Confederate First Lady

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                 The Confederate First Lady

Commander in Chief    Commander in Chief B
Confederate First Lady    Confederate First Lady B    Our Greatest Hero

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Born at "The Briars," near Natchez, Miss., 7 May 1826.  Had Jefferson Davis known at the time of his marriage in 1845 of the future awaiting him as president of the Confederate States of America, he could not have chosen a better wife than Varina Howell.  In time she abandoned her Whig convictions, deferred to Davis' politics, and became the guardian of his beleaguered reputation.
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Howell was an intelligent, deeply religious woman educated by a private tutor and close family friend, later attending a finishing school to polish her considerable social graces.        Her mother at first objected to the marriage with Davis, who was 18 years older than her daughter, but the union turned out to be a long, happy one.
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An accomplished hostess and lively conversationalist with a serious interest in politics, Varina adjusted well to life as the wife of a politician in Washington.  In her own way, she shared her husband's ambitious temperament, though not his extreme sensitivity to criticism.  The latter trait, coupled with the tendency to be aggressively critical of others, would help sustain her through the difficult years as First Lady of the Confederacy.
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As living conditions in Richmond deteriorated during the second year of war, Varina found herself increasingly under public scrutiny.  Some decried her as insensitive to the hardships endured by the city's residents because she entertained at the White House of the Confederacy; others complained that she did not entertain lavishly enough.
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There were those who considered her influence on the president too great, challenged her loyalty to the cause because of her father's Northern roots, or called her ill bred and unrefined.  The last may have been justified by her heated retorts to gossip denigrating Davis' ability as a politician.        Of Varina's 6 children, 1 was born during these frantic years, and another died tragically.  Yet through all the family's public and private trials, Varina provided Davis with loyalty, companionship, and a great reserve of strength.
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Varina was with Davis when he was arrested in Georgia.  After his capture and confinement the children were sent to Canada in the charge of their maternal grandmother.  Varina was prohibited from leaving Georgia without permission from Federal authorities, but she lobbied incessantly to secure her husband's release from prison, succeeding May 1867.
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The Davises lived in near-poverty until the early 1870s, when a friend arranged for them to purchase "Beauvoir," the Mississippi estate to which they retired.  Varina stayed on to write her memoirs after Davis' death in 1889.  She then gave Beauvoir to the state as a Confederate veterans' home and moved to New York City to support herself by writing articles for magazines and periodicals.  She died there 16 Oct. 1905, survived by only 1 of her children.

Deo Vindice!
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Varina Banks Howell Davis (1826-1906), daughter of William and Margaret Howell, met Jefferson Davis when she was only seventeen years old.  The first encounter did, however, make a memorable impression on her.  She wrote her mother soon after their meeting:
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"I do not know whether this Mr. Jefferson Davis is young or old.  He looks both at times; but I believe he is old, for from what I hear he is only two years younger than you are [the rumor was correct].  He impresses me as a remarkable kind of man, but of uncertain temper, and has a way of taking for granted that everybody agrees with him when he expresses an opinion, which offends me; yet he is most agreeable and has a peculiarly sweet voice and a winning manner of asserting himself.  The fact is, he is the kind of person I should expect to rescue one from a mad dog at any risk, but to insist upon a stoical indifference to the fright afterward." 

Just over a year later, Davis and Varina Howell were married at The Briars, her parents' home in Natchez, Mississippi.

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"When time shall have softened passion and prejudice, when reason shall have stripped the mask from representation, then justice, holding evenly her scales, will require much of the past censure and praise to change places." --- President Jefferson Davis
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