Tribute to the United Daughters of the Confederacy

United Daughters of the Confederacy

The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) was formed in 1894 to protect and perpetuate Confederate memory following the American Civil War (1861–1865). According to the group's founding documents, it sought "to fulfill the duties of sacred charity to the survivors of the war and those dependent upon them … to perpetuate the memory of our Confederate heroes and the glorious cause for which they fought." Through chapters in Virginia and other southern states (and even a handful in the North), members directed most of their efforts toward raising funds for Confederate monuments, sponsoring Memorial Day parades, caring for indigent Confederate widows, sponsoring essay contests and fellowships for southern students, and maintaining Confederate museums and relic collections. The context of these efforts was the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War, which emphasized states' rights and secession over slavery as causes of the war and was often used to further the goals of white supremacists in the twentieth century. The organization continues to perform memorial work, its national headquarters located in the former Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. MORE...

 

Origins

The United Daughters of the Confederacy was formed on September 10, 1894, in Nashville, Tennessee, by Caroline Meriwether Goodlett and Anna Davenport Raines as a national "federation of all Southern Women's Auxiliary, Memorial, and Soldiers' Aid Societies." The group was an outgrowth of Ladies' Memorial Associations and other Confederate memorial societies such as the United Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and Confederated Southern Memorial Association.

Women's associations like the UDC had been gaining popularity since before the Civil War, but the last decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a surge in the sheer number of organizations and the coalescing of these associations into national unions. Beginning in the North and Midwest in the 1880s but quickly spreading throughout the nation, groups of women had begun to organize societies devoted to literature, art, scientific culture, general self-improvement, and reform such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

The UDC also reflected a broader trend toward hereditary groups that emerged in 1890 with the Daughters of the American Revolution, in which members had to prove the family lineage that connected them with the Revolution (1775–1783). Membership in the UDC was therefore reserved for women sixteen years of age and older who could prove to be the descendants of "men and women who served honorably in the Army, Navy or Civil Service of the Confederate States of America, or gave Material Aid to the Cause." The Daughters recognized that Confederate women shared in the same "dangers, sufferings, and privations" as their male counterparts.

Organization and Membership

Like other women's clubs, the UDC was organized at the local, state, and national levels. In towns and cities, women joined chapters. Once three chapters had formed in a state, a state division could be created and officers elected to attend an annual convention (Virginia had two divisions: the First and the Grand). National officers were elected and members gathered at an annual meeting. Most membership was in the South, but chapters and divisions sprang up in states such as New York, California, and Illinois early in the 1900s. At least one international chapter existed: in 1933 nine women in France reported membership in the Daughters.

The UDC grew rapidly in membership and influence; during its first year alone, twenty chapters were chartered, and within six years that number had swelled to 412 chapters and nearly 17,000 members. By 1900, it could claim more than 20,000 members, and by the end of World War I (1914–1918) nearly 100,000 women were enlisted in this memorial army. Like those in other states, Virginia's UDC chapters grew rapidly. By 1900, the number of UDC chapters in Virginia alone reached 57, representing more than 3,200 women. In 1928, 9,232 Virginian women belonged to the UDC.

UDC and Race

At the same time that the women's club movement was gaining national popularity, the South was immersed in a new round of racial conflict. As the self-appointed guardians of southern and Confederate history, many southern white women born during or after Reconstruction (1865–1877) used the Daughters to commemorate the traditional privileges of race, gender, and class by casting them as "natural" parts of the region's history. Members of the Daughters looked to the region's past as a means to shape race and gender relations in the New South. UDC historian Mildred Rutherford, for one, firmly believed that African Americans needed to behave as faithful "servants" if the New South were ever to approximate the Old (and supposedly racially harmonious) South the Daughters sought to venerate.

While the Daughters promoted this sanitized image of slavery through published accounts recalling devoted family slaves and several efforts in the 1920s and 1930s to erect a national monument to so-called "faithful slaves," their most visible (and perhaps most successful) efforts were campaigns geared toward the South's white children. Fearing that schoolchildren might not be taught the "true history" of slavery and the Civil War, Daughters chapters closely monitored and censored textbooks (frequently published by northern presses) used in the region's burgeoning public school systems. The UDC insisted that any texts used must conform to the tenets of the Lost Cause: secession was a preempted by a constitutional dispute; Confederate soldiers fought admirably and honorably against insurmountable odds; and the South fought for self-government, not slavery.

The UDC's efforts to instill a reverence for states' rights, with white supremacy imbedded in this philosophy, had long-term consequences for both southern race relations and the perception of the organization. As historian Karen Cox has pointed out, the generation of children raised on this Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War was the same generation that engaged in Massive Resistance against public school desegregation in the middle of the twentieth century. These white southerners, including the likes of Strom Thurmond, Bull Connor, and members of the White Citizens' Councils, revived the rhetoric of states' rights employed by the Lost Cause to preserve segregation and prevent black civil rights. Moreover, numerous segregationists began invoking Confederate symbols such as the battle flag, forever linking such representations with white supremacists.

In the aftermath of the civil rights movement, the Daughters' veneration of their Confederate heritage—and, by association, white supremacy—has made them the subject of controversy. In the winter of 2000, for example, they became embroiled in the debate about removing the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina state capitol.

Despite this legacy, the UDC continues to perform many of the duties described in its founding documents, namely benevolent and memorial work on behalf of Confederate memory. The national UDC headquarters remains on North Boulevard in Richmond.

Time Line

  • September 10, 1894 - The United Daughters of the Confederacy is formed in Nashville, Tennessee, by Caroline Meriwether Goodlett and Anna Davenport Raines as a national "federation of all Southern Women's Auxiliary, Memorial, and Soldiers' Aid Societies."
  • 1938 - The Elliott Grays Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erects a monument to 220 Confederate soldiers and 577 Union soldiers that are recorded, as well as hundreds of other soldiers of whose burial no record was made, in Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Richmond.
Further Reading
Blight, David W. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001.
Cox, Karen L. Dixie's Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003.
Foster, Gaines M. Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Janney, Caroline. Burying the Dead but not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
Parrott, Angie. "'Love Makes Memory Eternal': The United Daughters of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, 1897–1920," in Edward Ayers and John C. Willis, eds. The Edge of the South: Life in Nineteenth-Century Virginia. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991, 219–38.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Janney, C. E. United Daughters of the Confederacy. (2012, February 2). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/United_Daughters_of_the_Confederacy.

  • MLA Citation:

    Janney, Caroline E. "United Daughters of the Confederacy." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 2 Feb. 2012. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: January 13, 2010 | Last modified: February 2, 2012


Contributed by Caroline E. Janney, an assistant professor of history at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.