- The Correspondence of Sarah Morgan and Francis Warrington Dawson, with Selected Editorials Written by Sarah Morgan for the Charleston News and Courier
Readers of this journal know Sarah Morgan as the member of an elite Louisiana family who recorded her Civil War exploits in her diary, most recently published as The Civil War Diary of Sarah Morgan (1991). Giselle Roberts has edited a collection of postwar correspondence and editorials that explores Sarah Morgan's worldview in the years following Confederate defeat. The book effectively illustrates Morgan's struggle to reconcile her antebellum expectations of Southern womanhood with the realities of life in the postwar South.
The refugee life Sarah chronicled in her Civil War journal continued after the war. With the family home in Baton Rouge in ruins, Sarah and her mother moved into the South Carolina household of Sarah's brother James. When James married in early 1873, Sarah felt unwelcome in the household, and James and his new wife did little to discourage this notion. About this time, Frank Dawson, a recently widowed newspaperman and Confederate veteran, began corresponding with Sarah.
Hoping to alleviate her plight, Dawson boldly proposed that Sarah become a correspondent for the Charleston News and Courier. Although she was ambivalent about taking the position, Sarah accepted Dawson's offer and wrote more than seventy articles during 1873. By the fall of that year, Sarah had determined to move out of her brother's household and succeeded in securing lodgings in [End Page 199] Charleston. Dawson's persistent pursuit of Sarah paid off in January 1874, when he married her.
Giselle Roberts draws upon more than 190 letters and numerous editorials to document Sarah's writing career and her relationship with Frank during 1873. The collection reveals Sarah's uncertainty about her place in the postwar social order. Many of her editorials criticized Southerners' view of women's social roles. Sarah stressed that unmarried women could contribute to their families and society, and she urged Southerners to provide opportunities for poor women to support themselves through honorable occupations.
Sarah and Frank's personal correspondence reflects and complicates Sarah's editorial persona. While she publicly championed honorable work for dependent women, she remained ambivalent about her own career as a newspaper correspondent. She was loath to reveal her identity to others, even when they praised her editorials. Her relationship with Frank only added to her ambivalence. Frank's letters were a mixture of business details and personal proclamations that often made Sarah uncomfortable. Throughout their correspondence, Frank pledged his love and suggested marriage. Sarah parried his advances but remained reticent about his future prospects.
Roberts has done a fine job editing this collection. She groups the editorials topically in chapters that roughly correspond to the chronology of the letters. Most pieces feature a brief introduction placing each document in its proper context. Roberts references the many literary allusions the couple used that might be unfamiliar to modern readers. Few of the people mentioned in letters or editorials escape identification.
Roberts's editorial prowess cannot overcome the one significant weakness of the collection, however. None of Sarah's letters survives between January and June 1873. While the reader gains some sense of Sarah's point of view by inference from Frank's letters, the absence of her own correspondence weakens the first half of the book; Sarah's first letter, dated July 25th, appears on page 141. The relative paucity of primary sources by Southern civilians during Reconstruction makes this flaw less glaring.
The Correspondence of Sarah Morgan and Francis Warrington Dawson contributes to the historiographical debate over how the Civil War affected Southern women. Sarah's correspondence and editorials suggest that the war did not lead women to embrace new opportunities, but rather forced them to forge new identities by reconciling their antebellum views of Southern womanhood with the realities of Reconstruction. This collection will not disappoint readers interested in rituals of courtship and the...