Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Cindy Hahamovitch


In the late nineteenth century, bright tobacco came to dominate the agricultural production of the Virginia-North Carolina Piedmont. as the cultivation of bright tobacco spread, it created a new economy and social order centered on small, family-operated farms. For over a century, tobacco remained at the center of the region's economic and social order, even as numerous economic, technological and cultural forces reshaped the realities of tobacco agriculture. This dissertation explores the effects of these forces on the lives of the region's farm families. While many historian's have described tobacco farm life in terms of inexorable decline, this work takes pragmatic creativity as its theme; instead of viewing farm families as the hapless victims of industrial rapacity and government mendacity, it argues that tobacco farm families have shown themselves to be infinitely creative in responding to the shifting demands of a global tobacco economy. at the same time, this work jettisons the notion that tobacco farming is inherently retrograde, and argues, instead, that tobacco farm families have adapted to new technologies as they became available. In total, this work suggests that the farm families of the Piedmont have had a stronger hand in shaping their world than existing accounts of the transformation of southern agriculture over the last century, and especially since World War II, might suggest.;The dissertation is divided into three sections: land, labor, and life. The first examines the changes in the geography of tobacco brought on by both technological and economic developments and the expansion of federal programs into the countryside. The second section first documents the centrality of family labor to the production of bright tobacco by the beginning of the twentieth century before examining the rise of the use of hired farm labor in recent decades. The third section examines the impact of changing federal policy and economics on farm families lives by exploring how tobacco farm families helped to shape federal tobacco policy and by examining how farm families have used off-farm work to maintain viable farms.



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