A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Young Woman of the South." by Mrs. Jean Loughborough Douglass.
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 733-736.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Since the first days, when in the dawn of humanity the destiny of the race was shaped by the single act of a woman, her "hand has ruled the world." Statesmen and warriors have trifled with the fate of nations, and intoxicated beyond reason have madly flung away earthly power and hope of Heaven for a woman's smile! how great has been her power history alone can tell. It has ever been her divine right to mold and shape the lives of men, to comfort and uphold the weak, and to admire and reverence the strong. But it is needless to mention the grace and charm which has ever been conceded to women born under Southern skies and fanned by semi-tropic breezes.

It is of the young woman of this day that I wish especially to speak, mentioning in their social and business relations and calling attention particularly to their high order of talent.

To the old dominion belongs the honor of having had more famous beauties than any other state. Her daughters have shone socially the world over, and many have married men of title and note abroad. The White Sulphur Springs, the social Mecca of the South, has been the scene of some of the most courtly gatherings of this country. There the beautiful Miss Mattie Ould, of Richmond, was wooed by a score of suitors, and her witty sayings are still remembered. South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee also gave many famous women to the world. The wife of Commodore Vanderbilt was from the last named state. To her the South is indebted for one of its most valuable institutions of learning–the university that bears his name was erected by her husband as a tribute to this lovely woman. Indeed, the beauty, grace and charm of Southern women has been too often sung, and is too well known to need any comment. Their refinement and culture are most marked and represent the purely American type, having none of that affectation and imitation of foreign customs that some of their Eastern sisters consider necessary for a woman of society to acquire.

While the South has reason to be proud of the achievements of her daughters, it is but just to mention first, their mothers, the noble women who were the heroines of that unfortunate epoch, the Civil War. For that true remark of Matthew Vassar in his first speech to the trustees of Vassar College, is most applicable: "The mothers of a country mold the character of its citizens, determine its institutions, and shape its destiny." To quote from the recent speech of one of the most brilliant young orators of the South: [Page 734] 

"Of all the pages of history written of our great fratricidal strife, there are none so fraught with glory and true bravery and high patriotic endeavor as those which tell us of woman's love and woman's self-sacrifice and devotion and woman's tears. Let us not forget the mothers and wives and sisters and daughters whose best days of womanhood were consecrated to a 'Lost Cause.'"

Patient, courageous and strong were these women, and what was left for them to do after the war?

To rise up bravely and found new homes upon the ashes of their former glories, to encourage and inspire their husbands, to teach their young sons and daughters to be courageous, and above all, to keep up a cheerful spirit under the most depressing circumstances with which gentle women have ever had to deal in the history of our country.

Is it possible to think that the heroism and self-sacrifice shown by them at this crucial time in their lives could fail to implant a like nobility of character in their daughters?

It is a true saying "that a fountain never rises higher than its source," and in speaking of the present young women of the South let us first remember the mothers who influenced and molded their characters. It is from these women that a race of daughters has sprung whose necessity for self-reliance and independence has steadied their characters and been the means of developing the deeper and more serious part of their natures.

The desperate feeling which took possession of the Southern people immediately after the war made them realize that a mighty effort was needed to bring about a change of affairs. This feeling, which has made the New South, did much toward making it possible for young women to be self-supporting, and opened avenues of work for them which were formerly pre-empted by men. The Southern legislatures have within recent years allowed young women to be elected to the offices of enrolling and engrossing clerk in the House and Senate, while there are a number of postoffices and public libraries in charge of women.

In many Southern states there are women who own and manage large plantations, and the outdoor life seems peculiarly fitted for them; while in Texas they own and successfully manage large stock farms. One young woman in Arkansas was left a very valuable plantation by her husband. Owing to his long illness, however, it became embarrassed with debt, and upon his death suits were brought against the estate. The widow took entire charge of affairs, and on horseback personally superintended the two thousand acres and five hundred employes; at the same time practically acting as her own financier and bookkeeper. She built gins, attended to the cultivation of the ground, the picking of cotton, etc., and in five years this plucky woman cleared the plantation from all indebtedness and made it one of the most prosperous in the state. Another young woman of whom her state is justly proud is Mrs. Mary B. Murrell, of Little Rock, Ark., who organized a Young Woman's Building Association, and as its secretary carried out a number of series successfully and made it a splendid interest-bearing investment. She has written various articles on finance for New York papers, and was the only woman chosen by Mr. Seymour Dexter, of New York, to read a paper in the General Congress on Building Associations.

