Katharine and R. J. Reynolds
Partners of Fortune in the Making of the New South
By Michele Gillespie
(University of Georgia Press, Hardcover, 9780820332260, 448pp.)
Publication Date: October 2012
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Separately they were formidable—together they were unstoppable. Despite their intriguing lives and the deep impact they had on their community and region, the story of Richard Joshua Reynolds (1850–1918) and Katharine Smith Reynolds (1880–1924) has never been fully told. Now Michele Gillespie provides a sweeping account of how R. J. and Katharine succeeded in realizing their American dreams.
From relatively modest beginnings, R. J. launched the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which would eventually develop two hugely profitable products, Prince Albert pipe tobacco and Camel cigarettes. His marriage in 1905 to Katharine Smith, a dynamic woman thirty years his junior, marked the beginning of a unique partnership that went well beyond the family. As a couple, the Reynoldses conducted a far-ranging social life and, under Katharine’s direction, built Reynolda House, a breathtaking estate and model farm. Providing leadership to a series of progressive reform movements and business innovations, they helped drive one of the South’s best examples of rapid urbanization and changing race relations in the city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Together they became one of the New South’s most influential elite couples. Upon R. J.’s death, Katharine reinvented herself, marrying a World War I veteran many years her junior and engaging in a significant new set of philanthropic pursuits.
Katharine and R. J. Reynolds reveals the broad economic, social, cultural, and political changes that were the backdrop to the Reynoldses’ lives. Portraying a New South shaped by tensions between rural poverty and industrial transformation, white working-class inferiority and deeply entrenched racism, and the solidification of a one-party political system, Gillespie offers a masterful life-and-times biography of these important North Carolinians.
Michele Gillespie is a professor of history at Wake Forest University. She is author or editor of eight previous books including Free Labor in an Unfree World: White Artisans in Slaveholding Georgia, 1789–1860 (Georgia) and Southern Society and Its Transformations.
“Michele Gillespie’s sophisticated examination of the intertwined lives of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds represents an exceptional contribution to the historiography of the modern South. At once a penetrating portrait of a marriage and an acute analysis of the many ways in which the lives of the partners shed light on business and social history, Gillespie’s book provides readers with dazzling new insights regarding the dynamics of power in the rapidly modernizing region the Reynoldses called home.”—Peter A. Coclanis, Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“Deeply researched, beautifully written, and cogently argued, this is an engrossing study of a power couple extraordinaire, R. J. and Kate Reynolds, which will appeal to a wide readership. Telling us much about an unusual relationship, Michele Gillespie also provides a new way to understand how the post-Reconstruction New South elite helped construct business structures, social relations, and racial hierarchies. The result is an important addition to our understanding of the industrial South in the North Carolina Piedmont heartland.”—William A. Link, author of The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 1880-1930
“This innovative, beautifully written dual biography is carefully contextualized in the history and historiography of its region and era, and as a result it makes a significant scholarly contribution to several fields of history not always recognized as being related.”—John B. Boles, William P. Hobby Professor of History, Rice University
“[T]he range and depth of Gillespie’s work coupled with clarity of her writing combine to create a read that will be welcomed by students of history — both amateur and academic — who want an interview view of the world occupied by the founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Mary Katharine Smith.”—Tim Revis, Northeast Georgia Living