CS Davis, Varina Howell

Varina Anne Banks Howell Davis
First Lady of the Confederate States
From A to Z
- Women


May 7, 1826

Birthplace: Natchez, Mississippi

Father: William Burr Howell 1795 – 1863
(Buried: Oakwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama)​

Mother: Margaret Louisa Kemp 1806 – 1867
(Buried: Cimtiere Mont – Royal Outremont, Canada)​

Husband: President Jefferson Finis Davis 1808 – 1889
(Buried: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia)​

Married: February 26, 1845 in Natchez, Mississippi


Samuel Emory Davis 1852 – 1854​
(Buried: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia)​
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Margaret Howell Davis Hayes 1855 – 1909​
(Buried: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia)​

Jefferson Finis Davis Jr. 1857 – 1878​
(Buried: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia)​
Joseph Evan Davis 1859 – 1864​
(Buried: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia)​
William Howell Davis 1861 – 1872​
(Buried: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia)​
Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis 1864 – 1898​
(Buried: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia)​

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Attended Madame Deborah Grelaud’s French School​
Tutored by Judge George Winchester​

Life Events:

1843: Met Jefferson Davis at Hurricane Plantation during Christmas​
Often referred to herself as a “half breed” because of her connections in the North and South.​
She enjoyed the Social life of Washington, D.C. While her husband was a politician in Congress.​
1854: Devasted when her first son died and withdrew for a short period from​
1855 – 1857: Served as White House Hostess during Pierce Admin.​
1861 – 1865: First Lady of Confederate States of America​
1865: Captured by the Union Army restricted to living in Georgia​
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Traveled in Canada and Europe after her husband was released​
Often Wrote letters to Virginia Clay​
1889 – 1906: Widow of President Jefferson Davis​
1890: Co Author of Jefferson Davis A Memoir

She lived in New York City, New York (Hotel Gerald, 123 W 44th Street)​
1898 – 1902: Owner of Beauvoir Plantation​
1902: Sold Beauvoir to Mississippi Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans for $10,000.00​
She was a friend to Former First Lady Julia Dent Grant​
She met Booker T. Washington at a reception she attended​
She Enjoyed a Daily Carriage Ride to Central Park, New York​

Died: October 16, 1906

Place of Death: Hotel Majestic, New York City, New York

Cause of Death: Double Pneumonia

Age at time of Death: 80 years old

Burial Place: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

Born at "The Briars," near Natchez, Miss., 7 May 1826. Had Jefferson Davis known at the time of his marriage in 1845 of the future awaiting him as president of a Southern confederacy, he could not have chosen a better wife than Varina Howell. In time she abandoned her Whig convictions, deferred to Davis' politics, and became the guardian of his beleaguered reputation.

Howell was an intelligent, deeply religious woman educated by a private tutor and close family friend, later attending a finishing school to polish her considerable social graces.

Her mother at first objected to the marriage with Davis, who was 18 years older than her daughter, but the union turned out to be a long, happy one.

An accomplished hostess and lively conversationalist with a serious interest in politics, Varina adjusted well to life as the wife of a politician in Washington. in her own way, she shared her husband's ambitious temperament, though not his extreme sensitivity to criticism. The latter trait, coupled with the tendency to be aggressively critical of others, would help sustain her through the difficult years as First Lady of the Confederacy.

As living conditions in Richmond deteriorated during the second year of war, Varina found herself increasingly under public scrutiny. Some decried her as insensitive to the hardships endured by the city's residents because she entertained at the White House of the Confederacy; others complained that she did not entertain lavishly enough. There were those who considered her influence on the president too great, challenged her loyalty to the cause because of her father's Northern roots, or called her ill-bred and unrefined. The last may have been justified by her heated retorts to gossip denigrating Davis' ability as a politician.

Of Varina's 6 children, 1 was born during these frantic years, and another died tragically. Yet through all the family's public and private trials, Varina provided Davis with loyalty, companionship, and a great reserve of strength.

Varina was with Davis when he was arrested in Georgia. After his capture and confinement the children were sent to Canada in the charge of their maternal grandmother. Varina was prohibited from leaving Georgia without permission from Federal authorities, but she lobbied incessantly to secure her husband's release from prison, succeeding May 1867.

The Davises lived in near-poverty until the early 1870s, when a friend arranged for them to purchase "Beauvoir," the Mississippi estate to which they retired. Varina stayed on to write her memoirs after Davis' death in 1889. She then gave Beauvoir to the state as a Confederate veterans' home and moved to New York City to support herself by writing articles for magazines and periodicals. She died there 16 Oct. 1905, survived by only 1 of her children.

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