Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause
with Heath Hardage Lee
Wednesday, May 6, 2020 | 7:00 pm
Byrd Center Auditorium
Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis was born into a war-torn South in June of 1864, the youngest daughter of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his second wife, Varina Howell Davis. Born only a month after the death of beloved Confederate hero general J.E.B. Stuart during a string of Confederate victories, Winnie’s birth was hailed as a blessing by war-weary Southerners. They felt her arrival was a good omen signifying future victory. But after the Confederacy’s ultimate defeat in the Civil War, Winnie would spend her early life as a genteel refugee and an expatriate abroad. After returning to the South from German boarding school, Winnie was christened the “Daughter of the Confederacy” in 1886. This role was bestowed upon her by a Southern culture trying to sublimate its war losses. Particularly idolized by Confederate veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Winnie became an icon of the Lost Cause, eclipsing even her father Jefferson in popularity.
Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause is the first published biography of this little-known woman who unwittingly became the symbolic female figure of the defeated South. Her controversial engagement in 1890 to a Northerner lawyer whose grandfather was a famous abolitionist, and her later move to work as a writer in New York City, shocked her friends, family, and the Southern groups who worshipped her. Faced with the pressures of a community who violently rejected the match, Winnie desperately attempted to reconcile her prominent Old South history with her personal desire for tolerance and acceptance of her personal choices.
Heath Hardage Lee comes from a museum education and curatorial background, working at history museums across the country. She holds a B.A. in History with Honors from Davidson College, and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Virginia. Heath served as the 2017 Robert J. Dole Curatorial Fellow. Her exhibit entitled The League of Wives: Vietnam POW MIA Advocates and Allies about Vietnam POW MIA wives premiered at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics in May 2017 and is traveling to museums across the United States. Her prize-winning book The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women who took on the U.S. Government to Bring their Husbands Home from Vietnam was published in 2019 by St. Martin's Press. Heath Hardage Lee's first book, Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2014.
This event is sponsored by the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education in partnership with Shepherd University's George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War and Shepherdstown's Four Seasons Bookstore.