My mom was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The UDC is an organization that was started in 1894, combining women’s groups such as ladies’ hospital associations, sewing societies, knitting circles — working to support Southern soldiers during the Civil War. For those of you not from the South, it might be hard to actually believe and accept that the UDC is still going strong today, with divisions and chapters in 17 states and a current membership of over 18,000.
I recall my mom’s pride in being a Daughter of the Confederacy and of carrying on a family tradition. She showed me postcards of herself modeling in a full antebellum ball gown outside of a plantation. The dress was being saved for me and she showed it to me often.
One day, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I asked when I too could join the UDC. My mom said — plainly — that adoptees weren’t allowed.
Indeed, the UDC website clearly states that “women who were adopted are eligible only through the bloodline of the biological parent” and again in the Children of the Confederacy eligibility: “adopted children are not eligible for membership by virtue of the adoptive parents’ bloodline …”
In hearing this, it was the first time I felt that there was something “wrong” about being adopted.
For better or worse, my mom carried on her duties as a Daughter of the Confederate until her death ten years ago. I’m not exactly sure what her role was (how could I, as a non-member?), but she frequently went to events, picnics and parties. I was left out, and not just in social functions but also in scholarship and leadership opportunities. I felt, profoundly, that my exclusion was an injustice.
Now, however, as an adult, I’m incredibly grateful that I avoided the indoctrination of the UDC and their mission to promote a “truthful history” that preserving slavery was not an underlying cause of the Civil War. Even if adoptees were accepted as members, how could I explain my participation to my own adopted daughter, who is black? Would I want to dress in historic, white women ball gowns to celebrate my heritage that was literally made possible only through the suffering of her ancestors?
What would her heritage Civil War costume look like? How about the postcard image she could model for? It’s all pretty disturbing when I think of it from her perspective. And it’s a perspective that I hope will carry on in our new traditions and family history.