A most important business position, and the only one of the kind occupied by a woman, is that held by Mrs. Annie Moore, who is president of the First National Bank of Mount Pleasant, Tex. She is said to be thoroughly familiar with the banking business, and can shave a note or refuse a loan with as much facility as any of her male colleagues.

There are various newspapers in the South edited and managed entirely by women, while the South has given her daughters numerous other positions of trust, which they fill with credit to themselves and honor and dignity to their states.

The World's Fair has been justly called "woman's opportunity," and it has been [Page 735]  especially an occasion for Southern women to show their executive ability, courage and persuasive power. There is no more striking instance of this than the erection of the Texas State Building. After six months of hopeless effort the Texas World's Fair Association announced its inability to erect a building, and forfeited all right to the ground set apart for Texas. It was then that Mrs. Benedette B. Tobin, president of the Woman's Board, came forward and obtained a promise that if the women would begin work in ten days after July 19, 1892, the site would be reserved for them. Mrs. Tobin immediately took out a charter for the Women's World's Fair Association of Texas, and assisted by the other members of the board, began the difficult task of raising money, handicapped as she was by the failure of the old organization, political dissensions, and the financial depression that the people of Texas were laboring under. Sufficient money was finally raised, and the beautiful building, which was copied from the Alamo, in San Antonio, was considered by architects and artists one of the most artistic in Jackson Park. Thus it is to the ceaseless labor and indomitable courage of Mrs. Tobin that the people of Texas are indebted for representation at the World's Fair, and well may they be proud to do her honor.

Another Southern state which is largely indebted to the work of her women for a state building is Arkansas. When the legislature failed to make an appropriation, in 1890, for a creditable display of her resources at the World's Fair, Gov. James P. Eagle, who realized what such a failure meant for the state, called a World's Fair convention, and an association was formed to raise funds by popular subscription. Mrs. Eagle then asked that a clause be inserted in the by-laws of this association creating a woman's board. The request was granted, and thus officially recognized the women of the state commenced their valuable work. Mrs. Eagle, as president of this board, did most valuable service in collecting funds and perfecting organization. She was efficiently aided by the other members of the Woman's State Board. Women's Columbian Clubs were formed in all the large cities of the state, and each club made most valuable contributions to the work.

In speaking of Southern writers, the woman who compiled "Living Female Writers of the South" some years ago spoke in her preface of the slight encouragement given the women who had ventured upon a literary career. In the case of Rebecca Harding Davis, Mrs. Terhune (Marion Harland), Margaret J. Preston, Catherine Ann Warfield, Virginia L. Townsend, and many others we might mention, the world of letters has welcomed their ability and genius with generous praise and acclaim. The prolific pen of Augusta J. Evans has, it is true, been severely criticised, but "honor where honor is due" has surely been accorded these early writers.

Today we point with pride to the young women who are undoubtedly set high among young competitors for secure distinction in the noble art of letters. Amèlie Rives, that wild bird of brilliant plumage, who appeared so suddenly among the sober-tinted song birds of the South, has called forth more criticism, favorable and unfavorable, than any young writer has done before or since. Coming of a family of talent, it is not remarkable that her first effort should have shown great strength. She is a realistic writer, and raised, as she was, afield and on horseback in the balmy climate of Virginia, she seems to have absorbed the tropic sun of many summers, and the intensity and fierceness of an ungoverned mind is everywhere discernible. Her writing has been pronounced inaccurate and not painstaking, but there is nothing tedious in it, and her prodigal use of fervid and intense words leaves a highly colored picture in the mind of the reader which is not easily forgotten.

Entirely different are the wonderful pen pictures of Miss Murfree (Charles Egbert Craddock), and her correct representation of the queer people in the mountain districts of Tennessee has been received with enthusiasm by critics. The highest praise a young writer could ask was given Miss Murfree when her delineation of character was compared to that of George Eliot.

