Of Time and Knoxville
Fragment of an Autobiography
Anne Wetzell Armstrong adored her adopted hometown. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, she moved with her family to the “West End” (Fort Sanders) area of Knoxville, Tennessee, in the 1880s, a pivotal decade for a city just getting past the trauma of the Civil War and becoming an economically diverse and culturally cosmopolitan center. Author of The Seas of God (1915), set in a thinly disguised Knoxville (called “Kingsville”), Armstrong was privileged, unconventional, and modern. She was divorced (she later married an Armstrong of Knoxville’s Bleak House), a single mother, and worked—not only as a teacher at Knoxville Girls High School but also in personnel with National City Company of New York and in industrial relations at Eastman Kodak. Her second novel, This Day and Time (1930), is regarded as the first fictional work to treat Appalachia realistically.
Journalist John Gunther’s 1946 description of Knoxville as the “ugliest city I ever saw in America” served as the impetus for Armstrong to pen a memoir of a city she remembered quite differently. Sophisticated and witty, Of Time and Knoxville provides lively, sometimes scandalous sketches of such well-known Knoxville figures as Lizzie Crozier French, Armstrong’s mentor and a leader in the woman’s suffrage movement; Perez Dickinson, businessman and owner of the socially popular Island Home farm (and cousin of Emily Dickinson); and Mary Boyce Temple, clubwoman, philanthropist, and socialite, whose home is preserved as the last extant single-family residence in downtown Knoxville. Complemented by Linda Behrend’s excellent introduction and meticulous annotations, this distinctive memoir also delivers an unusual picture of Knoxville’s beloved Market Square and vividly depicts fin de siècle Knoxville, with its great food at hotel restaurants and lively events at dance halls. Armstrong also details the tragic Flat Creek train wreck of 1889, which seriously injured her own father and led to his death five years later. Of Time and Knoxville is a must-read for lovers of Knoxville, Victorian America, women’s history, and memoir.
LINDA BEHREND retired from the University of Tennessee, where she was an assistant professor and collection development librarian in John C. Hodges Library. Her work has appeared in Tennessee Libraries, Against the Grain, the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, and the Encyclopedia of Appalachia.