Golden Thread The Plantation Mistress: The Misrepresentation and Myth of the "Southern Belle"

Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
Pica is the diagnostic name for it, but there's probably a non-technical name too. :smile:

I know ALL about Pica. I used to eat paper as a child. I really don't know why. I still am addicted to eating ice. UGH.

What did they eat? Red Dirt? or the typical Pica items?

But, I have battled an eating disorder pretty much since middle school - i'm "ok" now - and healthy - but it's still a battle of loving myself daily.

It is the one thing I can say that makes me very mindful of the words I say and how I treat others.
 
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Location
central NC
@Dedej, this is a very interesting subject.
Thanks for bringing this topic to "the table" for discussion.

If anything, I hope this conversation will dispel the myth that all wives of "slave owners" were the stereotypical Scarlett O'Hara types.

Hey now! Let's don't drag Scarlett into this. :giggle:
 

amweiner

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Feb 8, 2017
Location
Monterey, CA
Actually, I remember reading that some of those men enjoyed conversation with her very much. :smile:

Davis, on the other hand, probably only enjoyed that witty brain of hers when she agreed with him. :tongue:
Can you imagine Varina's journal?

"Dear Diary, I am married to the biggest nincompoop this side of the Mississippi. Thank goodness he's got me."
 

Nathanb1

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Retired Moderator
Joined
Dec 31, 2009
Location
Smack dab in the heart of Texas
I know ALL about Pica. I used to eat paper as a child. I really don't know why. I still am addicted to eating ice. UGH.

What did they eat? Red Dirt? or the typical Pica items?

But, I have battled an eating disorder pretty much since middle school - it's "ok" now - and healthy - but it's still a battle of loving myself daily.

It is the one thing I can say that makes me very mindful of the words I say and how I treat others.
Good for you. I've had so many students with eating disorders... and trying to get them help in a rural area... well.
I believe the non-tech term was clay-eating.

One of the most important foods in the South was molasses or blackstrap syrup... because it was one of the few sources of iron in poor people's diets. Imagine.
 
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Location
central NC
But, I have battled an eating disorder pretty much since middle school - it's "ok" now - and healthy - but it's still a battle of loving myself daily.

Thank you for being brave enough to share this!! I was anorexic when I was in high school and carried the struggle into my college years. Education on this condition, unconditional love and determination to overcome it saved me. I still consider myself to be a recovering anorexic although you would never know it if you looked at me today.
 
Joined
Sep 28, 2013
Location
Southwest Mississippi
Can you imagine Varina's journal?

"Dear Diary, I am married to the biggest nincompoop this side of the Mississippi. Thank goodness he's got me."

I doubt that seriously.
She may have eventually said such, but she would have never recored it in a journal.

Too many family fortunes involved . . . even post war. :smoke:
 

LoriAnn

Retired User
Joined
Oct 9, 2015
But, I have battled an eating disorder pretty much since middle school - i'm "ok" now - and healthy - but it's still a battle of loving myself daily.

I was anorexic when I was in high school and carried the struggle into my college years.
I've not battled an eating disorder, but I did feel the pressure to make sure I "presented myself well" to men for many years. My thoughts, opinions, and talents were secondary. Our value reduced to something so superficial and vapid. It's kind of weird to think about now, especially when we discuss women of the Victorian era.

I've gotten the **** over that though. :D
 

Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
Thank you for being brave enough to share this!! I was anorexic when I was in high school and carried the struggle into my college years. Education on this condition, unconditional love and determination to overcome it saved me. I still consider myself to be a recovering anorexic although you would never know it if you looked at me today.

Wow. That is my story.

Anorexia and now EDNOS - since I am at a healthy weight. Loving self is very important -- and honestly my number one priority in life ... because it's a very tricky disease and love is the cure. It sucks when everyone thinks you're perfectly fine and "beautiful" and sadly - you don't.

I label myself as recovering as well - and make sure I affirm love of myself and to others daily :smile:

I am very happy that you are in recovery as well and beat it! It's a blessing! :smile:
 

Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
Good for you. I've had so many students with eating disorders... and trying to get them help in a rural area... well.
I believe the non-tech term was clay-eating.

One of the most important foods in the South was molasses or blackstrap syrup... because it was one of the few sources of iron in poor people's diets. Imagine.

Treatment for ED's are limited in some areas and very expensive.

I donate too and volunteer with http://theprojectheal.org/ - it's a great resource to share with students and they really do help. Hopefully, healthcare companies will start to cover in-and-out treatment for those who suffer. As you know, it's a very serious disorder(s) - that has to be taken seriously and promptly.
 

Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
I've not battled an eating disorder, but I did feel the pressure to make sure I "presented myself well" to men for many years. My thoughts, opinions, and talents were secondary. Our value reduced to something so superficial and vapid. It's kind of weird to think about now, especially when we discuss women of the Victorian era.

I've gotten the **** over that though. :D

Yes! I am the daughter of a beautiful "Southern" trophy mom - who instilled the importance of looks and appearance.

So, I totally relate on presenting yourself well to men. I'm over it too - it takes time and experience - but most of us get there sooner or later :smile:
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Whoa. What a varied amount of discussion! 18th Virginia's been discussing plantation women for quite awhile, may find some good research in the past few years in Ladies Tea. Hadn't heard much on drug use? @Dedej , have you read Elizabeth Keckley's book? She did not fare well while still enslaved- describes the situation extremely well and also gets into some shaming done to men of plantations. That part is a little enjoyable. One of the more maddening parts is Keckley supporting a dissolute, wastrel and his family with her sewing business- so much so, she was not allowed to buy herself out of the putrid system.

Our era women had such varied experiences through the war- daily life was so different dependent on so many things, it's impossible to define what ' life was like '. There was a discussion here not long ago on North/South women, which was silly. Which women of the North and South? An enslaved woman or a poor, Southern white woman or a free black woman or a small farm or merchant class or first generation immigrant or wealthy planter? All had a different war than our ancestors in the North.
 

NH Civil War Gal

Captain
* OFFICIAL *
CWT PRESENTER
Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
You might like a small book called, "When I was a Slave" by Dover Publishing. It is compiled of interviews done in 1936-1938 of ex-slaves. It was part of the WPA program to record narratives before that generation of ex-slaves died. Each chapter gives the name of the slave, their age (all mostly around 88), and where they are interviewed. In talking about their experiences, they give great insight into the mistress. One that I finished reading last night said that his mistress was the best mistress in the whole world. She brought 40 slaves to the marriage. Her husband had the land but no slaves until she married him. Because they were HER property, one of the few things that legally was recognized for a woman to own as part of her inheritance, separate from her husband - who owned everything, including her, she controlled what happened to them. In this particular interview, she never allowed her slaves to be punished or sold.

Other stories in the book are simply heartbreaking and disturbing and you can see in the narrative that the older slaves still suffered from PTSD.

Other slaves who went through heartbreaking things, were, like some people in every strata of social group, resilient, and came out the other end with a family. As one said, "their were Devils and God-fearing people walking the same road and you couldn't tell which was which by just looking."

If the mistress was good and kind and had her head together, when the Yankees came and told the slaves they were free, generally the house slaves stayed for a year or two till they figured out what to do. The field hands almost always took off. Then the house slave (or ex slave) and the mistress oftened joined forces to sell eggs, etc, to do what was needed to do to survive.

I certainly believe the morphine stuff, but I haven't read about it yet.

Their is another book by Coke Roberts called "Civil War Wives." It is about elite, white southern women. It is amazing insight into what an elite southern woman went through. She focuses on Varina Davis. And while she didn't write that she was married to the biggest nincompoop, she certainly felt it at times. Later in her life, she became a great friend of Julia Dent, which caused shock and awe among southern friends. But, Varina was often (along with other plantation wives I've read about), left alone for MONTHS at a time to try to run things with an overseerer. Varina got into a big fight with her brother-in-law, Joseph Davis, on the next plantation, and Jeff wrote and asked her how she could be so foolish, because even though Jeff was away, Varina wasn't her own boss. Joseph became the boss - of her and everyone.

One thing I took away from that book was, the husbands would routinely threaten the wives by isolation - not taking them to Washington where the social hub was. And then they would know they would be on an isolated plantation for another 6 months.

Varina wrote somewhere in her diary how sickened she was to visit other plantations and see children that were stamped with the Master's face because she knew that sexual relations were coerced. And Varina was always being compared to Jeff Davis' first wife who was Zachary Taylor's daughter, and who was apparently an ideal southern wife - never argued with Jeff or questioned plantation management or tried to do things unchaperoned like riding by herself.
 

RobertP

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Nov 11, 2009
Location
Dallas
Varina wrote somewhere in her diary how sickened she was to visit other plantations and see children that were stamped with the Master's face because she knew that sexual relations were coerced. And Varina was always being compared to Jeff Davis' first wife who was Zachary Taylor's daughter, and who was apparently an ideal southern wife - never argued with Jeff or questioned plantation management or tried to do things unchaperoned like riding by herself.
Knoxie Taylor Davis died from Yellow Fever 3 months after they married, contracting the disease as a newlywed. She didn't have the time or strength to argue much.
 
Last edited:
Top