By Barbara Pendleton Jones
Includes 8 pages of color photos
6 x 9 inches
Published March 2023
Biography / Literary Figures
Tula Pendleton was the belle of her small Kentucky hometown when she married Holmes Cummins Jr., a rising young insurance executive, in 1894. When the expected children never came, Tula turned her hand to writing short fiction, publishing stories in popular American magazines. Her range as an author was impressive, from romances and medical dramas to truly haunting tales of the uncanny. She also wrote charming stories of small-town life that addressed the pleasures, comforts, and stings of life in a rural community.
Tula’s stories were well received, but as her writing career blossomed, the couple struggled with family, health, and financial troubles. In 1924, they carried out a suicide pact, an event covered by more than 120 American newspapers at the time. Soon after, though, both Tula and her work were forgotten.
This volume, researched and written by Tula’s great-niece, relates with empathy and insight the remarkable story of Tula’s life. It also collects, for the first time, all of her extant stories, giving new generations the chance to discover the work of this extraordinary Southern writer.
About the Author
Barbara Pendleton Jones, great-niece of Tula Pendleton Cummins, grew up hearing only the barest account of Tula’s career as a writer and her tragic death. When she set out to learn more about her great-aunt, she had only two of Tula’s letters and fragments of her family history. By piecing together Tula’s genealogy, finding her published stories, locating letters and newspaper articles in archives, and retracing Tula’s steps across much of the South, Jones—a retired psychologist and psychoanalyst—has crafted a moving and illuminating portrait of her extraordinary relative.
"This fascinating—and ultimately tragic—story is a real pleasure to read. Beginning with a double suicide, the biography flashes back to tell of Tula Pendleton’s life as a child, a wife, and a writer. Tula’s biography opens out to illuminate many issues of her times, both culturally relevant and everyday, from small-town life to the role of the Southern woman, from attitudes toward race to the practice of medicine and the trials of chronic disease. Tula’s life ends sadly and violently, but her published stories can now live on, painstakingly excavated and collected by Barbara Pendleton Jones. And Tula’s stories are truly excellent. It’s wonderful that Tula Pendleton will no longer be forgotten, through this double treat of two books in one—a biography and a collection of short stories from the early 20th century. This book should be widely read for histories of the South, for women’s history, and for sheer pleasure."
—Carolyn Williams, PhD, Distinguished Professor and Kenneth Burke Chair in English, Rutgers University
"Intrigued by her father’s account of her great-aunt Tula Pendleton, Jones delves into Pendleton’s published and personal writings to reconstruct the story of her struggles with depression, infertility, financial insecurity, and her husband’s illness, and their double suicide in 1924. Tula Pendleton: The Life and Work of a Forgotten Southern Writer tells the compelling and at times heart-wrenching story of the troubling complications for a Southern woman caught between societal expectations of her gender and her own personal desire to forge her own path. The book makes an important contribution to Southern Studies by republishing 28 stories by this once well-regarded Southern woman writer."
—Mary Weaks-Baxter, PhD, Andrew H. Sherratt College Professor, Department of English, Rockford University, author of Leaving the South: Border Crossing Narratives and the Remaking of Southern Identity, co-editor of The History of Southern Women’s Literature
"Tula Pendleton (1872–1924) was by no means a major literary figure, but Barbara Pendleton Jones, a collateral descendant, chronicles the little-remembered short-story writer’s life with grace and an admirable attention to detail. The life is interesting on several levels, not least as that of a woman writer of the early 20th century—in an all-too-familiar case of decayed Southern gentility—struggling to support her near-invalid husband."
—Alan Pell Crawford, author of Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson