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Remembering Betsey

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, 1941-2007

Brilliant. Brave. And a perfect picture of magnanimity.

These are the words I have always used to describe my friend and mentor, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. Now I write them in memory, with the mixture of grief and joy that comes with this privilege.

I first met Betsey in 1995, when I was doing graduate work in English at Emory University. I took her "Southern Women Writers," the first of many seminars I would have with her. She was a historian by training, but in her teaching and scholarship, a humanities guru. Educated primarily at Harvard, her scholarly interests began with her investigations of the origins of physiocracy, and from there naturally expanded to the antebellum South, which was also her husband's scholarly terrain. Her award-winning book Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South is a testament to the things that mattered most to her: impeccable, morally committed scholarship that endures. It also illustrates her lifelong commitment to the cause of feminism, which for Betsey was always about real justice for real women. Within the Plantation Household is a work of history, with all the usual trappings, but it is also a window into the lives of ordinary southern women, who are given the opportunity to speak for themselves. The book is perfect picture of Betsey's convictions, for she always spoke for herself with courage, and encouraged countless other women to do so. Including me.

I remember timidly approaching her in the quad during a break, when she was smoking one of those dark cigarettes she loved (and later gave up). I asked her if she would direct my dissertation research; what I got was a broad smile and the beginning of a friendship. What I did not know until later was that it was a serendipitous time for both of us to meet. Make no mistake about it: while I hope I was an encouragement to her at an exciting but tumultuous time in her life, I know I got the much better end of the deal. She was an ideal mentor, the kind most ...

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