Varina Anne Davis

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Varina Ann Davis
Winnie Davis 001.jpg
Born (1864-06-27)June 27, 1864
Richmond, Virginia, CSA
Died September 18, 1898(1898-09-18) (aged 34)
Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island, USA
Other names Winnie
Occupation Writer

Varina Anne "Winnie" Davis (June 27, 1864 – September 18, 1898) was an American author. A daughter of President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, she became known as "Daughter of the Confederacy", for her appearances with her father on behalf of Confederate veterans' groups.


Varina Anne "Winnie" Davis was born one year before the end of the American Civil War in the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. She was the second daughter and the sixth child of Varina Banks Howell Davis and Jefferson F. Davis. The youngest, she was the only child of the family who was allowed to visit her father in Fort Monroe with her mother during his two years of imprisonment that followed the Civil War. They were eventually given an apartment in the officers' quarters to use.

Winnie was home-educated by her mother and father in her early years. She later accompanied her parents on their numerous journeys. At the age of thirteen, she was sent to the Misses Friedländers School in Karlsruhe, Germany. She studied for five years in the renowned boarding school, in that time acquiring a slight German accent. Later, she studied in Paris for a short while before returning to the United States.[1]

Daughter of the Confederacy[edit]

During the 1880s, Winnie lived with her parents at Beauvoir, their Gulf Coast estate near Biloxi, Mississippi, bequeathed to Jefferson Davis in 1878 by Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, a wealthy widow and fervent supporter of the Confederacy. In 1886, Winnie and her aging father visited West Point, Georgia on a tour of the South. On April 24, 1886, Governor John Brown Gordon anointed her as "The Daughter of the Confederacy". This title stuck, and Winnie became an icon for Confederate veteran groups and an inspiration for the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Together with her father, she made public appearances and speeches, and acted more and more as his representative. This was a period when Confederate groups, including women's associations, worked to memorialize the war and the cause of the South.[2] In 1888, Winnie also wrote her first book, a monograph of Irish revolutionary Robert Emmet entitled An Irish Knight of the 19th Century.[3]

Winnie Davis' 1880s skiff Barbashela, restored 2016

Winnie was involved in a few well-known romantic relationships, but she never married. In 1885–1886, she may have been courted by the noted landscape and portrait artist Verner Moore White, but the relationship supposedly ended when White moved to Europe to further his studies in art. This story has never been completely verified.[4] In 1887, Davis developed a more serious relationship with a successful New York attorney named Alfred Wilkinson whom she met while staying with family friends in Syracuse during the late fall of 1886. When she announced her engagement to the "Yankee" in 1889, an outcry in the South burdened the romance. Though her father Jefferson approved of the match before his death in 1889, Winnie's mother Varina eventually opposed the marriage due to pressure from her Southern friends that the relationship was an insult to the Davis legacy. More importantly, Varina came to believe that Wilkinson could not financially support Winnie. This perception was incorrect, but the damage was done, and the engagement was ended in October 1890.[5][6]

By 1891, Winnie and her widowed mother had moved to New York City, deeming the climate of Mississippi unhealthy. More importantly, both women realized they needed to work to support themselves financially. Mother and daughter both gained employment as correspondents for the New York World, a newspaper owned by Joseph Pulitzer-a good friend of the Davis family who was married to a distant Davis cousin. The two women lived in a series of residential hotels, eventually settling at the Gerard Hotel in what is now the theater district. During this time, Winnie also wrote for magazines, such as The Ladies Home Journal, and authored two published novels: The Veiled Doctor, and a A Romance of Summer Seas. Both books were moderately successful.[7]

In July 1898, Winnie became deathly ill after being drenched in a rainstorm at a Confederate Veterans' Reunion in Atlanta, Georgia. The next day, Winnie travelled by train to meet her mother in Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island, where they vacationed every summer at the fashionable Rockingham Hotel. Winnie's doctors diagnosed her with "malarial gastritis," and she suffered for weeks from fever, chills, and loss of appetite. The Rockingham Hotel closed for the season in early September, but the management allowed Winnie and Varina to stay on. Winnie died there on September 18, 1898. She was just 34 years old. She was buried in Hollywood Cemetery with military honors in Richmond, Virginia, because of her service to Confederate veterans' groups, next to the graves of her father and brothers.[8] She was survived by her mother Varina and by her sister Margaret Addison Hayes, then living in Colorado Springs, and her sister's children.



  • Mary Craig Sinclair, The Romance History of Winnie Davis (unpublished)
  • Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause, the first full length published biography of Winnie Davis by historian Heath Hardage Lee will be published April 1, 2014, by Potomac Books, a division of the University of Nebraska Press.


  1. ^ Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause by Heath Hardage Lee
  2. ^ David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, Cambridge: Belkap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001
  3. ^ Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause by Heath Hardage Lee
  4. ^ Baker, James Graham; Southwestern Historical Quarterly Vol CXIII; April 2010
  5. ^ Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause
  6. ^ Cashin, Joan (2006). First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 261–264. 
  7. ^ Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause by Heath Hardage Lee
  8. ^ Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause by Heath Hardage Lee


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