"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Varina Anne Davis

This woodcut of Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis belongs to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. It first appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper in 1889. 
Varina “Winnie” Davis was born in the White House of the Confederates in Richmond, to Jefferson Davis (1808-1889), the President of the Confederate States of America, and his second wife, Varina. She was educated in France and Germany, but it was her familial background that greatly shaped her adult life. Upon returning to America, she became known as the Daughter of the Confederacy, and she was first introduced as such to crowds of Georgia veterans in 1886. Inspired by Davis, a network of women's groups adopted the name National Association of the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1894 (subsequently United Daughters of the Confederacy). Working as a writer in New York City with her widowed mother, Winnie eventually published two moderately successful books. 

Commemorating Southern culture and their cause in the Civil War, this work pictures Jefferson Davis's home, a portrait of Winnie, and a daughter of a  Confederate veteran decorating the portrait of the “deceased chief.”  -- NPG Museum Label.
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, December 21, 1889, Page 353.

Jefferson Davis, Winnie's father, died on December 6, 1889, interrupting her courtship with New York attorney Alfred “Fred” Wilkinson. By October their engagement was called off without any explanation to Alfred.  Winnie never married, her romance with Alfred Wilkinson is one of C. Brian Kelly's 100 Best Little Stories of the Civil War and is discussed by her biographer Heath Hardage Lee. (See I Will Never Consent).

This ca. 1864 photo of Winnie's mother Varina Howell Davis and Winnie as a baby is unusual in its intimacy.

Perhaps more to the historical point, here's Winnie with her “Mammy,” Ellen Barnes (later McGinnis) an enslaved mixed-race woman.  

Formerly attached to this ambrotype, was the inscription: “Winnie Anne Davis + Mammy Nellie, our faithful nurse and maid to Mrs. Davis in Fortress Monroe.” (See it here.)

In addition to her duties as a representative of the Lost Cause, Varina Anne Davis was the author of a monograph on  Irish revolutionary Robert Emmet, An Irish Knight of the 19th Century,  and two novels, The Veiled Doctor: A Novel and A Romance of Summer Seas. A literary note in several papers described her writing as “marked by a sprightly style and an undercurrent of humor often verging on wit.” Both Winnie and her mother Varina Howell Davis wrote for the New York World under the sponsorship of their friend Joseph Pulitzer.  Read her essay on Serpent Myths, in North American Review, Feb. 1, 1888.

As the Daughter of the Confederacy her image was used to advertise Harter's Tonic.

Winnie Davis, Daughter of the Confederacy
Copyright 1888

This posthumously published photo of The Daughter of the Confederacy belongs to the Library of Congress.

 In Memory of Miss Winnie Davis
“The Daughter of the Confederacy”
The Daughter of the Confederacy died at age 34 in 1898 of “malarial gastritis.” 

This posthumous portrait of Winnie Davis by John P. Walker belongs to the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Heath Hardage Lee quipped that she hoped she might look that good in death. (Wikimedia)

 This UDC also has this 1935 portrait of Winnie Davis, The First Daughter of the Confederacy. (Wikimedia)

On November 8, 1899, this tabernacle style bas-relief of Varina Anne Davis by George Julian Zolnay was dedicated in St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond. The image below appeared in The Richmond Times on October 22 1899 when the plaque was still a future proposition.
The Daughter Of The Confederacy
Varina Anne Davis
Born July 27, 1864
Entered Into Eternal Life Sept. 18, 1898
 “Blessed Are The Pure In Heart,
For They Shall See God.”

In 2015 the Confederate flag emblems were removed from the pilasters.

And in 2020 the memorial was removed entirely. 

Varina Anne Davis' grave in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, features an 1899 sculpture by G. J. Zolnay, generally known as the Angel of Grief. (LOC)

The Whole Country Touched 
By Her Blameless and Her Heroic Career
Mingled Its Tears with Those
Who Knew and Loved Her.
He Giveth His Beloved Sleep

Dr. Henry Mazyck Clarkson's poem, read at the unveiling on November 9, 1899, ends with this couplet:
With angels keeping watch o'er Hollywood,
Here let her wait among the great and good.

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