CIVIL WAR OP-ED: Mildred Lewis Rutherford: Southern Educator and Historian

By Calvin E. Johnson Jr.

Did you know?

The first woman to be recorded in the Congressional Record -- Mildred Lewis Rutherford -- was 10 years young at the outbreak of the American War Between the States in 1861. Fifty-five years later she said in a 1916 speech:

 “The civilization of the Old South was very different from the civilization of today. There was leisure then to think, to read and to meditate. There was time to be thoughtful of others, to be courteous, to be polite. In this rushing life of today we have lost the social graces, the charming manners, the art of letter writing, the gift of conversation. It is now hurry, hurry to keep up with the telegraph, the telephone, the type writer, the phonograph, the automobile, the moving picture shows, yes, and the flying machine, too.”

Miss Rutherford lived during a time when people were closer and the pace was slower!

“Miss Rutherford writes often about the Confederacy, and Southern traditions, and was overall a champion of all things Southern. While her writings may not be politically correct in today’s world, they are an important look into her era and document views and events from someone who lived through them and knew people who did.”---Kenneth H. Thomas, Jr., Genealogy Columnist, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

Mildred Lewis Rutherford
Mildred Lewis Rutherford


Mildred Lewis Rutherford’s writings are not politically correct but are historically accurate.

Let me tell you about a great Southern author and educator Mildred Lewis Rutherford who was born on July 16, 1851 on South Lumpkin Street in Athens, Georgia. She also served as Historian-General of the United Daughters of the Confederacy   and she was the first woman to be recorded in the Congressional Record by a speech she made in 1916 to the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Rutherford, served the Lucy Cobb Institute in Athens, Georgia as its head and in other capacities, for over forty years, and oversaw the addition of the Seney-Stovall Chapel to the school.

Rutherford was the daughter of Laura Cobb Rutherford and Williams Rutherford, a professor of mathematics at the University of Georgia. She was the niece of Howell Cobb and the legendary Thomas R.R. Cobb who was one of the founders of the University of Georgia School of Law. He codified Georgia’s state laws and wrote the wartime state Constitution of 1861. See more at: 

 Rutherford proudly held Pro-Confederate views of the South’s quest for independence. She was known to be a great Orator and wore Southern-Belle attire when delivering her memorable speeches. She is said to have had a powerful personality, commanding presence and very outspoken in her opinions.

She entered the Lucy Cobb Institute at the age of eight and graduated from there in 1868.

Mildred Lewis Rutherford first taught in Atlanta, Georgia for eight years and then served as principal of the Lucy Cobb Institute in Athens, Georgia from 1880 to 1895. Under her direction the school turned out students with the best traits of the Old Southern Belle and New South womanhood. A Lucy Cobb commencement speaker argued that women ought to be allowed into more professions.

Rutherford was a strong Southern Baptist who believed in morality in her textbooks and wasn’t shy in criticizing authors who openly expressed sexuality in their books or lived their lives in a manner she found to be immoral. 

Mildred Lewis Rutherford is best known for her Confederate memorial activities and for her books on the South. She wrote twenty-nine widely read books and pamphlets, including The South in History and Literature (1907); What the South May Claim; or, Where the South Leads (1916); King Cotton: The True History of Cotton and the Cotton Gin (1922); and The South Must Have Her Rightful Place in History (1923).

Rutherford died on August 15, 1928 and was buried on Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens, Georgia. The eulogy in the Confederate Veteran magazine read as follows:

"As an active member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy from its organization, she was known as a leader in the work in the Georgia Division and was honored by high office in Chapter and Division, and had been made Life Historian of that Division. For five years she served as Historian General, U.D.C., and made that office one of the most important in the general organization, by which she was later made Honorary President. She was President of the Ladies Memorial Association of Athens, Ga., from 1888 to her death, and had been Historian General, C.S.M.A., since 1921; and she was also an officer of the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Association. The University of Georgia, with which her father was long connected, some years ago conferred upon her its honorary degree, an honor proudly received. [Page 368-9, Confederate Veteran, Vol. 36 No. 9, September 1928.]"

Please read: Rutherford’s “Truths of History, A Historical Perspective of the Civil War from the Southern Viewpoint” with introductions by Mauriel P. Joslyn and J.H. Segars.

The Georgia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans joins the nation in remembering the War Between the States Sesquicentennial through 2015.

Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
Calvin E. Johnson Jr.

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Johnson, who lives in Kennesaw, GA, near Atlanta,  is a speaker, writer of short stories, author of book “When America stood for God, Family and Country” and chairman of the National and Georgia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Confederate History and Heritage Month committee.