Women’s Clubs and the “Lost Cause”

Historians in the News
tags: Confederacy, womens history, Lost Cause

History is written by the victors, as the saying goes. One notable exception is the “Lost Cause” narrative invented by the Confederacy, which lost the Civil War but controlled the prevailing historical narrative about the war and its aftermath for decades. The argument—that the South’s cause in the Civil War was noble, that slavery was benign, and that Reconstruction was a failure—largely became the American story in the first half of the twentieth century. But the myth was contested from the beginning by Black Americans.

Historian Joan Marie Johnson explores how racially segregated women’s clubs in the South battled over that history, arguing that: “white women [were] part of the effort to create a culture of segregation in the New South as black women fought to combat that culture.”

Indeed, there was much membership overlap between white women’s clubs and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

In the late nineteenth century, “vast numbers of black and white women across the nation began to participate in a myriad of women’s organizations, including the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), church missionary societies, and woman suffrage associations.” In the South particularly, white women’s literary clubs were “organized expressly for the study of literature and history and then took up community service.”

Read entire article at JSTOR Daily

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