- Nov 26, 2016
- central NC
Sally Ward Lawrence Hunt Armstrong Downs
Who was the original Southern belle? I wish I knew. @NH Civil War Gal got me thinking about this when she inquired about the origin of the phrase, “Southern belle.” Probably like a lot of little girls growing up in the South, I was told the story of Sally Ward. Sally was a lovely and sometimes scandalous "belle." Do you think she was the first young lady to be referred to as a Southern belle? If not, do you have any other ideas?
Sally Ward Lawrence Hunt Armstrong Downs, also known as Sallie, was born on September 29, 1827 in Scott County, Kentucky. She became a celebrated belle - some think the first referenced as such. Sally married four times and is known as one of the first women in the United States to wear cosmetics. She is also known for wearing some daring outfits.
Sally always embodied "an old Kentucky way of life." She grew up in Louisville, Kentucky with her seven siblings. She was educated in a French finishing school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and graduated in 1844. She spoke fluent French and played several musical instruments. Sally supposedly organized one of the first fancy dress balls in Kentucky and set the standard for women to wear several dresses during a fancy ball.
Sally’s first husband was T. Bigelow Lawrence, a member of the Boston elite. Married on December 5, 1849, their marriage ended in 1850 due to “cultural differences.” It was said that Sally “never learned the secret of obedience” and freely used “paints and other cosmetics.”
In 1852 she married Dr. Robert P. Hunt, a Kentucky native. They made their home in New Orleans where Sally enjoyed hosting lavish parties. They had two sons, Robert and John Wesley, and one daughter, Emily. John Wesley was their only child who survived to adulthood. He later worked as the night editor of the New York World.
Dr. Hunt joined the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War and was killed in combat. He and Sally had separated when he decided to join the army because she was a staunch supporter of Abraham Lincoln.
When the war ended, Sally married Vene P. Armstrong, a local merchant. After his death, she married her fourth husband, Major George F. Downs, another Kentucky native. They resided in Louisville, Kentucky until their deaths.
Sally's gravesite (Find A Grave - courtesy of Julie)
"Her's was a mind that knew no wrong.
Her's a tongue that spoke no evil."
(Find A Grave - courtesy of Julie)
Not much is known of Sally in her later years. She reportedly died of a ruptured stomach ulcer on July 8, 1896. Per the Find A Grave site, she is buried at the Cave Hill Cemetery. Her portrait was done by George Peter Alexander Healy. It is housed at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.
Source: Sallie Ward: The Celebrated Kentucky Beauty by Mrs. Ella Hutchison Ellwanger. Published January 1918.