Strength through Adversity

An Evening with Georgia Author of the Year Carolyn Curry, Feb. 23, 2016

Georgia Author of the Year Carolyn Curry
Author Carolyn Curry brings to Brenau the story of a real woman who might well have been the inspiration for the quintessential Southern belle – up to a point, that is. “History has been a great silencer of women,” said Southern novelist Pat Conroy,“but Suffer & Grow Strong tells the tale of a white Southern woman who endured the whirlwind of the war and the deprivations of Reconstruction, then fought hard enough for women’s rights that my grandmother was eligible to vote. It is a remarkable biography that is destined to become a classic in women’s studies.”

By Alison Reeger Cook

By basic arithmetic, Gertrude Clanton Thomas, the daughter of a wealthy, aristocratic antebellum Georgia plantation baron, would have been about the same age as the quintessential Southern belle, Scarlett O’Hara, the fictional daughter of a wealthy, aristocratic antebellum Georgia plantation baron. Indeed, Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel Gone with the Wind tracks, through Scarlett, many of the experiences that affected Gertrude in real life. Gertrude enjoyed the privileged life of a well-educated, pampered young Southern woman in the middle of the 19th century but subsequently experienced the ravages of the Civil War and, in its aftermath, bankruptcy, poverty and a total upheaval of the former way of life in her region.

However, as Carolyn Newton Curry demonstrates in the 2015 biography that won Georgia Book of the Year honors in its category, the real Gertrude was no study in Scarlett. Forced to make a living for herself and her family, Gertrude put her Wesleyan College education to work by educating the children of others. She evolved over the next four decades from an ardent Southern nationalist in hoop skirts into a socially conscious feminist and suffragette so advanced in thought and leadership for her time in the backward South that she received public commendation from the great voice of women’s rights, Susan B. Anthony.

From 1848, when she was 14, until 1887, Gertrude tracked her own transition in a journal that has become a treasure trove for historians attempting to study the mind of the South. It is from this journal that Curry drew for her award-winning book, Suffer & Grow Strong: The Life of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1834-1907 (Mercer University Press, 2014).

"Suffer and Grow Strong" by Carolyn Curry book cover“Gertrude exhibited strength and remarkable spiritual and emotional growth in the face of unimaginable adversity,” Curry says. “Her transformation from Southern Lady to New Woman of the New South has had a tremendous impact on my life.”

Curry brings Thomas’s story to Brenau on Feb. 23 in a special event sponsored jointly by the Women’s College at Brenau University and the College of Fine Arts & Humanities. The event includes a 6 p.m. reception at the Northeast Georgia History Center on the Gainesville campus, followed at 7 p.m. by a dramatization and author talk across the street in the Hosch Theatre of the John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts. Curry will be introduced at the theater program by her husband, Bill, the former Georgia Tech All-American, NFL star and college football coach. The event is free and open to the public. Carolyn Curry will narrate the program, which will consist of readings from the diaries by Brenau theater students attired in costumes from the periods of Thomas’s life.

Debra Dobkins, dean of the Women’s College, says the program is particularly significant at this time because of Brenau’s accelerated interest in women’s leadership and women’s issues through the ForeverGold campaign. “Carolyn says that her lifelong passion has been the well-being of women past and present,” says Dobkins. “She brings that passion to bear in her vivid rendering of the life of an amazing 19th-century Georgia woman through decades of diaries. We welcome Dr. Curry to Brenau because we share her dedication to the well-being of women, as we have since 1878.”

After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Agnes Scott College in 1966, Curry switched to history for a master’s degree in 1979 and a 1987 Ph.D., both from Georgia State University. In 2002, she founded Women Alone Together, a nonprofit foundation that works to build confidence and community among the growing number of women who are alone in society, isolated by the death of a spouse, divorce, separation, estrangement or by choice.

For more information about An Evening with Georgia Author of the Year Carolyn Curry, contact Dr. Dobkins at or call 770.534.6247.

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