Caroline E. Janney, Burying the Dead but not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations & the Lost Cause (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008).
Caroline E. Janney’s study on women’s Memorial Associations in the nineteenth century is an eye-opening and intriguing perspective on the origins of the American South’s Lost Cause. Fundamentally, Janney argues that the Lost Cause was initially orchestrated and perpetuated by upper middle class and elite southern women’s volunteer associations in the wake of the Civil War. Janney explores the chronological transformation of Ladies Memorial Associations (LMAS) across the South in their struggle to honor their dead, safeguard the memory of the Confederacy, and maintain their own political autonomy. In Janney’s view, these women’s struggles to reinter Confederate bodies, as well as erect monuments, memorials, and museums to Confederate soldiers and culture, are representative of larger women’s movements across the country. While the LMAS were not as progressive as many of their northern contemporaries, they nonetheless were fighting to be respected as crucial citizens of southern society. While not commending them for their motivations and ideologies, Janney gives these southern women credit where credit is due: Elite, white supremacist women helped promote the Lost Cause of the Confederate south, a movement which has repercussions into today.
Janney argues that the origins of LMAS lie in women’s dedication to, and support of, the Confederate cause during the Civil War. Their organizational efforts and help of all sorts (sewing clothing and uniforms, boycotting northern goods, and aiding wounded soldiers as nurses) gave elite, white women a purpose that extended from the larger development of women’s volunteer associations across the country. After the war, LMAS developed as a means for women to continue to prove their importance in society. In Virginia alone, the main focus of Janney’s study, women of LMAS reinterred 28 percent of the Confederate dead who were reburied in Confederate cemeteries. Building networks across all southern states and appealing to state legislatures to raise funds and support, LMAS were initially concerned with bringing the bodies and remains of dead Confederates back down south for reburial in Confederate cemeteries, as well as honoring the dead. LMAS built for themselves a reputation for holding Memorial Day celebrations of massive turnouts to recognize the sacrifices of Confederate men who had died for the cause. Janney makes the crucial point that these celebrations were promoted during Radical Reconstruction as women’s work, as emotional celebrations and mourning for lost loved ones, rather than masculine acts of political defiance. Women took up the cry of the Confederate cause, and were supported by men, to help disguise the continuation of Confederate feeling circulating in the south.
The goals of LMAS shifted after the end of Reconstruction to include the commemoration of the Confederacy at large as white women faced opposition from male and veterans’ associations who were aiming to take over the space that LMAS had carved for themselves in southern society. No longer under threat of federal military occupation, more men were willing to take up the Lost Cause and commemorative responsibilities. LMAS women remained determined not to fall to the wayside and promoted themselves as the original and crucial protectors of Confederate memory, angered over “Northern aggression” and their new problem of freedmen in the south. Women ran into struggles with men, and ex-general Jubal Early in particular, over where certain generals should be buried and where monuments in their honor should be erected. Janney relates that gender differences factored strongly in these arguments as women were struggling for political clout in a world where their men were reunifying with northern veterans over shared experiences of war, and the women feared losing their influence. Of particular significance to these women was ensuring that the Lost Cause was to be remembered by future generations. For this purpose, the Hollywood Memorial Association of Virginia saved the Confederate White House from being demolished, repaired it, and transformed it into the Confederate Museum at the end of the nineteenth century. This museum, as well control over school curriculum and the founding of youth associations, gave LMAS a hold over the continuing memory of the Confederacy.
Janney explains that LMAS women maintained significance into the twentieth century, though waned in mid twentieth century due to the influence and national, hierarchical structure of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) founded in 1894. Eventually, many local LMAS groups gathered together to form the Confederated Southern Memorial Association. While the two organizations worked together on many projects, LMAS simply could not keep membership up compared to the UDC who continued to promote Memorial Day celebrations, youth programs, and ideologies of white supremacy and the Lost Cause.
Janney’s epilogue serves to remind readers that the work of the LMAS lives on today, both in living memory of the American South, and in its physical structures. The Confederate Museum is currently in operation as part of the American Civil War Museum. Now called the Museum and White House of the Confederacy, the museum’s original goals of memorializing the Old South and ideals of the Confederacy have transformed to become more educational and inclusive of all southern people’s experiences during the war. Janney mentions that there has even been talk about dropping the word “Confederacy” from the museum’s name due to the racist connotations of the term.
Overall, this book is important and thoroughly enlightening. Janney’s purpose is not to bash or celebrate the Lost Cause, but rather explain that its origins are far more specific than many historians have previously discussed. Furthermore, while women are the central characters of Janney’s book, they are certainly not its heroes. Women of the LMAS were racist, privileged, and have helped perpetuate the idea the Civil War was not fought over the issue of slavery. Despite this, Janney explains that these women were important because they stretched the political boundaries in their confined spheres of influence. While they did not help earn the vote for women, they helped expand the public roles of women in the south dramatically.