When was Jefferson Davis president

Karlsruhe: city history

Look into story no.121 from December 14, 2018

"Daughter of the Southern States" with a German accent

Winnie Davis went to school in Karlsruhe
by Volker C. Ihle

Varina Anne "Winnie" Davis. Photo: wikipedia.org

Varina Anne "Winnie" Davis. Photo: wikipedia.org


On May 23, 1876, a month before her 13th birthday, a new chapter in life began for the daughter of the ex-President of the Confederate States of America. What prompted Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina to send their youngest daughter Winnie to school there, and not like their older daughter to Paris, is vaguely justified in the innumerable biographies of the presidential family with a recommendation from acquaintances. In any case, the years in Karlsruhe were formative for the personal development of Winnie Davis, who would later be celebrated as the idol of the southern states.

Born in the Southern White House

The president's daughter was actually called Varina Anne, but she went down in American history with her nickname Winnie. She was the sixth child of the Davis couple on June 27, 1864, in Richmond, Virginia, in the White House of the Confederate States. For the vast majority of the population, this was seen as a good omen for the future of the southern states. The parents are likely to have experienced the event with mixed feelings. Two months earlier, her five-year-old son was fatally injured in a fall from a balcony, and the first cannon shots of the civil war could be heard in the distance.
The American Civil War and its aftermath shaped Winnie's entire life. The north, with its emerging industry, wanted protective tariffs and a strong central power, while the agricultural south, on the other hand, wanted a free trade policy and extensive state autonomy. The dispute sparked when Republican and Northerners Abraham Lincoln became US President and wanted to end slavery for all states. Eleven states renounced the United States and founded an independent republic with its own capital, currency, army and government. Jefferson Davis, who had extensive political experience as a US Democrat, Senator for Mississippi, and Secretary of Defense, became its first and only president. The end of the Confederation came after a little over four bloody years with the surrender in 1865. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned, his wife and children under house arrest. Winnie was the only child allowed to visit him while he was in custody. Despite Davis' submissions, there was never a lawsuit. Eventually he was released after two years and was considered a martyr by his followers.

Bloomed in Karlsruhe

The family then lived briefly in Canada, at times also in London and Paris, where they had friends and followers. After several years as president of an insurance company in Memphis, Davis looked for a new job in England. Winnie was tutored by her parents. She learned to gain her father's interest with political issues, but lost contact with her peers. When her youngest brother died of diphtheria and the mother was nervous, the decision was made to send Winnie to a girls' school in Karlsruhe. A family friend brought her there from London while her father returned to the United States. The mother cured herself in England, but often visited her daughter in Karlsruhe and was also visited by her.
The Friedländer Institute at Stephanienstraße 74 was one of the most prestigious schools in Baden and was under the protection of Grand Duchess Luise. Winnie lived in the adjoining boarding school for over five years, which she and a few other foreign girls gave an international flair. Like all schoolgirls, she was closely guarded, which Davis was sure to do because he had criticized his youngest daughter's increasing stubbornness. During his visit to Karlsruhe in October 1876, where he also spent a night in the boarding school, the ex-president expressed his high expectations of the German systematics and thoroughness. At the same time, he pointed out to Winnie the importance of duty and self-sacrifice. She must have remembered the assassination attempt on Kaiser Wilhelm I in Baden-Baden in 1861, during which his daughter, the Grand Duchess of Baden, threw herself in front of her father as protection. When she told her mother about it, she drew the scene as it was portrayed to her.
Despite the cold and drafty rooms in winter, Winnie's stay in Karlsruhe was very good. It literally blossomed. After a visit, Varina Davis wrote to her husband: "... the nervous, dreamy child that we left behind in Karlsruhe, sluggish, sick with rheumatism and indigestion, has become a lively, healthy and happy girl who is really hardworking and one has a blessed appetite. " Winnie became one of the best students and the principal described her as a role model for the school. The Davis couple, on the other hand, praised the excellent upbringing that Winnie enjoyed in Karlsruhe in several letters. The high standing the Institute had for Winnie herself is proven by a long contribution to the death of Rosalie Friedländer, which she wrote for a newspaper in New Orleans.

Elevated to an icon

In 1881 Winnie von Karlsruhe returned to her family in Mississippi after a stay of several weeks in Paris and saw her father again for the first time in five years. In the same year his book about the "Rise and Fall of the Confederation" appears, which promoted the myth of the lost war. Celebrities like Oscar Wilde visit the family, and Davis receives invitations to speak or as a guest of honor at inaugurations. When he was unable to give a speech on April 30, 1886 due to illness, the governor of Georgia introduced Winnie as "The Daughter of the Confederacy" to the cheering crowd. Although the 21-year-old couldn't utter a word in surprise, this was her beginning to become a superstar, onto whom all the memories and hopes of the South were projected. Her German accent didn't seem to bother anyone at the time. The fact that she got to know the American Civil War from a European point of view proved to be an advantage, since the hatred of the northern states widespread in the south was alien to her; and her feeling of being a stranger in her own country after five years in Karlsruhe perhaps gave her the necessary distance. It was increasingly swarmed by reporters, initially only in the south, later also in the north. The New York press tycoon Joseph Pulitzer, who fought on the side of the Northern States in the Civil War, even asked her to become his son's godmother.
When Varina Davis announced her daughter's engagement to a "Yankee", a Northerner, in 1890, a violent outcry went through the southern states, even though the ex-president - who has since died - had reluctantly agreed to the marriage. Winnie Davis suffered increasing attacks of depression and self-doubt. After long hesitation, she dissolved the engagement, which in the southern states was interpreted as a sacrifice "in honor of the Confederation" and increased her reputation. For health reasons and to escape social burdens, she moved with her mother to New York, where she published articles for magazines and three novels.
Winnie Davis died in New York in 1898 at the age of 34 after several weeks of illness. As the "daughter of the Confederation" she was buried with full military honors in her native Richmond. It would have been the largest funeral that an American woman had ever seen.
It has been more than 120 years since Winnie Davis passed away. But the memory lives on. Their testimony as well as drawings, paintings and objects from the time in Karlsruhe are admired daily in the Jefferson Davis Museum. Her three novels have been reprinted in recent years, and new biographies have appeared about herself; the last so far in 2014, after Rice University in Texas gained new knowledge as part of its large-scale project "The Papers of Jefferson Davis". In every biography, as well as in a novel published in 2011 based on the life of "Winnie Davis, Daughter of the Confederacy", a formative station in the life of the "daughter of the southern states" is expressly recognized: "Carlsruhe".

Professor Volker C. Ihle, Head of Industrial Engineering, Scientific Director International Office at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University

Postcard "Institut Friedländer", Stephanienstraße 74. Photo: Stadtarchiv

Postcard "Institut Friedländer", Stephanienstraße 74. Photo: Stadtarchiv