Book Talk Q&A with Karen L. Cox

Dr. Karen L. Cox is our next featured Book Talk author on Thursday, August 1 at 6 PM. While recent events have focused on the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s monument building efforts in the early 20th Century, Dr. Karen Cox argues that the Daughters had a far-reaching agenda with implications for race relations that are still with us today. Cox explores the UDC’s work–especially its efforts to shape the worldview of young white southerners–during the organization’s heyday between 1894 and World War I.

How did you become interested in your topic and what about your work still fascinates you? 
I tell the story of how I came to the topic in the original preface.  I was working as a museum professional and conducted research on the North Carolina Confederate Women’s Home. What I learned about that led me to an entire book on the UDC.  What still fascinates me is what a juggernaut of an organization the UDC was. The women in that organization may not have had the right to vote, but they knew how to use political power to their benefit. Their influence extended throughout southern culture in ways you cannot imagine a woman’s organization having today.

What was the most significant or surprising find during your research?
Surprising? The day I found locks of Jefferson Davis’s hair in a manuscript collection of a UDC member.

Did you discover anything interesting that you did not publish?
Yes. There were fascinating advertisements for all sorts of items related to Confederate culture–Confederate caskets, souvenir spoons, and even Stars and Bars cigarettes.  I wrote about some of that in an essay, but the variety of material culture associated with the Confederacy and its heroes showed that the Lost Cause was more than a belief system, you could collect it, too!

How do you see the topic of your work relating to events or issues in society today?
Dixie’s Daughters got a second life after the Charlottesville Uprising. The book offers insights into the monument issue, but it also addresses issues of how culture is shaped through education, and how education can be used as a political tool when it’s used to perpetuate what adults want children to learn in the hopes that when those children grow up, they will defend the values of previous generations, even when those values include racism and white supremacy.