Varina Anne Davis
Born in the Confederate White House
and named for her mother, Varina Anne was the youngest of the Davis
children. She was known for most of her life as "Winnie," a nickname her
father had first bestowed on her mother. According to Varina Anne, she
was told that "Winnie" was "an Indian name meaning bright, or sunny"
(Davis Papers, 8:169).
Winnie received her early education from her mother during the
family's postwar travels, and subsequently was enrolled in boarding
schools in Karlsruhe, Germany, and in Paris. She inherited her mother's
literary interests and later authored a biographical monograph (1888)
and two novels (1888, 1895), all published under the name Varina Anne
"The Daughter of the Confederacy," as John B. Gordon anointed her in 1886, lived with her parents at Beauvoir
in the 1880s and accompanied her father to numerous public appearances.
Beloved by veterans' groups, she became an icon of the Lost Cause.
The adoration became a burden when Winnie fell in love with Alfred C.
(Fred) Wilkinson, a Syracuse, New York, attorney whose grandfather had
been a leading abolitionist. Public turmoil created by the five-year
romance drove Winnie into periods of deep emotional distress. The couple
finally received the blessings of both Jefferson and Varina Davis and
were briefly engaged in 1890. Although their breakup has always been
blamed on the public outcry, recent investigation seems to indicate that
it was due more to questions about Wilkinson's financial situation.
Winnie moved to New York City with her mother in 1891 and continued
her literary pursuits. She contracted "malarial gastritis" while
visiting in Rhode Island and died at age thirty-four. In keeping with
her status among ex-Confederates, she was buried with full military
honors at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.