Thursday, March 18, 2010
Varina Howell was 17 when she met Jefferson Davis, 18 years her senior. Then married when she was 19 and within a short time, Varina found herself in Washington DC as the wife of a politician.
This was a huge step for a young southern lady born and basically educated at home, much like other women of her time. Born May 7, 1826, Varina was a bright, outgoing and charming woman. Still, for a woman at that time, options were limited. According to writings and letters, Varina tried to be the good wife the Jefferson expected her to be. Her first trip to DC was a trial, but by the second trip she had found her step. In some ways she may have understoon politics better than her husband.
Varina has the distinction of being the only first lady of the Confederacy. To some she was a saint and others a vile creature. Does that sound familiar? Some would say the same thing about Mary Lincoln.
As I have studied this woman and her times I come away with a person who did her best in what we now know were very trying situations. After the war, she feared for the safety of her children in Georgia, to the point she sent them to Canada to live with her mother. She petitioned tirelessly for the release of her husband from his prison. A remarkable and yet perhaps misunderstood woman. The pictures above are of the home she and Jefferson retired to in 1879. A picture of another time and era. As you can see in the second photograph the home suffered damage during Katrina and has been slowly restored as seen in the first photograph.
I want to thank my friend Ken Oyer for his willingness to visit Bouvier and share these recent photos.