Pressing close upon these two daughters of the South, most famous for literary distinction, come Mrs. Burton Harrison, Grace Denio King, Julia Magruder and [Page 736]  Minnie McClellan, while Ruth McEnerny Stuart has a wonderful gift for dialect stories. Frances C. Baylor has written some extremely clever satires, and Mary Moore Davis is one of the Southern contributors to "Harpers' Monthly," while a score of others might be named who contribute to the literature of the day. Kentucky has been proud to claim that charming young woman and clever dramatic artist, Mary Anderson Navarro, who, though born in California, spent the early years of her life in Kentucky and there received her education and training. Music owes much also to this state, for Miss Curry Duke, the daughter of Gen. Basil Duke of Louisville, stands today with the foremost violinists of the country. Miss Enid Yandell of Kentucky, whose fine statue of Daniel Boone stands before the Kentucky State Building, has received much favorable criticism from artists.

Another sculptor of note is Vinnie Ream Hoxie of Missouri, whose work in the Woman's Building has been given a place of honor, and whose statues of Farragut and Lincoln have a world-wide reputation. Caroline Shaw Brooks, whose "Sleeping Iolanthe," modeled in butter, was one of the attractions of the Centennial, is a native of Missouri. It has been said that the South has produced no artists worthy of note, but there are at least three whom the world has honored. Mrs. Frederic McMonnies, a native of Missouri, and the wife of the artist who designed the beautiful fountain in the Court of Honor, has enriched the north tympanum of the hall of the Woman's Building by a decorative painting representing the primitive woman, which has received most favorable comment; while Miss Mary Solari, one of the judges of fine arts, and the first woman ever admitted to the Academy of Beaux Arts in Florence, although of Italian parentage, was born in Memphis, Tenn., where she spent the early years of her life. Still another woman is Mrs. Dobé of Helena, Ark., and her work, which had a creditable representation in the Woman's Building, was admitted to the Paris Salon. These three have come prominently into notice in connection with the World's Fair, but there are many other Southern women who have attained distinction in the critical world of art.

In summing up the three classes, can we find a happier combination of them all than that possessed by the young Southern woman who has stood so nobly at her post as President of the Board of Lady Managers for the past three years? Only those who have seen her from day to day realize fully her wonderful capabilities. In situations that would have tried the souls and tempers of the greatest statesmen in the country she has been calm, diplomatic and thoroughly mistress of the situation. It is well known that her magnetism and influence in Washington did more toward obtaining an appropriation from Congress for the Columbian Exposition than all the arguments of the Solons put together. And it is safe to say that the most skillful politician of his day could never have accomplished what Mrs. Palmer has done in matters of tact and diplomacy connected with the management of the Board of Lady Managers. To her the poet's words may well apply:

"The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength and skill."

Standing today in this building, where we breathe the very atmosphere of the concentrated genius of the nineteenth century woman, the air is fairly charged with inspiration. Instead of criticising the Board of Lady Managers, or drawing attention to the petty differences which have arisen in their meetings, as some small-minded people have done, let us rather look at the splendid result of their three years' work. They have held out a hand to woman the world over, aided her development and encouraged her in all branches of art and industry. In every way have they strengthened the weak and encouraged the strong.

All honor to these women who have made it possible for the young women of the North and South to clasp hands, and to stand upon the threshold of a new life! And as they stand, their faces turned toward the future, and their hearts filled with the desire to give the highest and best in them toward the ennobling of their race, let us hope that their lives may be full of earnest purpose and noble endeavor, and that the world may be the better for their having lived in it.

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Mrs. Jean Loughborough Douglass was a resident for many years of Little Rock. Ark. She was born in St. Louis, Mo. Her parents were Mr. James M. Loughborough, of Kentucky. and Mrs. Mary Webster Loughborough of New York City. She was educated at Mrs. Cuibbert's Seminary. St. Louis, Mo. She has traveled extensively in the United States and in Mexico. She married Mr. Frank Middleton Douglass, a native of New York City. He is now connected with B. 0. Don & Co., Chicago. Her special literary work has been for newspapers. She is a member of the National Press Association and the Woman's Press League, of Chicago. Her principal literary work is as associate author of "Three Girls in a Flat." Mrs. Douglass is a most popular and gifted woman, possessed of many personal charms. In religious faith she is a Presbyterian. Her postoffice address is No. 369 Chicago Avenue, Chicago, Ill.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Mary Hitchcock.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom