Constance Cary was born on April 25, 1843, in Lexington, Kentucky, though there is some dispute surrounding the location of her birth. Her father, Archibald Cary, was the son of Wilson Jefferson Cary, a nephew of Thomas Jefferson, and her mother, Monimia Fairfax, a Randolph and a cousin of her husband. (The two families had intermarried five times, perhaps "too often," according to Constance Cary.) After Harrison's father died in 1854, the family lived at Vaucluse, the Alexandria, Virginia, estate of Harrison's maternal grandfather. She was educated by a French governess and then at Hubert Pierre Lefebvre's boarding school in Richmond.
In 1862, Harrison began to submit her writings to Richmond newspapers, and to magazines such as the Southern Illustrated News and Magnolia: A Southern Home Journal under the pen name "Refugitta." Her poems and stories responded to the war scenes she had witnessed and prefigured some of the interests that would occupy her throughout her life as a writer: southern and genteel society, the roles and moral codes that governed women's lives, patriotism and patrimony.
After the war, Harrison accompanied her mother on an extended tour of Europe, where she continued her study of music, art, and languages. When she returned, she became reacquainted with Burton Norvell Harrison, whom she had previously met when living in Manassas; he was formerly the private secretary to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. The two were married on November 26, 1867, and the couple settled in New York City where Burton Harrison practiced law.
Aimed at a middle-class readership, Harrison's works also reveal the ambivalence of a privileged, affluent woman who was sometimes critical of the social conditions of her day. For example, her 1890 novel Flower de Hundred, an account of southern plantation life before and after the Civil War, exhibits her mixed attitude toward the institution of slavery. One of Harrison's best-known novels was The Anglomaniacs (1890), which garnered wide attention as a comedy of manners that satirized the modern-day social climber. Altogether, she produced more than fifty published works in a number of genres, including short stories, articles and essays, children's books, and short plays. Many of these were republished in England and translated into several other languages.
Harrison was also involved in the creation of a second major American icon, Emma Lazarus's 1883 poem "The New Colossus," which is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. She had persuaded Lazarus to write the poem as a donation to a fund-raiser for the statue's construction.
This youth, handsome and gifted, serious and purposeful beyond his years, the flower of his school and college, in all things worthy the traditions of his warlike ancestry, was killed by a piece of shell entering his brain, as he stood by his gun at sunset under a hot fire from the enemy's batteries.
Harrison follows this description with a note from another cousin, Robert E. Lee, offering his "heartfelt sympathy."
Harrison died at the age of seventy-seven on November 21, 1920, in Washington, D.C.
- In Memory of Monimia Fairfax Cary (1875)
- Golden-Rod: An Idyll of Mount Desert (1880)
- The Story of Helen of Troy (1881)
- Woman's Handiwork in Modern Homes, 2 volumes (1881)
- The Old-Fashioned Fairy Book (1884)
- Bric-a-Brac Stories (1885)
- Bar Harbor Days (1887)
- The Home and Haunts of Washington (1887)
- Alice in Wonderland: A Play for Children in Three Acts (1890)
- The Anglomaniacs (1890)
- Flower de Hundred: The Story of a Virginia Plantation (1890)
- Short Comedies for Amateur Players, As Given at the Madison Square and Lyceum Theaters, New York, by Amateurs (1892)
- Behind a Curtain: A Monologue in One Act (1892)
- The Mouse-Trap: A Comedietta, in One Act, as Played at the Madison Square Theatre, New York City, January 13, 1887 (1892)
- Tea at Four O'Clock: A Drawing-Room Comedy in One Act (1892)
- Two Strings to Her Bow: A Comedy in Two Acts (1892)
- A Daughter of the South and Shorter Stories (New 1892)
- An Edelweiss of the Sierras, Golden-Rod, and Other Tales (1892)
- Belhaven Tales: Crow's Nest; Una and King David (1892)
- Some Work of the Associated Artists, edited by Candace Wheeler (1893)
- Sweet Bells Out of Tune (1893)
- A Bachelor Maid (1894)
- A Virginia Cousin and Bar Harbor Tales (1895)
- A Visit to Mrs. Anne Thackeray Ritchie (1895)
- An Errant Wooing (1895)
- History of the City of New York: Externals of Modern New York (1896)
- The Merry Maid of Arcady, His Lordship, and Other Stories (1897)
- A Son of the Old Dominion (1897)
- The Well-Bred Girl in Society (1898)
- Good Americans (1898)
- A Triple Entanglement (1899)
- The Carcellini Emerald, with Other Tales (1899)
- The Circle of a Century (1899)
- The Fairy Godmother's Story. A House Party: An Account of Stories Told at a Gathering of Famous American Authors (1900)
- A Princess of the Hills: An Italian Romance (1901)
- The Unwelcome Mrs. Hatch: A Drama of Everyday (1901)
- Sylvia's Husband (1904)
- The Carlyles: A Story of the Fall of the Confederacy (1905)
- Latter-Day Sweethearts (1906)
- The Count and the Congressman (1908)
- Transplanted Daughters (1909)
- Recollections Grave and Gay (1911)
April 25, 1843 - Constance Cary is born in Lexington, Kentucky, though there is dispute among historians about the place of her birth.
Autumn 1861 - Constance Cary sews a Confederate battle flag at the request of the Confederate Congressional Committee. The flag is now held at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.
1862 - Under the pen name "Refugitta," Constance Cary begins to submit her fiction to Richmond newspapers and magazines such as the Southern Illustrated News and Magnolia: A Southern Home Journal.
November 26, 1867 - Constance Cary marries Burton Norvell Harrison, formerly the private secretary to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Cary's writing will now appear under the name Mrs. Burton Harrison.
March 29, 1904 - Burton N. Harrison, former personal secretary to Confederate president Jefferson Davis and husband to the writer Constance Cary Harrison, dies in Washington, D.C.
1911 - Constance Cary Harrison, known to her readers as Mrs. Burton Harrison, authors her autobiography, Recollections Grave and Gay. The book details her life, much of which was spent in Virginia, and especially the Civil War years.
November 21, 1920 - Constance Cary Harrison, known to her readers as Mrs. Burton Harrison, dies at the age of seventy-seven in Washington, D.C.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Dunning Rea, A. Mrs. Burton Harrison (1843–1920). (2011, June 9). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Harrison_Burton_Mrs_1843-1920.
- MLA Citation:
Dunning Rea, Adrienne. "Mrs. Burton Harrison (1843–1920)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 9 Jun. 2011. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: April 22, 2009 | Last modified: June 9, 2011