Teachers of the Lost Cause: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Rhetoric of Their Catechisms

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2006-08-25

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The decades following the American Civil War marked an uncertain and tumultuous time in United States history. After the war ended in 1865, the country experienced racial discord, economic depression, and social unrest. Such conditions endured well into the twentieth century, especially in the South.

Perhaps most devastating to white Southerners during this time were the crises they faced with memory and rhetorical subjectivity.  First, ex-Confederates struggled to control how their Southern past would be remembered by present and future publics.  Second, they worked to restore rhetorical agency since they could no longer speak and act as a "Confederate people."

Attempting to ameliorate these crises, many white Southern residents embraced a myth known as the "Lost Cause."  Essentially, the rhetoric of the Lost Cause glorified the days of the Confederacy, valorized the men who fought in the war, and declared the South's innocence in relation to the war and Reconstruction.  

A major purveyor of the Lost Cause was the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), the largest and most popular white women's memorial association in the South during its reign.  The UDC formed in 1894 and was involved in a variety of commemorative activities.  

But perhaps the women's most powerful rhetorical impact on the South was achieved through their efforts with the Children of the Confederacy (C. of C.), an auxiliary group of the UDC.  Besides commemorative work, the highlight of the C. of C. meetings would be learning Southern history from their textbooks or "catechisms" written by the Daughters themselves.

My project, then, is a historical-critical analysis of the UDC's rhetorical strategies in their catechisms for children.  I contend that the UDC exploited Southern myths, especially the Lost Cause myth, to construct collective memories of the South's past.  Then, with their mythical memories, I argue that the women constituted the Children as the next generation of "Southern people," which was an effort to help restore rhetorical collectivity and agency to the defeated South.  It is my hope that with this study, we may appreciate the complex rhetorical undertaking the Daughters accomplished with their catechisms for children.

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