Boardinghouse Women: How Southern Keepers, Cooks, Nurses, Widows, and Runaways Shaped Modern America

Univ. of North Carolina. Nov. 2023. 312p. ISBN 9781469676401. pap. $27.95. HIST
Engelhardt’s (Southern studies, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; coeditor, The Larder) book is a fascinating, well-researched exploration of how women boardinghouse keepers and lodgers in the South impacted modern U.S. culture. Divided into eight thematic chapters encompassing many eras of American history, the book offers convincing evidence of the outsized importance of these places that housed and fed many people over time. In addition to providing living space, meals, and often laundry services, many boarding houses also fostered needed social connections in a communal setting. Engelhardt portrays boardinghouse keepers as inventors of Southern food, business innovators, caretakers, political supporters, protectors, safe passage providers during Jim Crow, mavens of writing havens, and influencers who developed new ways of eating for all Americans. She makes the evolution of food preparation and preferences—first as a marker of Southern culture and then as a harbinger for the nation—a particularly strong thread that runs throughout this title.
VERDICT Engelhardt expertly invokes the spirit of boardinghouse keepers in modern cultural phenomena, such as pop-up kitchens and assisted living facilities. Highly recommended for all history and women’s studies collections.
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