Updating the Daughters

Published:November 1, 2018 by Brendan Wolfe

Back on August 30, I posted an open letter to the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in response to their complaints about our entry on the organization. Members of the UDC particularly objected to our use of the phrase “white supremacy,” and I did my best to explain the context of those words in the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War. They also felt the entry downplayed their benevolent work and did not pay enough attention to the organization from the mid-twentieth century on.

The upshot is that we agreed that an updating of the entry was necessary and we’re happy to say it’s now online. What’s different?

We’ve added a section called “History” that details the ways in which UDC actions were¬†critical in promulgating the Lost Cause understanding of the Civil War.

We’ve added a section called “Education” that demonstrates how the UDC used scholarships, essay contests, and a group called the Children of the Confederacy (which still exists) to promote its understanding of Confederate heritage. You can read an excerpt of a Confederate catechism and learn about what happened when an essay winner criticized Robert E. Lee.

We’ve added a section called “Memorials” that credits the UDC with much of the fund-raising acumen that fueled the monument-building boom of the early twentieth century. We also bring readers up to date on the controversy those same monuments are causing today and how the organization has responded.

We’ve also added a section called “Benevolent and Other Work” that talks about the way in which the UDC members helped care for aging veterans, their widows, and their descendants. This included opening the Home for Needy Confederate Women, in Richmond, in 1900; the final seven women moved out in 1989, with the last surviving resident, Osa Lee Yates, the daughter of a Confederate soldier, dying in 1997.

All told, we think this adds up to a better entry that provides better context for understanding the UDC’s past and present. As usual, we welcome your feedback. In the meantime, thank you to Dr. Caroline E. Janney, our contributor and the new director of the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia, for working with¬† us on this update. And thank you, too, to members of the UDC for bringing their concerns to our attention.

IMAGE: Two UDC members in 1912 (Library of Congress)