Tributes to the Past, Present, and Future: Confederate Memorialization in Virginia, 1914-1919
Between 1914 and 1919, elite white people erected monuments across Virginia, permanently transforming the landscape of their communities with memorials to the Confederacy. Why did these Confederate memorialists continue to build monuments to a conflict their side had lost half a century earlier? This thesis examines this question to extend the study of the Lost Cause past the traditional stopping date of the Civil War semicentennial in 1915 and to add to the study of memorialization as a historical process. Studying the design and language of monuments as well as dedication orations and newspaper coverage of unveiling ceremonies, this thesis focuses on Virginia's Confederate memorials to provide a case study for the whole South.
Memorialization is always an act of the present as much as an honoring of the past. Elite white Virginians built memorials to speak to their contemporaries at the same time they claimed to speak for them. Memorialists turned to the Confederacy for support in an effort to maintain their status at the top of post-Reconstruction Southern society. Confederate monuments served as permanent physical role models, continuing sectional reconciliation, encouraging women to maintain prescribed gender roles, and discouraging African Americans from standing up for their rights. American involvement in World War I exacerbated societal changes that threatened the position of the traditional white ruling class. As proponents of the Lost Cause squared off against the transformations of the Progressive era, Virginia's Confederate memorialists imbued monuments throughout the Commonwealth with messages meant to ensure their continued dominance.