With Memorial Day upon us we are no doubt going to be inundated with stories about the the work the United Daughters of the Confederacy is doing to mark the graves of Confederate soldiers. Most of the news items say nothing about the organization’s history or how they worked to shape our understanding of the Civil War at the turn of the twentieth century. The UDC was very active in controlling the content of textbooks, which included the standard accounts of happy slaves and a war over states’ rights. The best book on the UDC is Karen L. Cox’s Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (University Press of Floriday, 2003) Less known is the UDC’s predecessors, the Ladies Memorial Association, which operated in the immediate postwar period, at a time when Confederate veterans were unable to march openly. It was the LMA who organized the first Decoration Day celebrations here in Virginia. I highly recommend Caroline Janney’s new book, Burying the Dead, But Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause (University of North Carolina Press, 2008). Janney on the LMA’s:
There is such a dual legacy about these women, and I’m really torn about how I feel about them,” she says. “On the one hand, I feel they are responsible for some of the racist sentiment that is attached to the Confederacy, and they put in motion this romanticized image of the Confederacy today. Yet these are incredibly high-spirited, passionate women who engaged and fought for what they believed in. Historians will need to consider the good and the bad when examining them.