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07.14.01 First Lady of the South: The Life of Mrs. Jefferson Davis by Ishbel Ross, published in 1958 by Harper & Brothers

Notes Concerning the Author

Ishbel Ross (1890-1975) journalist and biographer, was born in Sutherlandshire, Scotland, the daughter of David Ross and Grace McCrone and spent her childhood in the Highlands of Scotland.  After graduating from the Tain Royal Academy in 1916, Ross left Scotland and moved to Canada.  Before long she was a reporter for the Toronto Daily News.  In 1919 she left Toronto for New York City and a job at the New York Tribune (later the Herald Tribune).  Thirteen years later, in 1932, with the Great Depression now underway, Ross published her first novel, Promenade Deck. Encouraged by its success, she left the Tribune the following year to pursue a career as a novelist.  Ishbel Ross is an excellent example of an historian and writer of excellence who was never an academic.

Books by Ishbel Ross which merit listing in the Society of Independent Southern Historians include: Rebel Rose, Life of Rose O’Neal Greenhow, Confederate Spy, and The President’s Wife: Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography.


Varina Howell Davis (1826-1906) was Jefferson Davis’ second wife, for his first wife Sarah Knox Taylor, the daughter of Zachary Taylor, had died of malaria soon after the wedding.  Varina was born in Natchez Mississippi and grew up in that notable Mississippi River town.  She married widower Jeff Davis in 1845, at the age of 18 years, already at that young age a well educated and engaging woman.  The book jacket provides ample review:

Ishbel Ross has achieved in this, her most ambitious and extensively documented biography, a fully rounded portrait of an appealing, tempestuous, strong-willed woman who exerted an incalculable influence on her husband and thus on the fortunes of the Confederacy.  Miss Ross has also created a vivid and intimate evocation of the period: a memorable picture of Washington in the decade before the war, when the social gaiety of the capital was at its peak; beleaguered Richmond when the city boiled with feuds in high places; the years of exile; and the period after Jefferson Davis’s death when Varina had become a distinguished figure in the New York literary world.

Ishbel Ross highlights the great love between Varina and Jefferson Davis, and this book presents, with more intimate detail than ever before, many of their poignant letters, written in the midst of war.

Furthermore, you should know that Varina was a writer herself.  Her biography of her husband is also a Society Recommended Reading item.

Availability of this Book

We suggest  Reprints and used books are easily obtained.