Loula Kendall Rogers
by Stewart Varner
date: April 16, 2008
collection: Early 20th Century Literature
Loula Kendall RogersStewart Varner
When the American Civil War began in 1861, Loula Kendall Rogers was already a fervent patriot for the Confederate cause. She was very active in organizing the women in her area for the tasks of collecting food and medical supplies for the Southern troops. According to her own accounts, she crafted the first Confederate flag in Georgia after a family friend who was present at the Confederate constitutional convention sent her a sketch of the adopted design. After the war, she dedicated herself to what she saw as the legacy of the Confederacy. In 1896 she founded the Willie Hunt chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy (U.D.C.) in Barnesville and served as its president for the next fifteen years. A prolific writer throughout her life, she was named poet laureate of the Georgia Division of the U.D.C. and many of her surviving pieces were composed for that organization.
In addition to the work she produced for the U.D.C., she frequently contributed poetry and essays to newspapers and journals and published three collections of poetry; Goldenrod and Cypress, The Harvest and Mayflower and Mistletoe. The extensive Rogers archive, housed in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University, contains poetry, prose, letters, journals and assorted papers from and related to Loula Kendall Rogers. The texts presented in this electronic edition come from a variety of sources including both hand written and typed manuscripts as well as photocopies and originals of pieces published in periodicals. In addition to fully searchable texts of this work, digital images of the original pages are also available on this site.
Loula Kendall Rogers' Life and Work
Loula Kendall Rogers was born August 31, 1838 near Thomaston, Georgia and spent her childhood on the family's plantation, Bellwood, in rural Upson County. Her father, David Lane Kendall, was a physician and plantation owner. She attended Wesleyan Female College in Macon where she was a member of the Adelphean Society, now the Alpha Delta Pi sorority, and she graduated on July 16, 1857. On January 3, 1863, she married James Henry Rogers, an officer in the Confederate army. The couple had seven children. After her husband's unexpected death on September 3, 1875, Rogers began teaching and, in 1879, she took a position in the primary school at the private Gordon Institute. She died June 14, 1931 at the home of her daughter, Helen Graham Rogers Franklin, in Tennille, Georgia.
Many of the pieces included in this electronic edition seem to have been produced specifically for the U.D.C. in Rogers' capacity as the poet laureate for the organization's Georgia Division. An example of this is "A Tribute of Love," a poem written to commemorate the death of Mildred Lewis Rutherford, the historian for the Georgia Division of the U.D.C. Other U.D.C. related work conforms to the mission of the organization which was to preserve what they saw as the "true history" of the Confederacy. For example, the poem "The Battles of Georgia," which was included in the program for a 1923 meeting, recounts the numerous battles of the Civil War fought in Georgia. The prose piece "The Importance of Teaching History To Our Young People" also seems to have been written for a U.D.C. function and describes several games which can be played with children to help them learn Confederate history.
Rogers' literary work was not confined to U.D.C. functions. For example, the poem "The Spirit of the Southland," is included in this electronic collection as it appeared in the Barnesville newspaper in 1927. This piece is very similar to another poem in the collection, "The Spirit of the Confederacy," though it is unclear if one is a revision of the other. Scholars may be particularly interested in the way that both versions of the poem pointedly reject the term "slave" in favor of the euphemistic identifier "dependent friends."
As with much of her work, this poem shows how Rogers involved herself in the process of negotiating an explicitly pro-Confederacy, white Southern identity in the post Civil War era. This task seems to be very much on Rogers mind in her brief memoir "Incidents of the War Between the States" which details her experiences during the Civil War. This piece is of particular historical interest for its extensive retelling of Rogers' sewing the Confederate Flag 1 as well as her memories of Miller's Raid when Federal troops looted her home during their advance through the state. In this piece, as in much of her work on the subject, Rogers sought to explain both the origins of the war and the South's defeat. Echoes of the arguments she deploys can still be heard from contemporary apologists for the Confederacy; these texts can be seen as early moves in the development of the rhetoric that is at the center of contemporary white Southern nationalism. Similar arguments are repeated in other poems such as "The New Star," "The Gallant Old Boys in Gray," "Hark! Our Boys Are Coming Home" and "A Soldier's Victory of Faith."
