Susan Ashmore co-edited a book celebrating women's histories in the Yellowhammer State.

Ashmore book celebrates women's histories in Alabama

Susan Ashmore's new book showcases the contributions women have made to the history of Alabama.

A new book co-edited by Susan Ashmore, professor of history at Oxford College, showcases the contributions of women in Alabama’s history. Alabama Women: Their Lives and Times tells the stories of women from Alabama who helped shape the communities in their home state and beyond.

Alabama Women book cover

Ashmore and Lisa Dorr, an associate professor of history and associate dean for social sciences at The University of Alabama, co-edited this collection of 18 biographical essays.

“We wanted to have a volume that covered the expanse of the state’s history in one book so it could be useful for teachers, as well as the general reader interested in Alabama,” says Ashmore, who received her PhD from Auburn University.

She credits University of Georgia Press editor Nancy Grayson with proposing a volume on the history of women for each southern state. The release of Alabama Women almost completes the series.

Grayson became aware of Ashmore’s expertise with Alabama history when UGA Press published her first book in 2008, Carry It On: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, 1964-1972.

Ashmore says the co-editors wanted this volume to include a variety of experiences “to give a sense of the broad sweep of contributions women have made to the history of Alabama.” The resulting essays represent diverse women from all parts of the state—including Creek Indians who were removed by the Trail of Tears; Lebanese, Italian, and Slavic immigrants; enslaved surgical patients of J. Marion Sims; and political activists from a suffragette to civil rights organizers.

While highlighting some well-known Alabamians such as Harper Lee and Rosa Parks, the essays offer a fresh perspective on women from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. The book’s cover photo shows Parks holding a poster of Malcolm X. The image reflects an essay exploring the civil rights activist’s life and politics after the bus boycott ended and she relocated to Detroit.

Getting to know Alabama's first lady

Ashmore’s essay highlights Lurleen Burns Wallace, the wife of Alabama Governor George Wallace. Lurleen succeeded her husband because the Alabama constitution at the time banned consecutive terms. The essay focuses on why Wallace agreed to run for governor and how she navigated the rough waters of the campaign during a time of political and social upheaval.

“I had to find a way to relate in some way to her,” Ashmore admits. “Through my research, I came to the conclusion that she ran for office because she wanted her husband’s respect. It wasn’t easy being married to George Wallace. And she was the only person who could do this for him.”

Alabama’s first female governor became known for bringing attention to the lack of adequate care in the state’s mental institutions. She was only in office for 16 months until her death from cancer at the age of 41.

Expanding women's roles in history

Now that the book has been released, Ashmore and Dorr hope to provide resources for Alabama teachers so they can introduce their students to these interesting Alabama women.

“We will pull together primary resources that go with each essay so they can be easily incorporated into their teaching,” Ashmore says.

The primary documents from the essays and the lesson plans will be hosted on the website for the state archives.