14 IN THE EARLY 1890S, Varina Davis again departed from
the expected script in her thoughts on a key issue of the
day, woman suffrage. In that decade, a woman suffrage
movement emerged among white Southerners, led by moderate to
conservative reformers from elite backgrounds. In an article in the Atlanta Constitution in 1893, Davis declared that antebellum women
had been “sequestered” in the domestic sphere at the insistence of
men, a practice that had perhaps been “erroneous.” This tentative observation is the closest any First Lady came to endorsing woman suffrage in the nineteenth century; Varina's friend Julia Grant privately
supported it without saying so in public. We might conclude that if it
was “erroneous” to bar women from public life in the antebellum era,
the error might be corrected in the 1890s, but Davis never took that
step. Then she reversed field in a public letter the same year, saying
that she opposed “women performing, as well as interfering with
The matter did not end there, however, for Davis took a step toward suffrage in another newspaper article written soon afterward
at the editor's request. She argued that the sexes were intellectual
equals and women had the duty to teach their children about the
Constitution—endorsing, about a century after its inception, the
concept of “Republican motherhood”—but she feared that politics
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Book title: First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War.
Contributors: Joan E. Cashin - Author.
Publisher: Belknap Press.
Place of publication: Cambridge, MA.
Publication year: 2006.
Page number: 283.
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