The United Daughters of the Confederacy was formed on September 10, 1894, in Nashville, Tennessee, by Caroline Meriwether Goodlett and Anna Mitchell 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 Progressive reform.
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.
Raised on a large Kentucky plantation, Goodlett was the sister of a Confederate officer who died in the war and the wife of a Confederate veteran. Raines was the Georgia-born daughter of a Confederate officer, and both she and Goodlett had been active in memorial associations. A correspondence between the two that began over whether their separate organizations might share a name eventually led to the formation of the United Daughters with the aim of uniting various women’s groups under a single constitution. That document made clear one of the UDC’s primary purposes: to instill “a proper respect for and pride in the glorious war history, with a veneration and love for the deeds of their forefathers … and to perpetuate a truthful record of the noble and chivalric achievements of their ancestors.” Such veneration would be accomplished through history, education, the construction of monuments, honoring the Confederate dead, the care for widows, and the establishment of museums and relic collections.
State-Level Chapters of Confederate Memorial Groups
The UDC grew rapidly in membership and influence. During its first year alone, 20 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, the largest voluntary women’s organization in the South. Like those in other states, Virginia’s UDC chapters grew rapidly. By 1900, the number of UDC chapters in Virginia reached 57, representing more than 3,200 women. In 1928, 9,232 Virginian women belonged to the UDC. Because the majority of UDC members had been born after 1850, the most ardent supporters of the Lost Cause by the early 1900s had no personal memory of the war.
The popularity of the Daughters, and indeed most other such groups, shrank over time as the lives of women and American attitudes toward history changed. In 2001, the group estimated its national membership to be 20,000. By 2018, divisions were still active in eighteen states and the District of Columbia. These included Ohio, California, and West Virginia, but no longer New York and Illinois.
Civil War history was at the heart of the UDC’s mission. In particular, the group’s founders emphasized the importance of “furnishing authentic information from which a conscientious historian will be enabled to write a correct and impartial history of the Confederate side during the struggle for Southern independence.”
This claim to “a correct and impartial history” was made in the context of the Lost Cause view of the Civil War. Developed by former Confederates in the years after the surrender at Appomattox, it sought to counter northern perspectives by reframing the war in a way that restored white southern honor. The Lost Cause asserted that states’ rights, not slavery, was the cause of the war; that the North had provoked the fighting; that Confederate soldiers had been uniquely valorous and Confederate women steadfastly devoted to the Confederate cause; that large numbers of enslaved men and women had been faithful to their ensalvers and supportive of the Confederate cause; and that the United States had won only because of its industry and manpower and a willingness to sacrifice the lives of its soldiers. Above all, the Lost Cause insisted that secession had been constitutional and, therefore, Confederates had not been treasonous.
At a time when the region was immersed in a new round of racial conflict as African Americans challenged the strictures of segregation, disfranchisement, and the extralegal violence of lynching, the Lost Cause sought a nostalgic elevation of the antebellum South with the effect of minimizing the agency and importance of African Americans. Within this context, the Daughters commemorated the traditional privileges of race, gender, and class by casting them as “natural” parts of the region’s history. The group’s members looked to the region’s past as a means to shape race and gender relations in the New South. The UDC historian-general Mildred Lewis 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.
The office of historian-general was created in 1908 in part to review histories and textbooks for material that the UDC deemed “unjust to the South.” Rutherford, a Georgian who served in the position from 1911 to 1916, gave speeches, published pamphlets, and wrote newspaper columns that promulgated the Lost Cause view of the war. In one address, delivered on October 22, 1915, she told her audience that “true history” would erase any further sectional conflict.
