The Alabama State Memorial illustrates a very important component of the southern memory of the Civil War—both the image and the role of white Southern women. With state funding, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Alabama Division, dedicated the Alabama State Memorial in 1933. The memorial consists of a woman cloaked in a gown with the Alabama state flag (the Cross of St. Andrew) on her chest comforting a wounded ragged young soldier and urging an older soldier into battle. The Alabama State Memorial skillfully merges a number of themes. First, it is an allegory of the Confederacy; the woman figure represents the State of Alabama. She comforts the injured soldier, but urges the determined older soldier to defend Alabama and the Confederacy.
As early as 1780 feminine images of liberty, freedom and virtue began to appear in prints in the newly independent United States. The feminine image becomes Goddess of Liberty in the 1790s and is depicted as “young, blond, beautiful” with a “flowing white gown,” very similar to the woman depicted on the Alabama State Memorial, according to historian David Hackett Fischer’s Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding Ideas. As such, the woman represents Southern liberty, independence and virtue.
Additionally, the chivalry and honor themes reappear in the figure of the older man as the Confederacy’s and Southern womanhood’s determined protector. In 1940, W. J. Cash, in his groundbreaking study, The Mind of the South, writes that the Southern woman was “the shield bearing Athena gleaming whitely in the clouds, the standard for rallying, the mystic symbol of its nationality in the face of the foe. At the last, I verily believe, the ranks of the Confederacy went rolling into battle in the misty conviction that it was for her that they fought.”
Southern women represented heroism amid privation and suffering, the principal symbol of home and family, and a symbol of purity and innocence to be protected. One Confederate wrote in 1861 that it would be “glorious to die in defense of innocent girls and women from the fangs of the lecherous Northern hirelings, who from accounts here stated, are indeed engaging in this strife for ‘beauty and booty.’” In 1881, acknowledging the Confederacy’s women and their sacrifices, Jefferson Davis dedicated his Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government to the “Women of the Confederacy.” In 1910, the Rev. J. L. Underwood wrote in The Women of the Confederacy, “The inspiration of the knightly hearts of the Confederacy was home and the inspiration of a pious home was the godly woman.” At the same time, the woman is depicted as a caring nurturing comforter to her wounded defender.
In 1929, former Gov. McLean said at the North Carolina Memorial dedication, “In back of every brave soldier is a brave woman. Our soldiers who were here had in back of them a great gallery of Spartan womanhood. They fought with the consciousness that their combat was applauded by their loved ones at home.” In The Unvanquished, a novel of the post-Civil War South, William Faulkner wrote that Southern widows were placed on a pedestal. “The highest destiny of a Southern woman—(was) to be a bride-widow of a lost cause.
In the immediate post-war years, Southern women helped establish Confederate cemeteries and erected monuments. In 1895, several local Southern women’s groups merged to form the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). By 1912, the UDC, consisting of mostly middle and upper class white women, had grown to 45,000 members in more than 800 chapters throughout the South. In 1920, the UDC could claim 68,000 members. The UDC took control of Confederate Memorial Day. They established and maintained Confederate museums and monuments and reviewed and censored public school history textbooks stamping out Yankee heresy. As Confederate veterans mortality increased in the 20th century, the UDC became the one of the principal keepers of the “true history of the war.
According to Mary Poppenheim’s The History of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the UDC constructed monuments because “they knew monuments would speak more quickly, impressively and lastingly to the eye than the printed word.” Three of the 11 Southern state memorials at Gettysburg (Alabama, North Carolina and Louisiana) and the Soldiers and Sailors of the Confederacy Memorial originated with state UDC resolutions requesting state appropriations to secure the resources for construction. In other states, such as Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina, a UDC representative helped oversee their monuments’ design, construction and dedication ceremonies.