“The magnolias’ seductive scent and the moonlight’s soft focus tend to obscure the diversity of southern women and to blur the sharp edges of their lives”[1]

“Her inferior strength and sedentary habits confine her within the domestic circle; she is kept aloof from the bustle and storm of active life; she is not familiarized to the out of doors dangers and hardships of a cold and scuffling world: timidity and modesty are her attributes” [2]


Picture the ideal southern lady. Maybe you’re imagining a young, white woman with a floating hoop skirt and a regal plantation house with towering white columns, a magnolia lined drive, and rolling fields white with cotton (a.k.a. Scarlett O’Hara). This iconic image of a southern woman persists due to the efforts of southern white men and women to create and preserve their idea of southern womanhood and identity. The primary goal of this project is to deconstruct this memory of the stereotypical southern woman.

As we approached this topic, we wanted to diversify the definition of a southern woman by including the stories of not only elite white women, but also the other southern women who made up the social fabric of the Old South: non-elite white women, enslaved African-American women, and Native American women. Please click on the links above to learn more about the various experiences and roles of southern women. Under Elite White Women learn about the violence of antebellum plantation mistresses and the female myth-makers following the Civil War. In the  Non-Elite White Women section read about the literary myths of poor antebellum white women and their disillusionment with the Confederacy during the war. Beneath the African-American Women: Enslaved and Free learn heading find out how women reclaimed their bodies during enslavement and how they defined their freedom after emancipation. Finally, under Native American Women learn about native women’s responses to the Federal Civilization Policy and their resistance to and survival of Indian Removal. After perusing our website, we hope you expand your perception of southern womanhood.

To hear how other scholars have been dealing with this myth watch the video below by ITVS: Television’s Independent Voice.


[1] Laura Edwards, Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Southern Women in the Civil War Era. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 10.
[2] “Thomas Roderick Dew Idealizes Southern Women, 1835” in Major Problems in the American South, Volume I: The Old South, edited by Sally G. McMillen, Elizabeth Hayes Turner, Paul D. Escott, and David R. Goldfield (Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012),  319.