Category Archives: 1930-1939


Elizabeth Janet Gray. Jane Hope. New York: Viking Press, 1933.

All her short life Jane Hope Kenard has heard about Chapel Hill, the Southern town where her mother grew up.  Now she is going to live there.  After her father’s death and the complicated problems with his estate, at last Jane Hope and her mother and siblings are moving from Philadelphia to live with her paternal grandparents in North Carolina. Jane Hope thinks she is off to a world of magnolias, persimmons, jasmine, and figs–and a great college that she hopes to attend.  Jane Hope will find Chapel Hill not the enchanted land of her dreams–the great college is just for boys and slavery is not the benign institution she’s been told it is–but she manages to find her way in this new world.  Jane learns to overcome her shyness, check her rashness, and open her heart to not just her grandparents, but her mother’s new husband too.  Although the novel depicts Chapel Hill on the eve of the Civil War, the novel is about the person–Jane Hope–more than the place.  Readers see a romantic, impetuous, tomboy grow into a kind, level-headed young woman.

The author lived in Chapel Hill during the 1930s  where she would have had easy access to the standard published sources about the university and the town and would have heard stories about Chapel Hill life “before the War”. Many readers have enjoyed this novel for its depiction of Chapel Hill places and people.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1930-1939, 1933, Children & Young Adults, Orange, Piedmont, Vining, Elizabeth Gray

Bernice Kelly Harris. Purslane. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939.

This loosely structured novel made a big splash when it was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1939. It was a departure from the academic nonfiction typically published by UNC Press and it was an altogether different book from the sensationalistic novels of the South put out by commercial publishers in the 1930s.

Purslane is set in a small farming community in central North Carolina.  John and Dele Fuller and their extended family are the focus of the novel.  The hard work of farming; daily routines before rural electrification; the decisions, large  and small, that set the course of each person’s life; and the ties that bind individuals to their kin and the community fill the pages of the novel.  Portrayals of the events of the community–church picnics, corn huskings, coon hunts, hog killings–give readers a rich picture of a culture that has slipped away during our parents’ lifetimes.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1930-1939, 1939, Harris, Bernice Kelly, Piedmont, Wake

Marjorie Hill Allee. The Road to Carolina. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1932.

Tristram Coffin was just a young man looking for adventure when he left Indiana heading south to the Carolinas.  However his traveling companion, Uncle Tommy, is anything but lighthearted.  Old Tommy Pearson is a Quaker and a committed abolitionist.  All through Kentucky and Tennessee Uncle Tommy took his message straight onto plantations and into a a crossroads general store.  Uncle Tommy has been doing this for many years, and he has a network of friends and kin who give him hospitality while on his annual circuit.

In Randolph County Tristram and Uncle Tommy stop at the home of Jesse Coffin, a Quaker who works his land by himself, and later at the plantation of Braxton Lewis, a cousin who has left the Quaker fold.  Tristram is initially attracted to the comforts of the plantation big house and stays with the Lewises through the summer.  Only when cousin Braxton cannot pay him does Tristram turn to the Coffins for help.  When the Civil War breaks out, Tristram is unable to return home.  His life and those of all his relatives change in unexpected ways as the war comes to Carolina.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1930-1939, 1932, Allee, Marjorie Hill, Children & Young Adults, Historical, Piedmont, Randolph

James McConnaughey. Village Chronicle. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1936.

For many of us, Chapel Hill is indeed “the southern part of heaven” but in this novel our little college town has its share of sinners.  Professors preen and jockey for position; their wives gossip while maids do the housework, and students just wanna have fun.  Except for one student, Lyman Caine, who writes a short story about an inter-racial tryst.  Liberal young graduate instructor Joel Adams comes in for a lot of criticism for encouraging Caine, but the consequences for the student are worse. Lyman Caine’s fatigue leads to a diagnosis of sickle-cell anemia.  In an era before student medical records were truly private, this news travels fast. Caine acknowledges his multi-racial heritage; the racial policies of the university at the time call for Caine’s expulsion.

Adams feels some discomfort about his student’s situation, but he is preoccupied by his own concerns–finishing his degree, his father’s death, his relationship with his wife, how much to buck the system in town and at the university.  Joel Adams is the central character of the novel, but his wife, Eleanor, and his father, a local newspaperman, are far more likable characters.  Eleanor’s good influence helps Joel ride out the storm of controversy even as she forgives his personal failings.

Chapel Hill is called “Churchill” in this novel, but most of the campus buildings retain their true names.  Longtime local readers may recognize variations on some early 20th century faculty names, but most reviewers professed not to be able to identify particular characters with real people.

Check for this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1930-1939, 1936, McConnaughey, James, Orange, Piedmont

Elizabeth Janet Gray. Meggy MacIntosh. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1930.

Meggy Macintosh is a 15 year-old orphan, living with relatives in Edinburgh, who longs to emigrate to America.  She is sure that she will find adventure there and locate Flora MacDonald. Meggy secures passage to Wilmington where she makes friends and even finds Flora.  Meggy loves America, but the coming of the Revolutionary War tests that love.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.


Filed under 1930, 1930-1939, Children & Young Adults, Coast, Historical, New Hanover, Vining, Elizabeth Gray

Marian Sims. Call It Freedom. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1937.

As the harsh realities of the Great Depression decimate Ralph Harvey’s insurance business, his drinking habits cross a line that his wife Martha can’t accept.  When Ralph fails to reform, Martha decides to divorce him. As the novel opens, Martha has returned to Hanover (a fictionalized Charlotte, the author’s hometown) from Reno, Nevada, divorce decree in hand.  Looking at her house, empty for four months, and meeting old friends at the grocery brings home to Martha the import of what she has done.  How will she raise her nine-year old son? How will she spend her time?  The bridge parties, golf outings, and shopping trips of her past no longer have allure. She also finds that navigating her social set as a single woman is far more complicated than she ever knew. In the year covered in this novel, Martha finds her way. Although the setup of the novel is dated, Martha’s journey will be interesting to contemporary readers.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1930-1939, 1937, Mecklenburg, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Sims, Marian

Grace Lumpkin. To Make My Bread. New York: Macaulay Co., 1932.

To Make My Bread follows the McClure family during the years 1900-1929.  Initially, they are mountaineers, self-sufficient on their small plot of land.  Most of their neighbors live as they do, except for the Swains, who own the store in their community.  When the family is swindled out of their land by timber speculators, they move to a mill town forty miles away.

Not all family members adjust to the move.  The two younger children, John and Bonnie become the primary breadwinners, and they are radicalized by their experiences. Bonnie also struggles with the conflict between the demands of industrialized work and traditional expectations for women.  She becomes an important figure in the nascent labor movement in the town.

Part family saga, part political novel, To Make My Bread is one of six novels from the 1930s  based on the Gastonia textile strike of 1929.  The book has been the subject of academic study, and it is still in print from the University of Illinois Press.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1930-1939, 1932, Gaston, Historical, Lumpkin, Grace, Mountains, Piedmont