history that reads like a novel.
— Lee Smith, New York Times best-selling author of The Last Girls: A Novel

At a time when millions hunger for hope that a better America is possible, one of our wisest historians uncovers a past we urgently need: of a left feminism organic to the South, forged through rebellion against the dehumanizing treatment of African Americans and buoyed by the Protestant social gospel and the struggles of working men and women. With page after page of surprises conveyed in crystalline prose, Sisters and Rebels recovers a world that was eclipsed by McCarthyism to show us who we can become. Centering on women who gave each other courage, Jacquelyn Hall offers unforgettable insights into how we all might manage to get free.

— Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains, finalist for the National Book Award

I loved this beautifully researched and expertly executed study of three women who were just as distinct, complicated, and problematic as the region they called home. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall again proves herself to be one of our nation’s most relevant scholars.
— Wiley Cash, New York Times best-selling author of A Land More Kind Than Home

Hall’s skillfully drawn biography of the Lumpkin sisters is dramatically told, and all three women are worth knowing.
— Nancy Isenberg

A tour de force from a remarkable historian. Jacquelyn Hall’s long-awaited chronicle of the Lumpkin sisters offers unparalleled insight into the complexities of gender and race in the lives of white southerners. In compelling and eloquent prose, Hall recounts not just the choices and constraints that shaped these women’s extraordinary lives, she also provides a fascinating window into her own adventures pursuing and telling their stories.
— Drew Gilpin Faust, author of This Republic of Suffering, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; first woman president of Harvard University

The culmination of decades of research in special collections from the Consumers Union Archive in Yonkers, New York, to the Archives of the Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas, Sisters and Rebels traces the fascinating development of female resistance to the lessons of the Confederate home.

— Joan Wylie Hall

Traitors to their class, loyal to their sex, race-crossers.… Hall’s evocative, gripping, and superbly well-researched story of the originality and bravery of these gentle (initially gentle) women contains both triumph and tragedy as it traces their invention of modern lives for themselves. It adds up to a sweeping, against-the-grain panorama of American history in the first half of the twentieth century.
— Nancy Cott, author of The Grounding of Modern Feminism

In this excellent triple biography, Hall follows Elizabeth, Grace, and Katherine Lumpkin, whose lives and work touched many elements of 20th-century social history.… These admirably crafted biographies of the Lumpkins, their cohorts, and their causes open a fascinating window on America’s social and intellectual history.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780393358568
ISBN-10: 0393358569
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: November 24th, 2020
Pages: 704