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Live Your Own Life
The Family Papers of Mary Bayard Clarke, 1854–1886

Terrell Armistead Crow and Mary Moulton Barden

Balancing literary aspiration with gender limitation in the nineteenth-century South

Mary Bayard Clarke (1827–1886) grew up in a North Carolina planter family that revered southern traditions, but she was not a woman to be stymied by conventional expectations. A writer of ambition and ability, she published poetry and prose, traveled widely, corresponded with prominent men and women of her day, and repeatedly challenged stereotypes of nineteenth-century women. Her writings, letters, and family papers reveal a fiercely independent, creative, and adaptable individual—a woman who seemingly lived several lives in one lifetime and who shattered traditional images of the "southern lady" along the way. Gathered in this volume, Clarke's papers offer a wealth of revisionist insights as they tell the life story of a remarkable woman.

The value of these writings lies in the broad range of themes and locales they cover. Clarke traveled to Cuba, New York, and Chicago; spent five arduous years on the frontier in San Antonio; and in 1861, against her husband's wishes, returned to North Carolina, where she lived for the rest of her life. Her writings reflect her wit, love of adventure, and keen powers of observation. They also portray her independence as she shouldered economic hardships, household responsibilities, ill health, and extended separations from her husband.

Clarke's reaction to the Civil War and its aftermath provides particularly interesting reading. During the war Clarke wrote in support of the Southern cause and sold poetry and newspaper articles to augment the family income. After Appomattox, she published scathing indictments of Radical Reconstruction. When Clarke's husband joined the Republican Party in 1868, her family, and probably Clarke herself, was shocked. Letters from family members reveal the depth of their anger, and Clarke's own words illustrate the difficulties of living as the spouse of a Scalawag in the Reconstruction South.

Terrell Armistead Crow worked as a historical editor for the North Carolina Division of Archives and History for several years and later as the publications director for the Institute of Government, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently the director of publications for the North Carolina State University Libraries, and lives in Cary, North Carolina.

Mary Moulton Barden, the great-granddaughter of Mary Bayard Clarke, has spent more than twenty-five years researching this book. She lives in New Bern, North Carolina.

"This edition reflects painstaking attention to detail in research, transcription, and writing. Mary Bayard Clarke's life challenges the prevailing stereotypes of mid-nineteenth-century southern women. She was fiercely independent, creative, vocational, flexible—a woman who seemingly lived several lives in one. As a woman and as a southerner, Clarke provides an excellent example of diversity and iconoclasm that shatters assumptions and traditional images of the 'southern lady.'"—John David Smith, North Carolina State University

"This meticulously edited collection of letters offers important insights into a fascinating woman and her family. Mary Bayard Clarke challenged the tradition-bound life of most southern women with her independent spirit and popular writings. These letters also reveal a southern family profoundly affected by the Civil War and torn apart by politics and the tumultuous events of Reconstruction."—Sally G. McMillen, Davidson College



book jacket for Live Your Own Life


6 x 9
530 pages
36 illustrations
ISBN 978-1-57003-473-2
hardcover, $49.95s

Women's Diaries and Letters
of the South


    Copyright ©2018 The University of South Carolina Press