Kate Ferguson was a notorious "southern belle", who hailed from two of the South’s most prominent families. She was born Catherine Sarah Lee, to the southern poet Eleanor Percy Lee and William Henry Lee, cousin of General Robert E. Lee. Her life was mired in scandal, mostly through her husband, though she herself lived a brazen and racy existence as few contemporary southern ladies did. She wrote one novel, Cliquot, which met with lukewarm reaction and never afforded her the literary career her mother, her aunt Catherine Warfield, her cousin Sarah Dorsey, or the later members of her family William Alexander Percy or Walker Percy had.
Published in 1888, Cliquot is the story of Neil Emory, who owns an unpredictable and dangerous horse named Cliquot, whom he cannot find a rider for, as the horse has already killed several previous riders. A mysterious jockey appears who wins the owner a fortune and then turns out to be a beautiful woman named Gwendoline Gwinn, the horse’s previous owner. The story is imbued with lust in the "bodice-ripping style", where "female bosoms heave with desire and heroes express their love in ways that an earlier generation would have found much too suggestive." (Wyatt-Brown, p. 39)
She married the Civil War hero General Samuel W. Ferguson (1834-1917), and their house became a social center in Greenville, Mississippi. Through Percy connections, Samuel was appointed as treasurer of the Delta Levee Board. In 1894, he was caught embezzling $59,000 from the Board, and rather than stand and face his citizens in guilt, he fled the country, eventually surfacing in Tambillo, Ecuador.
Kate herself lived a risqué life. More than once she was seen sitting at the head of the dining table at all male feasts held in a high class "colored" salon room for white on equal footing with all her companions. A great lover of horse races, having been introduced by her aunt Catherine Anne Warfield, who had assumed guardianship over the girl after her mother’s death from yellow fever in 1849, she became intimately involved in all the seedier sides of its world, thus allowing her to make a realistic and frank portrayal in Cliquot.
She shocked all of her acquaintances by appearing in 1886 in an amateur production of "Sea of Ice", a then popular drama, "assuming the part of a young Indian maid, in very inadequate clothing – her kirtie only coming down to the knees on one side, and not that far on the other, with bare arms, bare bosom, bare legs, and big bracelets round her ankles." (Wyatt-Brown, p. 46)
After her husband’s disgrace, she discontinued writing and shrunk into penury, the object of local pity.
Kate Ferguson followers
- Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. The Literary Percys: Family History, Gender & the Southern Imagination. Athens & London: University of Georgia Press, 1994.