When Jefferson Davis became president of the Confederacy, his wife, Varina Howell Davis, reluctantly became the First Lady. For this highly intelligent, acutely observant woman, loyalty did not come easily: she spent long years struggling to reconcile her societal duties to her personal beliefs. Raised in Mississippi but educated in Philadelphia, and a long-time resident of Washington, D.C., Mrs. Davis never felt at ease in Richmond. During the war she nursed Union prisoners and secretly corresponded with friends in the North. Though she publicly supported the South, her term as First Lady was plagued by rumors of her disaffection.
After the war, Varina Davis endured financial woes and the loss of several children, but following her husband's death in 1889, she moved to New York and began a career in journalism. Here she advocated reconciliation between the North and South and became friends with Julia Grant, the widow of Ulysses S. Grant. She shocked many by declaring in a newspaper that it was God's will that the North won the war.
A century after Varina Davis's death in 1906, Joan E. Cashin has written a masterly work, the first definitive biography of this truly modern, but deeply conflicted, woman. Pro-slavery but also pro-Union, Varina Davis was inhibited by her role as Confederate First Lady and unable to reveal her true convictions. In this pathbreaking book, Cashin offers a splendid portrait of a fascinating woman who struggled with the constraints of her time and place.
This fascinating biography is the first full life of Varina Howell, the wife of Jefferson Davis. It is also the first detailed account of their turbulent marriage--between an adoring woman who could not always agree with her husband's ideas, and a stiff, much older man who cared nothing for his wife's opinions but demanded her total obedience. Joan Cashin has done an extraordinary amount of research--much of it in manuscripts and diaries hitherto unused by historians--and she writes with sensitivity, but without sentimentality. This is a major biography, essential for an understanding of the Confederacy and important for the history of women. David Herbert Donald, author of Lincoln
Jane Turner Censer
Cashin is always sure-handed in showing us Varina Davis as a woman who kept an inner toughness while giving in to inflexible demands, a woman who endured a marriage that was "so many holocausts of herself." A signal scholarly achievement and a marvelous read!
Jane Turner Censer, Professor of History, George Mason University
William C. Davis
Fascinating in her own right, Varina Davis was in some ways a 20th century woman out of her time. Her force of personality, dedication, and independent spirit, make her in many ways more interesting than her husband. In Joan Cashin's First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War we have a biography worthy of the woman at last. William C. Davis, author of An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government
Joan Cashin's superb new reading of the First Lady of the Confederacy offers a vivid yet balanced account of Varina Howell Davis. This is biography at its best: deep research, new material, a perceptive author, and an engrossing subject. In Cashin's hands Varina's story reaches beyond the First Lady's unique circumstances as wife, mother and widow to tell us about the old and new South. Both specialists and the general public will enjoy this exceptional portrait. Jean Baker, Professor of History, Goucher College
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