Emory History Department Newsletter-May 2007

Dr. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese In Honor of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
Memorial Service
April 14, 2007, Emory University

by Mary Odem

It is an honor and privilege to speak to you today about my colleague Betsey Fox-Genovese.  I remember very distinctly the first time I met Betsey – when I came to Emory 17 years ago for a job interview for a joint position in History and Women’s Studies.  Betsey met me at the Emory Inn for breakfast and I was struck in that first meeting by her elegance, her graciousness – she sought to make me feel welcome and at ease -- and her intellectual insight and passion.   I learned something else about Betsey as we left the restaurant.  When I got into her car, I was greeted by her long-haired, long-legged companion named Joseph who occupied almost the entire back seat of the car.  When we got to campus, I hurried to keep up with Betsey and Joseph striding across the quad, and thought to myself, “This is going to be a very interesting interview!”  And indeed it was.

Over the next several years, I came to know Betsey as a devoted and gifted scholar, teacher and mentor. When I came to Emory, her path-breaking and eloquent book, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South, had recently been published to widespread critical acclaim. In one of many glowing reviews, Mechal Sobel wrote, Fox-Genovese succeeds brilliantly at the “enormous tasks she undertakes of telling the life stories of the last generation of black and white women of the Old South, and of analyzing the meanings of these interconnected stories as a way of illuminating both Southern and women's history.” With this book and the many articles she wrote before and after its publication, Betsey elevated American women’s history to a new level of theoretical and conceptual sophistication.  An internationally renowned and prolific scholar, Betsey made significant contributions not only to the field of Women’s History, but also to European History, U.S. Southern History, Literature, Women’s Studies, and Religious Studies. The breadth and depth of her body of scholarship is truly amazing.

Betsey wrote a number of scholarly works in collaboration with her husband Gene, including their latest book, The Mind of the Master Class, published in 2005, a commanding study of the intellectual and moral worldview of southern slaveholders.  Betsey and Gene formed an incredible intellectual partnership.  As one eminent historian has written, “What would Southern antebellum History be like without the work of the Genoveses?” Like the best kind of scholarship, their work has sparked lively, intense debates, and while scholars and readers have disagreed with their arguments, few would ever doubt the intellectual depth, rigor, and importance of their work.

Betsey’s contributions and talent as a teacher are equally impressive.  She has been a devoted mentor to so many graduate and undergraduate students that it is hard to keep count.  Her students work in colleges and universities throughout the country in the fields of History, Literature, Women’s Studies and Religion.  In recognition of her contribution to the education of women, the Women’s Studies Department has designated a chair in her honor in the Matheson Reading Room of the Candler Library.  The department’s acknowledgement: Betsey advocated strongly for the rigorous intellectual development of women and was “committed to promoting women’s education in the broadest sense:  education as learning and the development of independent thought; education as self-confidence and the ability to deal with the world on equal terms.”  

Betsey’s commitment to education extended beyond the undergraduate and graduate students at Emory.  Linda Calloway, an admired and beloved member of the WS staff, relates how Betsey encouraged her to take advantage of the program that allows staff to pursue an undergraduate degree at Emory while continuing to work full-time. Of course, such a program requires not only tremendous effort on the part of the staff person, but also the support and flexibility of one’s supervisor. Linda said that it was because of Betsey’s encouragement and mentoring that she was able over a number of years to obtain her undergraduate degree at Emory.

We came to understand the strength of Betsey’s commitment to teaching over the last several years as she made heroic efforts to come to campus, teach her classes and meet with students. My colleagues and I stood in awe and admiration of the courage and determination she showed in the face of a debilitating illness. MS weakened her body, but certainly not her faith, her spirit and her dedication to her calling as teacher and mentor.   

I want to close by recounting my last encounter with Betsey which made a powerful and I think lasting impression on me. I visited Betsey in the hospital in mid-December, a time when she was very weak. When I walked into the room, she was once again very gracious as she welcomed me and sought to make me feel comfortable. She talked with appreciation and respect about the hospital personnel who were caring for her and seemed to know them all by name. At the time a young nurse, recently graduated, was caring for Betsey, and struggling with a certain procedure and taking a long time to complete it. Though Betsey was clearly in discomfort and pain, she spoke only encouraging words to the young nurse, “Don’t worry, you can do it; you’re doing a wonderful job.”   To the end, she was a dedicated teacher. Her example of dignity, compassion and commitment in the face of suffering and pain will stay with me and continue to be a source of inspiration.

Thank you, Betsey, for this gift and the many others you have given us.

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