The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) is an American hereditary association of Southern women established in 1894 in Nashville, Tennessee. It has been labeled neo-Confederate by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups and extremists. The stated purposes of the organization include the commemoration of Confederate States Army soldiers and the funding of the erection of memorials to these men. Many historians have described the organization's portrayal of the Confederate States of America (CSA), along with its promotion of the Lost Cause movement, as advocacy for white supremacy, and have asserted that promotion of the Confederate tradition has been led by the UDC. Until recent decades, the UDC was also involved in building monuments to commemorate the Ku Klux Klan.
The group's headquarters are in the Memorial to the Women of the Confederacy building in Richmond, Virginia, the former CSA capital. In May 2020, this building was set on fire during the George Floyd protests.
Formation and purpose
The group was founded on September 10, 1894, by Caroline Meriwether Goodlett and Anna Davenport Raines as the National Association of the Daughters of the Confederacy. The first chapter was formed in Nashville. The name was soon changed to United Daughters of the Confederacy. Their stated intention was to "tell of the glorious fight against the greatest odds a nation ever faced, that their hallowed memory should never die." Their primary activity was to support the construction of Confederate memorials. The UDC argues that its members also support U.S. troops and honor veterans of all U.S. wars.
In 1896, the organization established the Children of the Confederacy to impart similar values to younger generations through a mythical depiction of the Civil War and Confederacy. According to historian Kristina DuRocher, "Like the KKK's children's groups, the UDC utilized the Children of the Confederacy to impart to the rising generations their own white-supremacist vision of the future." The UDC denies assertions that it promotes white supremacy.
The communications studies scholar W. Stuart Towns notes the UDC's role "in demanding textbooks for public schools that told the story of the war and the Confederacy from a definite southern point of view." He adds that their work is one of the "essential elements [of] perpetuating Confederate mythology."
Across the Southern United States, associations were founded after the Civil War, chiefly by women, to organize burials of Confederate soldiers, establish and care for permanent cemeteries, organize commemorative ceremonies, and sponsor impressive monuments as a permanent way of remembering the Confederate cause and tradition.
The organization was "strikingly successful at raising money to build monuments, lobbying legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, and working to shape the content of history textbooks." They also raised money to care for the widows and children of the Confederate dead. Most of these memorial associations gradually merged into the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which grew from 17,000 total members in 1900 to nearly 100,000 by World War I.
Monuments and memorials
The UDC was influential primarily in the early twentieth century across the South, where its main role was to preserve and uphold the memory of the Confederate veterans, especially those husbands, sons, fathers and brothers who died in the Civil War. Memory and memorials became the central focus of the organization.
Historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall notes that the UDC had a particular interest in the position of Southern (Confederate) women, with "a commitment to bolstering vanquished and disheartened veterans and keeping the memory of the dead alive. But it was also committed to immortalizing the heroism of Confederate women, whose valor, its leaders believed, had been every bit as important as men's." The UDC's methods were wide-ranging and ahead of their times:
UDC leaders were determined to assert women's cultural authority over virtually every representation of the region's past. This they did by lobbying for state archives and museums, national historic sites, and historic highways; compiling genealogies; interviewing former soldiers; writing history textbooks; and erecting monuments, which now moved triumphantly from cemeteries into town centers. More than half a century before women's history and public history emerged as fields of inquiry and action, the UDC, with other women's associations, strove to etch women's accomplishments into the historical record and to take history to the people, from the nursery and the fireside to the schoolhouse and the public square.
"The number of women's clubs devoted to filiopietism and history was staggering," says historian W. Fitzhugh Brundage, noting that women were much more likely to be involved in a variety of (historical) organizations than men, who devoted their energies to fraternal societies. Brundage notes that after women's suffrage came in 1920, the historical role of the women's organizations eroded.
After 1900 the UDC became an umbrella organization coordinating local memorial groups. The UDC women specialized in sponsoring local memorials. After 1945, they were active in placing historical markers along Southern highways. The UDC has also been active in national causes during wartime. According to the organization, during World War I, it funded 70 hospital beds at the American Military Hospital on the Western front and contributed over US$82,000 for French and Belgian war orphans. The homefront campaign raised $24 million for war bonds and savings stamps. Members also donated $800,000 to the Red Cross. During World War II, they gave financial aid to student nurses. The UDC donated $50,000 for the construction of a Confederate memorial hall on the campus of Vanderbilt University in 1935. By August 2016, the university returned $1.2 million to the UDC after the board of trust, backed by anonymous donors, agreed to remove the word "Confederate" from the building.
The UDC encouraged women to publish their experiences in the war, beginning with biographies of major southern figures, such as Varina Davis's of her husband Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. Later, women began adding more of their own experiences to the "public discourse about the war," in the form of memoirs, such as those published in the early 1900s by Sara Pryor, Virginia Clopton, Louise Wright and others. They also recommended structures for the memoirs. By the turn of the twentieth century, a dozen memoirs by southern women were published. These memoirs were part of the growing public memory about the antebellum years and the Lost Cause narrative, which critics have described as white supremacist, as they vigorously defended the Confederacy and its founding principles (which included the enslavement of African-Americans).
Southern Cross of Honor
The Southern Cross of Honor was a commemorative medal established by the United Daughters of the Confederacy for members of the United Confederate Veterans. It was proposed at a meeting in 1898, with 78,761 crosses issued by 1913. The medal was never authorized to be worn on the United States army, navy, or marine corps uniform.