The texts in this electronic edition illustrate Rogers' understanding that her versions of Confederate history and of white Southern identity were not the only ones available. She complains repeatedly about Northern accounts of the Civil War that she felt unfairly criminalized the South and inaccurately identified slavery as the sole reason for the war. In "The Importance of Teaching History To Our Young People," she argues that Southerners "should not be satisfied with the records of only one side of that War, and give credence to all that is said of the Federal Army by their own historians, but should be thoroughly posted on the actions of both sides." In the same essay she is also critical of those in the South, and particularly Southern women, who were not as interested in this history as she was. She writes, with palpable disdain, "Some mothers, who are not members of the daughters of the Daughters of the Confederacy, say that they wish to forget these things and actually try to keep it from their children. Teachers are often surprised at the ignorance of some of their pupils who know nothing whatever of the history of their own country."
Rogers scorn for these mothers needs be understood in the context of what she saw as the role of white women in the post war era. In her book, Blood and Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War 1861-1937 2 , Sarah Gardner argues that in the years after the War, white Southern women took on the unofficial roles of keepers and disseminators of Confederate history. Rogers herself seemed aware of this role and wrote, in an essay titled "Honoring Our Veterans," that "as long as a Southern woman can speak, she will tell the old, old story of our loved ones on the battle field, of their chivalry, their knightly daring, and their loyalty. This interest in a specifically female experience is a consistent concern of her work.
Two pieces that address the issue directly - "The Aim of Our Girls" and "Hannah More's Influence" - appear to have been prepared for the Locomotive Firemen's Magazine, a journal of the particularly progressive trade Union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. Before being elected Secretary Treasurer of the union in 1880, the famous labor organizer Eugene Debs served as editor of this magazine and is credited with creating a space in it for women's views. Because the copies of Rogers' articles for this publication exist only as clippings, their dates of publication cannot be determined but the fact that the pieces appear under the section heading "Womankind" suggests that she began working with the magazine during or after Debs' editorship. The circumstances of her affiliation with this journal should be of interest to scholars of labor history, southern studies and women's studies.
One recurring theme in Rogers' work concerning women is the ideal of "usefulness." As a professional educator of young children, she seemed particularly concerned with instilling this sense of usefulness in young girls. Three poems in this collection represent this concern explicitly. The piece, "Useful Little Girls" is a curious manuscript which is comprised of four short, one stanza poems, each referring to an individual girl and describing how they can grow to be more useful. The short piece, "Helen Willis" seems to be a similar text in that it refers to a single girl, is only one stanza in length and concludes with the same partial Bible verse; "and a Little child shall lead them." Even the heart wrenching poem "Little Julia's Mission" written to commemorate the death of Rogers' infant niece, tries to make sense of the personal tragedy by pointing to how the child's short life served a purpose for her family. A robust understanding of exactly what Rogers' meant by usefulness is not available in these texts as she depends on generalized virtues such as "goodness" and "thoughtfulness" which are contrasted to equally general vices such as "frivolity" and "superficiality." However, it is possible to identify concern for service to the family as a virtue for women. She describes the virtue of helping family members in "The Aim of Our Girls" and, in the short poems directed at specific girls, she consistently refers to helpfulness as a goal.
For more information on Loula Kendall Rogers and the Loula Kendall Rogers Papers, see the Finding Aid for the collection which is located in the repository of the Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library in Woodruff Library at Emory University. To view the finding aid online, click here.
1. The brief essay "The Four Flags Under Which General Lee Served His Country" is also a rich source of information concerning the Confederate flags.
2. Gardner, Sarah. Blood and Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War 1861-1937. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 2006.