Katherine Jackson FrenchKentucky's Forgotten Ballad Collector

Katherine Jackson FrenchKentucky's Forgotten Ballad Collector

Elizabeth DiSavino

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780813178523

Publisher: University Press of Kentucky


A native of London, Kentucky, Dr. Katherine Jackson French (Ph.D. Columbia University, 1906) collected over sixty British Isle ballads in the hills of Kentucky in 1909 and attempted to publish them in 1910 with the help of Berea College, an endeavor that never came to pass due to an intriguing tangle of motives, gender biases, wavering support from her hoped-for patron, and ruthlessness on the part of fellow collectors. (Her ballad collection, “English-Scottish Ballads from the Hills of Kentucky,” sees publication here at last and comprises the last section of the book.) An unwitting participant in the Ballad Wars of the early 20th Century, French went on to a full professorship at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, where she was also the co-founder of the Woman’s Department Club and President of the UUAW. This book sets the story of Jackson’s life against the backdrop of the social upheaval of the early 20th century, highlights Jackson’s focus on women as ballad keepers, discusses the long-lasting Anglo-only depiction of Appalachia, and reimagines what effect publication of her collection in 1910 (seven years before Olive Dame Campbell and Cecil Sharp’s landmark English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians) might have had upon our first and lasting view of Appalachian balladry.