During the first decades of their existence, the UDC focused on caring for Confederate soldiers and their widows. When the numbers of Confederate veterans began to dwindle, they focused on their remaining objectives. Education of the descendants of those who served the Confederacy became one of the key interests of the organization. Some state divisions within the UDC built dormitories and sponsored scholarships, but there was no coordinated support for education by the national organization. The divisions were responsible for scholarships and building dormitories for women. At the 1907 General Convention, Caroline Meriwether Goodlett spoke of the shift in the UDC's focus. As monuments were erected, she "sat by ... thinking that the monument fever would abate." She believed that "the most thoughtful and best educated women" in the organization should have realized that the "grandest monument (they) could build in the South would be an educated motherhood."
The UDC combined education with support of the military during World War II by establishing a nurses' training fund. Each scholarship provided approximately $100 per year for a three-year nursing program. When a scholarship was offered, local Chapters were encouraged to contact local schools to locate students who needed assistance to fund their education.
Children of the Confederacy
The Children of the Confederacy, also known as the CofC, is an auxiliary organization to the UDC. The official name is Children of the Confederacy of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It comprises children from birth through the time of the Children of the Confederacy Annual General Convention following their 18th birthday. All Children of the Confederacy chapters are sponsored by UDC chapters. Children are taught Lyon Gardiner Tyler's "Catechism on the History of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865," which says that Northerners did away with slavery because the climate was unsuitable, that they had no intention of ever paying the South for its slaves after abolition, that slaves in the South were faithful to their owners, who were caring and gentle people: cruel slave owners existed only in the North.
"Rallying behind powerful women such as Mildred Lewis Rutherford, the UDC relentlessly lobbied legislatures for public school textbooks that presented a pro-Confederate version of regional history and successfully blacklisted those that were “unjust to the institutions of the South."
The phrase "nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery" was deleted from the CofC creed by the UDC in 2015.
George Floyd protests
During the early morning hours of May 31, 2020, the Memorial to the Women of the Confederacy headquarters building in Richmond was vandalized with graffiti and set ablaze during a chain of protests across the city in the wake of the death of George Floyd. The Richmond Fire Department extinguished the fire using nine fire trucks.  The President-General of the UDC reported that the building's windows had been broken and fire was set to the curtains hanging in the building's Caroline Meriwether Goodlett Library. The fire was largely contained to the library, but there was extensive smoke and water damage throughout the building and charring on the building's Georgia marble facade. Staff reported that all the books in the building's library had incurred some damage and that library shelving had been destroyed.
Lost Cause and Neo-Confederate views
During the period 1880–1910, the UDC was one of many groups that celebrated Lost Cause mythology and presented "a romanticized view of the slavery era" in the United States. The UDC promoted white Southern solidarity, allowing white Southerners to refer to a mythical past in order to legitimize racial segregation and white supremacy. The UDC worked to "define southern identity around images from an Old South that portrayed slavery as benign and slaves as happy and a Reconstruction that portrayed blacks as savage and immoral." Their lost cause narrative was codified in their “Measuring Rod to Test Text Books and Reference Books,” which UDC chapters unanimously endorsed and used to infect their false, white supremacist views in school curriculum across the South. Historian James M. McPherson has said that the present-day UDC promotes a white supremacist and neo-Confederate agenda, saying
I think I agree a hundred percent with , though, about the motives or the hidden agenda not too deeply hidden I think of such groups as the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. They are dedicated to celebrating the Confederacy and rather thinly veiled support for white supremacy. And I think that also is the again not very deeply hidden agenda of the Confederate flag issue in several Southern states.
The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the UDC as part of the Neo-Confederate movement that began in the early 1890s, which the Center states is "a reactionary conservative ideology that has made inroads into the Republican Party from the political right, and overlaps with the views of white nationalists and other more radical extremist groups." In August 2018, its website still stated that "Slaves, for the most part, were faithful and devoted. Most slaves were usually ready and willing to serve their masters."
Ku Klux Klan
According to lawyer Greg Huffman, writing in Facing South, "[p]erhaps nothing illuminates the UDC's true nature more than its relationship with the Ku Klux Klan. Many commentators have said the UDC simply supported the Klan. That is not true. The UDC during Jim Crow venerated the Klan and elevated it to a nearly mythical status. It dealt in and preserved Klan artifacts and symbology. It even served as a sort of public relations agency for the terrorist group." At its 1913 annual national convention, the UDC unanimously endorsed The Ku Klux Klan, or The Invisible Empire, a book written by UDC historian Laura Martin Rose, then president of the UDC's Mississippi Division. Published near the height of the UDC's Confederate statue-installation and textbook-vetting efforts, the book was a supplementary reader for Southern school children. A local chapter of the UDC funded a now-vanished memorial to the Klan near Concord, North Carolina. As late as 1936, the UDC's official publication featured an article which lauded the role of the Ku Klux Klan.
- Florence Anderson Clark (1835–1918), author, newspaper editor, librarian, university dean
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They refused to let go of the legacy of the defeated plantation South. They celebrated the Lost Cause by organizing fraternal and sororal organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), whose members decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers, funded public statutes of Confederate heroes, and preserved a romanticized vision of the slavery era.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
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- Foster, Gaines M. (1987). Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South. New York: Oxford University Press.
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Their name is on all their monuments, but maybe because those plaques are rusty and faded people don't realize the UDC is still a functioning organization.
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- General information
- Minutes of the Annual Convention at The Online Books Page
- United Daughters of the Confederacy at Encyclopedia Virginia
- United Daughters of the Confederacy politicians at The Political Graveyard
- Works by or about United Daughters of the Confederacy at Internet Archive
- Works by or about United Daughters of the Confederacy in libraries (WorldCat catalog)