Mrs. General Gaines, The Socialite Brigadier

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania

Harper's Weekly, 1861, " Mrs. General Gaines "

Harper's Magazine, 1861 referred to her as " Mrs. General Gaines " one supposes to remind the reading public that despite having been vilified in several presses, Myra Clark Gaines possessed enough grace, clout, social status and presumably money to retain her dignity. As ( 3rd ) wife of war hero General Edmund Pendelton Gaines and prospective heir to a gazillion dollar fortune Myra figured large enough to bump an entire war from the front page of Harper's Magazine.

Claim to fame? Longest, running lawsuit in United States history. In 1861 it was getting noisy even by Victorian standards- if you follow Mark Twain's delight in boisterous Victorian law suits it'll give you a tiny idea. At stake a gazillion dollars, her inheritance, she said, because her parents were in fact married. OH goodness. There's the crux of the matter and plenty of fodder for scandal, too.

LoC, Myra in 1855

" Beginning with her first lawsuit in 1834 and culminating with New Orleans v. Whitney in 1891,3 the Supreme Court of the United States heard issues concerning the Gaines case an astounding sixteen times,4 and the Louisiana Supreme Court heard the case eight times. "

" In 1885, Ms. Gaines died, 6 years before the case came to its ultimate conclusion in her favor. After winning the final case before the U.S. Supreme Court the year before, on July 26, 1892, the administrator of her estate received a check for $923,788 from the city of New Orleans (which had received the Clark estate), ending the litigation.10 As you'd expect, creditors had significant claims against this sum, and little remained for the Gaines heirs to divide up. "

Harper's Magazine, joyful skewer of political egos from whom no Big Pants was safe and nobody's idea of a soft sell dealt with Myra's story and life with respect. In fact ( and I have a long thread to this effect for this month ) Harper's was amazingly and wonderfully chick-friendly. In the mid 19th century?! Who knew?

By 1861 General Gaines had been dead for 11 years, cholera finally succeeding in sucking the life from a warrior where battle could not. Reading his astonishing bio you're a little struck not by what should have been a matrimonial mismatch but how perfect a choice the old general made. Warriors come in all sizes and shapes. In a day when women had few public examples of independent women to follow, they sure found one in Myra Clark Gaines. Reading Myra's long, long story, her marriage to and life with the General just a small part, you come away with this was a lucky couple.
General Edmund Pendelton Gaines LoC

Here is a slight synopsis- of part of Myra's story, partially retold. Enough to grasp some essentials. It's a little convoluted... . Enough so that 40 years worth of litigation will not appear in one, ridiculous thread.

gaines book.JPG

Sites for anyone interested in her story. Tulane of course has an amazing collection.

1861 saw women by the score claim the right to embattle themselves. Clara staked her claim, for instance as did Cordelia, Mollie and Monday Bean, Rosie Greenhow, Martha Parks Lindley, Elizabeth Van Lew and Elizabeth Thorn. I'm not saying our women of the war directly took a stubborn socialite of doubtful parentage as their North Star. I am saying her 40 year very public court battle ( which drew in elements of North v South regardless ) helped. Hugely.

This is on several sites- Pinterest, NYPL, seems to also be on Louisiana State University, in a section where there is no further information.

Introducing us to Mrs. General Myra Clark Gaines, there is no lesson in futility, either, that she died without the ' win ' and later, her estate realized little by way of her father's fortune. She gave us plenty, in 40 years of persistence. It's the dignity inherent in the battle these women of the era pursued which captures our respect 150 years later.

From a re-print in a PA paper, 1861, article originated in DC, I think.







Not sure the genesis, Pinterest has this of Myra


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