Helen Matthews Lewis

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Helen Matthews Lewis
Born (1924-10-02)October 2, 1924
Nicholson, Georgia, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Sociologist, historian, activist

Helen (Matthews) Lewis (born October 2, 1924) is a sociologist, historian, and activist who specializes in Appalachia and women's rights. She is noted for developing an interpretation of Appalachia as an internal United States colony.[1] She also specializes in Appalachian oral history, collecting and preserving the experiences of Appalachian working class women in their own words.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Lewis was born in Nicholson, Georgia in 1924.[3] Her parents were Hugh and Maurie Matthews, a postal worker and nurse, respectively,[3] and her sister was named JoAnn.[1] She spent her early years in Jackson county, where she witnessed and was deeply affected by Jim Crow racial discrimination.[1] When Lewis was 10, her family moved to Forsyth County, where during his rounds as a mail carrier, her father would warn incoming African Americans that Forsyth county was a dangerous place for them.[1]

Lewis attended Tift College, where she studied for a year before taking a year off to work.[1] She returned to school at the Georgia State College for Women, now Georgia College & State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1946. During her studies she attended an interracial program at the Hartford Theological Seminary, where she and other students worked on industrial projects. The program was sponsored by the YWCA, and laid the foundation for Lewis' enduring interest in both working class issues and women's issues.[1]

While attending Duke University as a graduate student, she met Judd W. Lewis, whom she would marry. When Judd Lewis went to the University of Virginia, Helen went with him and enrolled in a master's degree program in sociology, earning her degree in 1949. Her thesis, "The Woman Movement and the Negro Movement: Parallel Struggles for Rights," links the histories and developments of the women's suffrage movement with the emerging Civil Rights Movement.[1] Lewis earned a PhD in sociology at the University of Kentucky in 1970. Her dissertation was entitled "Occupational Roles and Family Roles: A Study of Coal-Mining Families in Southern Appalachia."[1]

Helen and Judd Lewis divorced in 1974.[4]

Academic career[edit]

Activism and independent scholarship[edit]


  • Colonialism in Modern America: The Appalachian Case, Appalachian Consortium Press, 1978, with Linda Johnson and Donald Askins[3]
  • Remembering Our Past, Building Our Future, Ivanhoe Civic League, 1990, with Suzanne O'Donnell
  • It Comes from the People: Community Development and Local Theology, Temple University Press, 1995, with Mary Ann Hinsdale and Maxine Waller
  • Mountain Sisters: From Convent to Community in Appalachia, University Press of Kentucky, 2003, with Monica Appleby

Awards and honors[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Wilkerson, Jessica; Cline, David P. "Mountain Feminist: Helen Matthews Lewis, Appalachian Studies, and the Long Women's Movement". Southern Cultures. Center for the Study of the American South, UNC Press. Retrieved 11 August 2017. 
  2. ^ Jennings, Judith. "Helen Matthews Lewis: An unruly woman tests historical authority". History@Work. National Council on Public History. Retrieved 25 May 2018. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Home Arts Educational magazines Lewis, Helen M. 1924- (Helen Matthews Lewis) Lewis, Helen M. 1924- (Helen Matthews Lewis)". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 11 August 2017. 
  4. ^ Inscoe, John C.; Zainaldin, Jamil S. "Helen M. Lewis (b. 1924)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Georgia Humanities Council. Retrieved 25 May 2018.