Given that March is Women’s History Month, now is a perfect time to celebrate Mary Kratt and her many publications that deal with the history of women from the Charlotte area.
Mary was born in West Virginia, but she moved to Mecklenburg County at the age of eleven when her journalist father took a position with The Charlotte Observer. She grew up in a rural part of the county, but she took many trips to Charlotte, and the city intrigued her. When she moved to Charlotte as a young woman, she took an interest in the history of the city. As the years went by, she established herself a local historian. She published numerous books about the history of Charlotte, including Charlotte, North Carolina: A Brief History. Mary has a particular interest in the roles that women have played in local history, and this interest is reflected in New South Women: Twentieth-Century Women of Charlotte, North Carolina and several of her other books. Mary is also an award-winning poet. Her most recent poetry collection is Watch Where You Walk, and many of the poems in this collection are about the lives of women from girlhood to old age.
I recently contacted Mary and asked her for more information about her publications that relate to the history of women from the Charlotte area. Here is what she sent to me:
Where are they? It’s a question I asked when I researched books about Charlotte forty years ago to write a book about Charlotte history. But where are the women? The only woman I could find was Mrs. “Stonewall” Jackson, the Charlotte widow of a Confederate general. They didn’t even include her name, Anna Morrison, so I began a fascinating search for others. That quest led to writing at least five of my books.
In Charlotte: Spirit of the New South (revised and reprinted as Charlotte, North Carolina: A Brief History) Jane Smedburg Wilkes, a northerner come south, gathered women to fund and start Charlotte’s first hospital (1877). Mary Myers Dwelle energized citizens and school children to save a building and start North Carolina’s first museum, The Mint Museum of Art (1936).
In New South Women, I was commissioned to write about influential Charlotte women of the twentieth century who made their mark and were elected Women of the Year, such as Shirley Fulton, born on a cotton and tobacco farm coastal South Carolina, she came to Charlotte after law school and became resident Superior Court Judge. She said “My son started kindergarten the same year I started law school.” Or novelist Ethel Thomas who in the 1930s loaded her truck with farm vegetables, put on her hat and long dress to infiltrate a union rally in Gastonia, so she could write about it.
For my book The Only Thing I Fear Is a Cow and a Drunken Man, I read letters and diaries of largely Piedmont Carolina women 1828-1929 and either edited them or wrote poems based on their experiences. Susan Nye Hutchinson was a widow traveling south to raise her children and start a school here for young girls in 1838-40. Margaret Courtney Conner, that inveterate journal keeper and newlywed from Charleston, crossed Laurel Creek 27 times on horseback to survey her husband’s Mecklenburg lands and follow him into the mountains on adventure in the 1830s.
In a Bird In The House: The Story of Wing Haven Garden, I told the delightful story of Elizabeth Clarkson’s courtship with illustrated vignettes of garden animals and interviews about the couple’s eccentric lives. And in Watch Where You Walk, my collected poems, one section details the witty and colorful southern life of Martha Hood Norton from personal experience.
Writing each of these, I discovered the marvel of women transcending immense hardship and hurdles. And in my many personal interviews with women, I took great pleasure because women will tell you unusual details and reveal the most astonishing things.
I have known Mary for many years. I first met her when she enrolled as a graduate student in UNC Charlotte’s graduate program in English in the early 1990s. I was serving as the Director of the American Studies Program at the time, and she contacted me about her interest in pursuing an American Studies research project on the labor novels associated with Gastonia’s textile mills in the 1920s. She ended up doing a directed reading with me on this topic, and she wrote an excellent paper in which she discussed how these labor novels relate to women’s history. In this paper and in so many of her publications, Mary shows how women have played integral roles in the history of Storied Charlotte and the surrounding communities.