United Daughters of the Confederacy
The Georgian Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) was formed on November 8, 1895.
Initially, the UDC worked both to maintain the beliefs of the lost cause, a heroic interpretation of the Civil War (1861-1865) that allowed defeated white southerners to maintain their sense of honor, and to build monuments honoring Confederate soldiers and leaders. . The organization quickly grew to include chapters in nearly every city in the state and connected many middle- and upper-class white women in the South.
On September 10, 1894, Caroline Meriwether Goodlett, of Nashville, Tennessee, and Anna Davenport Raines, of Savannah, founded the National Association of Daughters of the Confederacy. As a national federation of Confederate women’s organizations, the group brought together many women’s associations working to commemorate Confederacy. At its second meeting, held in Atlanta, the group renamed itself United Daughters of the Confederacy and revised its constitution. In 1895, the four chapters of Savannah, Augusta, Atlanta and Covington united to form the Georgia Division of the UDC.
Positions within the UDC’s national organization included a General President, General Vice President, Recording General Secretary and General Historian and were held by women from various states. Thanks to its close ties to powerful southern politicians, the SVP has attracted important and influential members. Women who could prove they were blood descendants of those who served the Confederacy were eligible to join.
The UDC has set itself five objectives delimiting its memorial, historical, educational, benevolent and patriotic responsibilities. Among other goals, UDC members strove to present what they believed to be a true story of the Civil War, to honor the Confederate dead, and to preserve Confederate historic sites.
Georgia UDC in action
Prominent white women have been affiliated with the UDC’s Georgia Division since its founding. Although she died before the group was formed, Lizzie Rutherford is nevertheless closely associated with the organization. Rutherford pioneered the practice of decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers in the years immediately following the war, and to honor his legacy, the UDC of Columbus became the Lizzie Rutherford Chapter in 1898. This practice became an annual event known as Confederate Memorial Day, and SVP members joined thousands of white people across the South to visit graves, decorate headstones with flowers and hold eulogies. Indeed, early efforts were aimed at recovering the bodies of soldiers from northern battlefields, erecting headstones in local cemeteries, and memorializing and otherwise mourning the Confederate dead.
Rebecca Latimer Felton of Cartersville addressed UDC chapters throughout Georgia during a crusade to educate farm women in 1897. Aiming to empower poor whites and support notions of white supremacy, Felton argues that while the farm women were not cultured like the UDC members, they too were descendants of Confederate veterans. She believed that rural girls, as future mothers of the white race, needed assistance and education. The SVP’s early efforts had focused on bereavement and cemetery commemorations, but these new programs propelled the SVP and its Lost Cause message into public spaces and the political sphere.
In 1898, another influential member of the UDC, Mary Ann Lamar Cobb Erwin of Athens, the daughter of Howell Cobb, devised a new way to honor Confederate veterans. Combining her efforts with those of Sarah Gabbett of Atlanta, the women designed the Cross of Honor Medal, which was first awarded by the Athens Chapter of the UDC to Erwin’s husband, Captain Alexander S Erwin, in 1900. Nationally, the UDC awarded thousands of crosses to veterans for honorable service. Today, they continue to present medals to veterans of Confederate descent as well as to libraries for display.
A native of Athens, Mildred Lewis Rutherford was probably the most prominent member of the SVP. Like many members of the UDC in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Rutherford actively promoted white supremacy and led a tireless crusade in favor of the mythology of the lost cause, a civil religion that absolved the South. responsibility for the Civil War, dismissed slavery as the primary cause of the war, and sentimentalised the practice of slavery. In his writings and speeches, Rutherford described Reconstruction as a litany of outrages and argued that Southern blacks were ill-equipped for freedom and fared better under slavery.
Despite her own public role, she strongly opposes women’s suffrage and argues that the ideal white woman should show deference to men and stay home. She believed that all women should view the plantation mistress as the ideal version of femininity.
Holding a deep and abiding commitment to white supremacy, Rutherford championed secession, supported segregation, reviled black Americans, and glorified both the plantation system and slavery in prewar Georgia. The textbooks she wrote, as well as her choice of which to censor, testify to a Confederate history that attempted to legitimize the authority of southern white elites while undermining black American claims to full citizenship. From 1899 to 1902, Rutherford served as president of the Georgia Division, and from 1911 to 1916 she served as general historian for the national organization. Rutherford Hall, a dormitory named in his honor, still stands on the University of Georgia campus.
About 1915 UDC Atlanta chapter president Caroline Helen Jemison Plane initiates the project that will result in the Confederate Memorial sculpture on stone mountain. As the leader of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association (incorporated in 1916 as the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association), she enlisted the support of sculptor Gutzon Borglum and convinced the owners of the mountain to give the UDC access to the property. In addition to the sculpture of Confederate leaders, Plane wanted Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members to appear in the design. Controversies, changes of sculptors, funding issues and outbreaks of First World War (1917-18) and The Second World War (1941-45) slowed the progress of the project and the sculpture was not completed until 1970. Although it remains in place today, the sculpture has become a point of contention in recent years and a growing number of activists and officials have called for his removal.
From 1953 to 1955, Mabel Sessions Dennis served as General President of the National SVP. Born in De Soto, Sumter County, she held many positions within the group before leading the national organization. During her administration, she organized the national [General] Children of the Confederacy. Comprised of thousands of members today, the organization inducts children under the age of eighteen who can prove they are the descendants of honorable Confederate soldiers. The membership creed declares a “desire to perpetuate, in love and honor, the heroic deeds of those who enlisted in Confederate services” and “to teach the truths of history (including the one of the most important is that the war between the states was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to maintain slavery). Young members are given a list of catechisms and “are encouraged to recite core beliefs and elements of Confederate history.” The UDC also offers scholarships.
Recent activities and controversies
At the SVP’s 100th anniversary in 1995, the national organization elected seven Georgian women as general presidents. As of 2009, more than sixty-five Georgian SVP divisions existed. Although membership has dwindled in the 21st century, the organization actively recruits new members, and those who join must still be a lineal descendant of a Confederate soldier, militiaman, or musician. The vast majority of members are white southern women. Historians have largely debunked the myth of the black Confederate soldier, but in 2014 a black woman claimed Confederate ancestry and joined the organization; she was the first African American to join a UDC chapter from Georgia.
Even in the 21st century, the ideals, activities and aims of the SVP have undergone only limited changes. He continues to oversee the Children of the Confederacy organization and to organize memorial events and public programs. But the group’s most notable legacy — the hundreds of Confederate monuments that dot the southern landscape — are coming under increasing scrutiny. Critics of the group have increasingly linked its Lost Cause mythology to the rise of Jim Crow, and many have observed that Confederate monuments often serve a dual purpose: to honor Confederate dead and to intimidate African-American civil rights claimants. . For these reasons, cities and towns across the country have removed or relocated SVP-funded monuments commemorating Confederates, white supremacists or slave owners. The UDC has generally opposed these measures and remains an active participant in contentious debates about the nature and meaning of Southern history.