The marriage of a Mississippi woman born into wealth and privilege to a major socialist writer led to an intriguing life, as Mary Craig Kimbrough Sinclair chronicled in her 1957 autobiography, Southern Belle. Known by her middle name, Craig Kimbrough was born on 12 February 1882 and grew up in Greenwood, where her father, Allan McCaskill Kimbrough, was a planter, lawyer, and judge, as well as on the Gulf Coast, where the family had a large home, Ashton Hall. At age thirteen, Craig Kimbrough enrolled at Mississippi State College for Women (now Mississippi University for Women) before moving on to study at New York’s Gardner School for Young Ladies, from which she graduated in 1900. Lively and well educated, the young Kimbrough aspired to be a writer.
Kimbrough met Upton Sinclair in New York around 1911, when she was looking for help with writing and possibly for a publisher for some of her stories. After she and her mother, Mary Hunter Southworth Kimbrough, attended a reading at which Sinclair discussed his ideas about socialism and healthy food, she approached him to discuss her manuscript about Jefferson Davis’s daughter, Winnie. Sinclair’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1911, and he and Kimbrough married in Virginia in 1913 and settled in California in the 1920s. Their largely happy marriage succeeded despite her father’s doubts about her marrying a divorced man, her dislike of communists and many socialists, and her preference for privacy, which contrasted with her husband’s desire to cultivate notoriety as a means of championing justice and changing public opinion.
Craig Sinclair was acquainted with many powerful Mississippi figures, and their friendships made her marriage to a free-thinking socialist even more intriguing. Ashton Hall was just a few doors down the street from Beauvoir, home of the Jefferson Davis family. Craig’s first cousin was Mississippi senator John Sharp Williams, and her brother was a friend of segregationist leader Tom Brady. When Brady visited California, he stopped at the Sinclair home and gave the same massive resistance speech he had delivered before numerous other audiences. Upton Sinclair responded that many of the people and groups Brady named as communists “were nothing of the sort.”
Southern Belle was Mary Craig Sinclair’s only published work. According to literary scholar Peggy Whitman Prenshaw, Sinclair planned the book as a biography of her husband, and the book generally deals with her relationships with family members. Its title announced her southern and specifically upper-class roots, and the book began with two images beloved among wealthy southerners: the natural beauty of life on the Gulf Coast, and the ease and apparent paternalism of life in a wealthy home. Despite offering clear condemnation of the class and racial divisions of the Mississippi of her childhood, Sinclair did not use the book as social criticism but instead concentrated on the narrative of her life, especially with her husband.
Craig and Upton Sinclair often worked closely together—so closely that at times it is unclear which one was the author. Craig helped Upton write parts of his work and may even have written the introduction to Southern Belle that is attributed to him; in addition, some scholars have contended that Upton wrote substantial parts of Southern Belle. Much of one manuscript volume of the text is in Upton’s handwriting, but Craig was extremely frail by the 1950s and consequently dictated to him. It is likely that they collaborated: Craig’s letters reveal that she put substantial work into it the book and that she added a number of features that made it particularly her own.
She died on 26 April 1961.
- Anthony Arthur, Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair (2006)
- Leon Harris, Upton Sinclair: American Rebel (1975)
- Peggy W. Prenshaw, in Haunted Bodies: Gender and Southern Texts, ed. Anne Goodwyn Jones and Susan V. Donaldson (1997)
- Peggy W. Prenshaw, in Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817–1967, ed. James B. Lloyd (1981)
- Upton Sinclair, The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair (1962)