Lula Ragsdale Collection

Lincoln-Lawrence-Franklin-Regional Library

Creation of this resource was supported through a Library Services and Technology Act grant administered by the Mississippi Library Commission.

Creator: Ragsdale, Lula
Title: Lula Ragsdale Collection
Dates: 1917-1958
Quantity: .33 cu. ft. (1 box)
Repository: Lincoln-Lawrence-Franklin Regional Library

Abstract: Materials pertaining to the life and work of Brookhaven, Mississippi novelist and poet, Tallulah Ragsdale.

Biographical Sketch

Tallulah “Lulah” Ragsdale was born in 1862 at Cedar Hall near Brookhaven in Lawrence (now Lincoln) County, Mississippi. She was the daughter of Martha Hooker and James Lafayette Ragsdale, the latter of whom was a Confederate soldier killed four months after Lulah’s birth. She graduated from Whitworth College in Brookhaven in 1878 and subsequently moved to New York City to study acting under Fannie Hunt. During her time in New York, Ragsdale played a number of minor stage parts and began to publish poetry in New York newspapers.

Lulah Ragsdale moved back to Brookhaven, where she finished her first novel, The Crime of Phillip Guthrie, published in 1892 by Morrill, Higgins and Company of Chicago. Her second appeared the next year. The title, A Shadow’s Shadow, is taken from a line in Hamlet spoken by the character of Rosencrantz: “I hold ambition of so airy and light quality, that it is but a shadow’s shadow.” Ambition is the theme of the novel, which roughly parallels Ragsdale’s own life: her attempt to make good in New York as an actress and subsequent return home to the South.

It would be 24 years until Ragsdale would publish a third novel, and during this period she taught on the faculty of Whitworth College, Belhaven College, and the public schools of Gulfport and Brookhaven. Clarion Ledger book columnist Frank Smith writes of her many years at Whitworth that “for many of her young students she always retained an air of glamour, because she had been an actress in New York, and was a published writer.” Between 1892 and 1917, she focused on her poetry and short stories, which she published in the New Orleans Times-Democrat, Harper’s Monthly, Harper’s Weekly, Arena, and Today’s Housewife.

A third novel, Miss Dulcie from Dixie, appeared in 1917 and recounted the story of a young Southern heiress returned home from New York to take charge of the family farm. In spite of intimidation by White Caps (Klan-like vigilantes) the heroine goes about improving the living conditions of black tenant farmers who worked the land. This was Ragsdale’s most successful work, and in 1919 Vitagraph (later taken over by Warner) produced a movie version directed by Joseph Gleason with Gladys Leslie in the title role.

Next-Besters, Ragsdale’s fourth and last novel, appeared in 1920. It resembled the previous two books in several respects, telling the story of a Southern girl turned New York City actress who subsequently returns home. The main character’s love interest is a poor writer who she chooses over a wealthy New Yorker. The writer eventually makes good by selling the movie rights to his book. The moral is that those who choose integrity over ambition ultimately will be successful, even if it seems that they have settled for “next best.” The New York Times and Outlook gave the book favorable (if patronizing) reviews, and a movie company purchased the rights to the Next-Besters though a film version never appeared.

According to Helen Pitkin Shertz who wrote about Ragsdale for the Library of Southern Literature, Tallulah Ragsdale suffered a nervous breakdown in 1921. In later years, serious vision problems also impeded her work. She would in 1929, however, publish one more book, a collection of poems titled If I See Green. Of its 52 poems, the most celebrated at the time were “The Mother’s Son,” “The Illiterate,” “Will o’ Wisps,” and “Impenate.” C. Michael Smith writes that the poems are romantic and conventional in form, but that the best of them “mix a certain toughness of vision or some realistic detail with the sentimentality.” Tallulah Ragsdale died in her home in 1953, 24 years after If I See Green appeared.

Michael Smith asserts that, in considering Lulah Ragsdale’s sentimental moralizing stories and poetry for young female readers, current scholars may find a new interest in Ragsdale’s “portrayal of the South and her views concerning women’s roles and racial justice.” Frank Smith points out that Ragsdale was one of Mississippi’s first women writers, and that she is worthy of renewed scholarly attention because of her independent spirit and her “very determined, if still demure, support of feminism a hundred years ago.”

Among the works authored by Ragsdale are:

A Shadow's Shadow.Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott company, 1893.

Miss Dulcie from Dixie.New York: D. Appleton and company, 1917.

Next-Besters.New York : Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920.

If I See Green. New York: H. Harrison [c1929].

Sources for Biographical Sketch:

C. Michael Smith, "Tallulah Ragsdale: 1862-1953" in Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967, ed. by James B. Lloyd (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1981): 378-81.

Frank Smith, "Mississippi's Lulah Ragsdale Deserves Attention," Jackson Clarion-Ledger (July 31, 1988).

Administrative Information

Collection assembled from materials by multiple donors, including the Lewinthal family and Mrs. Joseph R. Resencrantz

Collection processed by Marti Parker, April 2003. Encoded by Toby Graham. This resource is made available through a Library Services and Technology Act grant administered by the Mississippi Library Commission.

Box/Folder

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1/1Researcher copies
Items from the Ragsdale file are brittle and delicate; copies made for public viewing
1/2Newspaper clipping, Dec. 30, 1953
This clipping listed as Wednesday, Dec. 30, 1953, Brookhaven Leader Times includes extensive facts related to Ragsdale. The highlights include: (1) listed in Who's Who in America for over 20 years, (2) studied under Fannie Hunt, (3) taught expression and dramatic art at Whitworth and Belhaven Colleges, (4) taught at Brookhaven High School, (5) three of her works had screen adapation, and (6) wrote a novel, The Thorn.
1/3Scrapbook, 1949 (6x9)
Inside the front cover is the inscription: "This is a time for friend to talk with friend; For sealed cells of thought - to opened be! This covered gathering of dreams I send. Look in and read the inmost soul of me. Christmas 1949"; a group of additional poems not included in the book are included in the folder (and in the copies)
1/4Lewinthal family to Brookhaven Public Library, Feb. 14, 1958
Donating the scrapbook to the Brookhaven Public Library
1/5Miss Dulcie from Dixie, 1917
Book by Lulah Ragsdale, New York, D. Appleton and Company, c1917. 285p. Transferred from collection of Lincoln-Lawrence-Franklin Library
1/6If I See Green, 1929
Book by Tallulah Ragsdale, New York, Hennry Harrison, c1929 (2 copies); 1 autographed with clipping taped in front; clipping states that copy was donated to the Whitworth Museum by Mrs. Joseph R. Resencrantz.


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