Idora McClellan Moore was born on the Alabama plantation of her father, Gen. William B. McClellan. Her early education came from her mother, who died when Idora was fourteen. Moore’s formal education was at the Presbyterian Synodical Collegiate Female Institute of Talladega, Ala., and the Methodist Centenary Institute in Summerfield, Ala., from which she graduated in 1864. She began writing while married to her first husband, a Talladega lawyer. Her first Betsy Hamilton sketch was published in the Talladega News-Reporter in 1873. It was republished extensively and appeared in the New York Sun. After her husband’s death, Moore stayed with a sister in Texas for two years before returning to Talladega. She supported herself by running a sawmill she had inherited from her husband, then by teaching. Moore soon turned to writing as an additional means of support.
In 1881, Moore's first humorous piece appeared in The Sunny South. Some of her pieces were written in “cracker” dialect, while others were in black dialect. Her Sunny South pieces appeared almost weekly. The editor of Harper’s Weekly solicited contributions from her, as well. In 1885, Joel Chandler Harris, author of the “Uncle Remus” stories, introduced her to Henry W. Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, and she became a regular contributor for fifteen years. Grady persuaded Moore that her pieces would be even more effective as spoken word performances, and she began making appearances all over the country. In 1891, she met her second husband during an appearance in Auburn, Ala. She moved to Auburn after their marriage and continued writing and performing. After her husband’s death in 1900, Moore moved back to Talladega where she lived the remainder of her life. A collection of her written pieces was compiled in book form and published in 1921. An abridged version, with some additional pieces, was published posthumously by her stepdaughter in 1937.
Idora McClellan Moore’s Betsy Hamilton stories focus on the lives and folk cultures of the poor white “crackers” and plantation blacks of the rural South. Her stories, told in dialect and set in the fictional town of Hillabee, Ala., were popular both in print and as spoken word performances.
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Photo from Betsy Hamilton: Southern Character Sketches, 1921.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.