The Origins of Physiocracy: Economic Revolution and Social Order in Eighteenth-Century France, 1976
Fruits of the Merchant Capital: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism, 1983 (with Eugene D. Genovese)
Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South, 1988
Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism, 1991
To Be Worthy of God’s Favor: Southern Women’s Defense and Critique of Slavery, 1993
“Feminism Is Not the Story of My Life”: How Today’s Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch with the Real Concerns of Women, 1996
Women and the Future of the Family, 2000
Reconstructing History: The Emergence of a New Historical Society, 1999 (with Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn)
The Autobiography of Du Pont de Nemours, 1984 (of Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours)
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese (foks jehn-uh-VEES-ee), a pioneer in women’s studies and the history of America’s South, is considered by many critics to have been one of the most important historical/feminist writers of the postmodern era. Fox-Genovese’s work helped create a realistic social and historical consciousness that had, until the early 1950’s, been defined in part by romantic idealism. In her many articles, editorials, and books, Fox-Genovese reexamined America’s past and in so doing strove to create a socially aware and historically accurate present.
Fox-Genovese was the daughter of Edward Whiting, a history professor, and Elizabeth Simon Fox. In 1963 she graduated from Bryn Mawr College, and she received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1974. During her studies, in 1969, she met and married Eugene Dominick Genovese, with whom she shared an interest in French physiocracy and Southern history; they subsequently coauthored a number of texts.
After leaving Harvard University, Fox-Genovese accepted an assistant professorship at Rochester University in 1973, where she remained until 1980. During this time she received several grants and fellowships, including one from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1980 she was named director d’études associe, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and became professor of history at New York University at Binghamton. She left her position six years later to join her husband at Emory University. There Fox-Genovese was instrumental in the formation of the Institute for Women’s Studies, a department she chaired until 1992. It was in this field that Fox-Genovese was most active, consulting for such internationally recognized boards as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Fox-Genovese’s work on women’s issues incorporates that field into the larger framework of southern history; this approach was enormously influential and changed the traditional scholarly view of southern gender issues. In her most important work in this area, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South, which established her as a leading critic in southern history, Fox-Genovese examines the intimate and often complex relationship between the plantation classes and their slaves and in doing so reveals the commonality of white and black women. Both groups were at the mercy of a patriarchal social structure that kept them passive and powerless. Fox-Genovese asserts that the system made these women inherently different from those of other geographical areas.
Fox-Genovese published in such scholarly journals as American Quarterly, Journal of American History, and the Antioch Review. She also contributed to several important texts on women and southern culture, including Located Lives: Place and Idea in Southern Autobiography (1990), edited by Barry Bell, Feminist Issues in Literary Scholarship (1987), edited by Shari Benstock. Fox-Genovese also delved into the area of French historicism, as in The Origins of Physiocracy: Economic Revolution and Social Order in Eighteenth-Century France. That project sparked her interest in Du Pont de Nemours, a supporter of the ancien régime whose autobiography, completed in 1792, is a rich example of the familial and political aspirations of a man who lived and changed with the French Revolution. Fox-Genovese translated the work and wrote an extended introduction.
In Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism, somewhat of a departure from her earlier books, Fox-Genovese examines the problems that feminism has created for itself and the community at large. Although she credits feminism with having redefined an entire generation, she is critical of its history, holding it partially responsible for creating a fragmented society because it placed the needs of the individual over the needs of the community. Fox-Genovese attempts not only to redirect modern feminism but also to situate it within the social, political, historical, and literary fields of study. These themes are continued in “Feminism Is Not the Story of My Life” and Women and the Future of the Family, both of which focus on the status and experiences of women in late twentieth century America rather than history. One of her last publications before her death, written with her husband, was The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholder’ Worldview (2005). Fox-Genovese died in Atlanta at the age of 65 on January 2, 2007. In her writing and public appearances Fox-Genovese helped create a foundation for building a consciousness that transcends race, gender, class, and culture.