Toward that end, in the Wrongs of History Righted, a pamphlet published in 1914, Rutherford argued that Africans brought to America had been “savage to the last degree” and “sometimes cannibals,” while under slavery “they were the happiest set of people on the face of the globe.” In Civilization of the Old South (1916), she noted that when faced with the challenges of freedom, African Americans “as a race” had “become disorderly, idle, vicious and diseased.” She then suggested that the South’s large population of Black people helped explain the prevalence of lynching there. S. E. F. Rose, a prominent UDC member from Mississippi, authored The Ku Klux Klan; or Invisible Empire (1914), and with the UDC’s unanimous endorsement described Klan violence as having “delivered the South from a bondage worse than death.”
Mildred Rutherford also published A Measuring Rod to Test Text Books, and Reference Books in Schools, Colleges and Libraries (1919), which was updated by Marion Salley during her term as historian-general, from 1928 to 1931. In conjunction with the United Confederate Veterans, the UDC advocated for history of which they approved, seeking changes to or the removal of books that didn’t meet their standards. As the historian Elizabeth Gillespie McRae has pointed out, they benefited from free textbook programs adopted by many states by the end of the 1930s. “While providing the state’s schoolchildren with free [often UDC-approved] textbooks,” she has written, “the programs also recycled the state-owned textbooks from white schools to black ones, eroding black control over the textbooks in their segregated schools.”
This insistence on “a correct and impartial history of the Confederate side” continued through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. While distancing itself from the phrase “white supremacy” and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the UDC continued to voice objections to histories it deemed “unjust to the South.” In 2018, for example, the Virginia Division urged its members to write letters to a museum devoted to African American military service asking that it honor Black Confederates alongside those who served in the United States Colored Troops.
From its earliest years, the UDC prioritized the education of students of all ages. To meet the needs of primary school students, the Daughters established the auxiliary organization Children of the Confederacy, the first chapter of which was formed in Alexandria in 1896 and incorporated by the General Assembly in 1898. The Children of the Confederacy aided the Daughters in their memorial and benevolent work but also became the recipients of their educational efforts. The UDC created a series of catechisms intended for study and rote memorization, and these, according to the scholar Amy Lynn Heyse, “were perhaps the UDC’s most significant contribution to the South.” They instilled in schoolchildren from an early age the tenets of the Lost Cause, helping to shape how whole generations of white people came to understand the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the enslavement of African Americans.
Depiction of Confederate History by the UDC
 What was the feeling of the slaves towards their masters?
They were faithful and devoted and were always ready and willing to serve them.
 How did they behave during the war?
They nobly protected and cared for the wives of soldiers in the field, and widows without protectors; though often prompted by the enemies of the South to burn and plunder the homes of their masters, they were always true and loyal.
 What were the principles of the Southern people?
They believed that each State should regulate her own affairs, according to its best interests, with no meddling with the management of other States, and that each State should loyally support the Constitution of the United States.
The UDC also established essay contests, provided college scholarships to male and female descendants of Confederate veterans, and built dormitories for women at schools such as South Carolina’s Winthrop College and Nashville’s Peabody Normal College (later part of Vanderbilt University). Hoping to exert a long-time influence on interpretations of the war, the UDC donated books to college libraries. In 1919, for example, a New York chapter donated 8,000 books, documents, and etchings to Peabody College. Through their textbook campaigns, scholarship funds, and library funds, the UDC encouraged the next generation of white southerners to demonstrate pride in their white southern heritage in an effort to quell the political, social, and cultural changes unleashed by the war, emancipation, Reconstruction, and the industrializing society around them.
The UDC’s educational efforts were not without controversy. Such was the case in 1907 when a winning essay criticized a Confederate hero. “Robert E. Lee: A Present Estimate,” by Christine Boyson, a Minnesota native and a student at Columbia Teachers College in New York City, concluded that by the time of the Civil War, the South had been “intellectually dead,” its people “densely ignorant,” and its greatest general a “traitor.” The UDC and its allies, such as the United Confederate Veterans, erupted in protest. UDC chapters from around the country issued statements, and the group’s historian-general published a pamphlet of rebuttal. Two years later, in 1909, the Richmond Chapter of the UDC censured the three judges who had awarded Boyson the $100 prize, including Edwin Anderson Alderman, president of the University of Virginia. Normally a faithful adherent of the Lost Cause, Alderman defended the judges’ decision, while some members called for more involvement by the UDC’s education committee. In the end, a new, more reliable group of judges was selected.
