The second woman to earn a PhD from Columbia University -- and the first from south of the Mason-Dixon Line to do so -- Kentucky native Katherine Jackson French broke boundaries. Her research kick-started a resurgence of Appalachian music that continues to this day, but French's collection of traditional Kentucky ballads, which should have been her crowning scholarly achievement, never saw print. Academic rivalries, gender prejudice, and broken promises set against a thirty-year feud known as the Ballad Wars denied French her place in history and left the field to northerner Olive Dame Campbell and English folklorist Cecil Sharp, setting Appalachian studies on a foundation marred by stereotypes and misconceptions.
Katherine Jackson French: Kentucky's Forgotten Ballad Collector tells the story of what might have been. Drawing on never-before-seen artifacts from French's granddaughter, Elizabeth DiSavino reclaims the life and legacy of this pivotal scholar by emphasizing the ways her work shaped and could reshape our conceptions about Appalachia. In contrast to the collection published by Campbell and Sharp, French's ballads elevate the status of women, give testimony to the complexity of balladry's ethnic roots and influences, and reveal more complex local dialects. Had French published her work in 1910, stereotypes about Appalachian ignorance, misogyny, and homogeneity may have diminished long ago. Included in this book is the first-ever publication of Katherine Jackson French's English-Scottish Ballads from the Hills of Kentucky.