First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War

By Joan E. Cashin | Go to book overview

14
LIKE MARTHA

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 public functions.”1

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

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First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: Half Breed 9
  • 2: This Mr. Davis 31
  • 3: Flattered and Courted 54
  • 4: First Lady 80
  • 5: No Matter What Danger There Was 107
  • 6: Holocausts of Herself 128
  • 7: Run with the Rest 152
  • 8: Threadbare Great Folks 171
  • 9: Topic of the Day 190
  • 10: Crowd of Sorrows 209
  • 11: Fascinating Failures 227
  • 12: The Girdled Tree 245
  • 13: Delectable City 264
  • 14: Like Martha 283
  • 15: At Peace 306
  • Abbrevations 314
  • Notes 315
  • A Note on Sources 393
  • Acknowledgments 395
  • Index 397
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