At the 1909 national convention, a UDC member questioned whether it was appropriate to have a UDC scholarship at Columbia Teachers College, which admitted Black students. The scholarship was dropped and others subsequently added, including at Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie, New York; Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia; and at the University of Virginia School of Law. The UDC’s extensive scholarship program continued into the twenty-first century, as did the Children of the Confederacy. Alexandra Ripley, the author of Scarlett (1991), a sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind, attended Vassar with help from the UDC’s scholarship.
Monuments Erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy
The UDC’s first major monument project occurred in 1899 when the United Confederate Veterans proposed transferring control of the fund-raising and planning for a statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis in Richmond. By 1901 the Daughters had taken charge, and the monument was unveiled in 1907. On June 6, 1900, Congress authorized the bodies of 267 Confederate soldiers to be reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery. For a host of reasons, the Virginia Division of the UDC, led by Janet Randolph, vehemently opposed the move, believing that the bodies should remain in the South and that the work of the Daughters had been coopted by men. Nevertheless, in 1906 the UDC received permission to erect a monument there. Designed by the Virginia sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel, the Confederate Monument was unveiled on June 4, 1914.
In 1916, the owners of Stone Mountain, in Georgia, deeded the north face to the Daughters to erect a bas-relief sculpture of Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and Davis, all on horseback. With funding from the Georgia Division of the UDC, the carving was begun by Gutzon Borglum and, after the work of several more artists, completed on March 3, 1972. Other projects were less successful. When the Lincoln Highway was dedicated in 1913, the UDC proposed a competing Jefferson Davis Highway to stretch across the South. Only small parts of it were ever built. On March 17, 1922, the General Assembly designated “Primary Road No. 1 of the state highway system,” which ran from Arlington south to the border with North Carolina, as the Jefferson Davis Highway. (In 2021, the House of Delegates voted to rename all remaining portions of the Jefferson Davis Highway in Virginia not already renamed by localities to Emancipation Highway.)
In January 1923, Charles Stedman, a U.S. Representative from North Carolina, introduced a bill on behalf of the UDC to build a so-called Mammy monument in Washington, D.C., to honor enslaved women. “The very few who are left look back at those days [of being enslaved] as the happy golden hours of their lives,” he said, but the bill was never enacted.
Most monuments were comparatively small and entirely funded and planned by local chapters. A statue of a Confederate soldier in uniform, unveiled at Court Square, in Charlottesville, in 1909, was funded by the UDC, the city, and Albemarle County. Similar monuments sprang up across the South, including at the University of North Carolina, where the so-called Silent Sam statue was a gift of the UDC in 1913. At its installation, the featured speaker, Julian Carr, an industrialist and Confederate veteran, expounded on the importance of such monuments. “The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo-Saxon race,” he said, going on to lament how for a time “‘the bottom rail was on top’ all over the Southern states,” meaning that African Americans had seized some political and social power. In the present moment, however, white supremacy prevailed, a circumstance that Carr suggested was symbolized by Silent Sam.
The reasons for the boom in Confederate monuments was multifaceted. First, it coincided with the high point of UDC membership and the increasing death rate of Confederate veterans. As more and more Confederates passed away, their children and grandchildren felt compelled to honor their Civil War service. Second, the flurry of monument building also coincided with the City Beautiful Movement, which popularized monuments in public spaces. Third, monument building by the UDC followed lock-step with Union memorialization efforts. For example, the most significant Union memorials in Washington, D.C., were dedicated early in the twentieth century, including to William T. Sherman (1903), George B. McClellan (1907), Philip Henry Sheridan (1908), and Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, both in 1922. Finally, it coincided with a period of racial unrest. Jim Crow laws solidified segregation across the South, efforts at disfranchisement prevented significant African American participation in electoral politics, and lynching became a means of violently imposing white control on the Black population.
