United Daughters of the Confederacy
On September 10, 1894, Caroline Meriwether Goodlett, from Nashville, Tennessee, and Anna Davenport Raines, from Savannah, founded the National Association of the Daughters of the Confederacy. As a national federation of Confederate women's organizations, the group brought together numerous women's associations working to memorialize the Confederacy. At its second meeting, held in Atlanta, the group renamed itself the United Daughters of the Confederacy and revised its
Positions within the national organization of the UDC included a president general, vice president general, recording secretary general, and historian general and were filled with women from various states. With its tight connections to powerful southern politicians, the UDC attracted a sizable and influential membership. Women who could prove they were blood descendants of those who honorably served the Confederacy were eligible to join.
The UDC established five objectives delineating their memorial, historical, educational, benevolent, and patriotic responsibilities. Among other goals, UDC members strove to present what they considered to be a truthful history of the Civil War, to honor the Confederate dead, and to preserve historic Confederate sites.
Georgia's UDC in Action
Prominent women have been affiliated with the Georgia Division of the UDC since its founding. Although Lizzie Rutherford did not live long enough to be part of the UDC, she is nonetheless closely associated with the organization. In 1898 the Lizzie Rutherford Chapter of Columbus took the name of the local citizen who had pioneered the practice of decorating Confederate soldiers' graves in the years immediately after the war. This annual event became known as Confederate Memorial Day, and UDC members joined thousands of people all across the South to visit graves, decorate headstones with flowers, and hold eulogy services.
In 1898 another influential UDC member, Mary Ann Lamar Cobb Erwin of Athens, the daughter of Howell Cobb, envisioned a way to honor Confederate veterans. She combined her efforts with those of Atlanta's Sarah Gabbett to design the Cross of Honor medal, which was first bestowed by the Athens chapter of the UDC on Erwin's husband, Captain Alexander S. Erwin, in 1900. Nationally, the UDC bestowed thousands of crosses to veterans for honorable service. They continue to present medals to libraries for display today.
From 1953 to 1955 Mabel Sessions Dennis served as president general of the national UDC. Born in De Soto, in Sumter County, she held many positions in the group before leading the national organization. During her administration she organized the national [General] Children of the Confederacy. Comprising thousands of members today, the organization inducts children under the age of eighteen who can provide proof that they are descendants of honorable Confederate
By the 100th birthday of the UDC in 1995, the national organization had elected seven Georgia women to serve as president general. In 2009 more than sixty-five Georgia divisions of the UDC existed. Although membership and activism have slightly waned in the twenty-first century, the ideals, activities, and purposes of the UDC remain the same. The organization continues to erect monuments, to oversee the Children of the Confederacy organization, and to hold memorial events. Some critics, such as historian James M. McPherson, have accused the UDC of being an organization of white supremacists and neo-Confederates. Other people champion the organization for its memorial activities and college scholarship programs.
Fred Arthur Bailey, "Mildred Lewis Rutherford and the Patrician Cult of the Old South," Georgia Historical Quarterly 78 (fall 1994): 509-35.
Ann Short Chirhart and Betty Wood, eds., Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times, vol. 1 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009).
Karen Cox, Dixie's Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003).
Gaines M. Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South, 1865-1913 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).
Tommie Phillips LaCavera, The History of the Georgia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1895-1995 (Atlanta: Georgia Division United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1995).
Angela Esco Elder, University of Georgia
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