The white supremacist context for Confederate monuments and symbols came into sharp relief a century later. In 2015, the white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Pictures surfaced of Roof holding a Confederate battle flag, prompting debate over the flag’s meaning, a debate that eventually expanded to Confederate monuments. After the city of Charlottesville voted to remove its statues of Lee and Jackson—originally funded by a private donor and not the UDC—white nationalists rioted on August 12, 2017, murdering a counter-protestor. In July 2018, a city-appointed commission in Richmond recommended removing the Jefferson Davis statue. That same year, student activists at the University of North Carolina toppled Silent Sam, and in 2020, the Jefferson Davis statue was toppled by protestors.
In response to these events, the UDC defended its memorials. At Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee, officials decided to rename Confederate Memorial Hall, prompting the Tennessee Division to sue for breach of contract. In 2016, the group won a $1.2 million judgment—the present-day equivalent of the $50,000 donation made by the Daughters in 1935. Other lawsuits were filed and won, although the Daughters also attempted to distance themselves from “certain hate groups [that] have taken the Confederate flag and other symbols as their own,” according to a statement released by the UDC president-general, Patricia M. Bryson, on August 21, 2017, nine days after the violence in Charlottesville. Bryson wrote that the group “totally denounces any individual or group that promotes racial divisiveness or white supremacy.”
Benevolent and Other Work
While monument building and the promotion of the Lost Cause were priorities for the UDC at the height of its popularity and influence, the organization engaged in other important activities. Chief among these was benevolent work aimed at aging veterans, their widows, and their descendants. Men’s groups such as the United Confederate Veterans and the Sons of Confederate Veterans were neither as effective at fundraising as the Daughters nor particularly interested in the needs of indigent women. As a result, the UDC took the lead in building homes for the poor and elderly. This work also reflected the priorities of the period’s Progressive movement, in which reformers attempted to correct perceived problems or deficiencies in government, business, and society.
The UDC maintained Confederate graveyards and helped build veterans’ homes throughout the South. In Richmond, the Daughters constructed the Home for Needy Confederate Women, which opened at 1726 Grove Avenue on October 15, 1900. The home’s twenty-five to thirty beds were not nearly enough to fill the need, and financial difficulties almost forced it to close. Elizabeth Hoskins Montague, the wife of Andrew Jackson Montague, worked at the home for fifty-two years. She helped secure funding and eventually doubled the home’s capacity. In 1932 the home moved to 301 North Sheppard Street with space for 100 residents. The final seven women moved out in August 1989, with the last surviving resident, Osa Lee Yates, the daughter of a Confederate soldier, dying on April 30, 1997. She was ninety-eight.
State divisions and local chapters also provided poor relief, with the Virginia divisions lobbying successfully for widows’ pensions. As soldiers, widows, and their children began to die off, the Daughters engaged in other kinds of benevolent work, including giving to homeless shelters, food banks, and other charities. The Daughters also provided scholarships to the needy and collected historical relics for museums. Although the Confederate Memorial Literary Society established what became the Museum of the Confederacy (later renamed the American Civil War Museum) in Richmond in 1890, UDC members helped with some administrative work and provided financial support. A report from the Virginia Division in 1921 described “the opening of the museum [as] the most important event in the life of the Daughters of the Confederacy.”
The Daughters also made a point of recognizing Confederate veterans. On April 26, 1900, the group awarded Captain Alexander S. Erwin, of Athens, Georgia, the first Southern Cross of Honor, and in 1919 made descendants of veterans eligible if they had served in World War I. Eventually, the Confederate-descended veterans of all U.S. wars and conflicts became eligible for the UDC’s highest honor.
The UDC’s efforts to instill a reverence for states’ rights, with white supremacy embedded in this philosophy, had long-term consequences for both southern race relations and the perception of the organization. As the historian Karen L. 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. 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.