Mildred Rutherford’s Rewrite of History

It has been said that “the winners write the history books,” and Mildred Rutherford must have heard that and decided to change that – except she didn’t just write down what happened, she reimagined it. 

Mildred Rutherford was the daughter of a wealthy family from Athens, Georgia, and was in her teens during the Civil War. Two of her uncles were Confederate generals. With the slaves freed and no one to tend to the formerly enslaved human-dependent booming agricultural businesses of the South, Southern wealth had decreased by an estimated 60%. 

Mildred became a public school teacher, and wrote several textbooks, mostly about literature. Because Mildred spent more time focusing on the authors of the literature rather than studying the literature pieces themselves, these books were not widely accepted and ended up going mostly unused after a few years in publication. 

She became an honorary president of the Daughters of the Confederacy, helping to spread the “Lost Cause” message. This message was that the Civil War was based on economics, and the enslavement of humans was a strategic pawn and not a major part of the entire Confederate reason for wanting to secede in the first place (see Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’s 1861 “Cornerstone Speech” for further details). 

Mildred wrote more textbooks – this time arguing for the moral character of Confederate generals, rather than literary authors. She taught that the Confederacy was morally right because they fought for states rights and thus had a right to secede. She argued that slavery was a positive good and defended it, even writing an essay entitled “Reconstruction Was Not Just To the South – It Made the Ku Klux Klan a Necessity.” She campaigned for and was successful in pushing her textbooks into many public schools and removed contradicting textbooks.

Her later writings also included anti-suffrage and anti-child labor law rhetoric, claiming the fight for these movements were “against states rights.” She was on the board for the Young Women’s Christian Association for over a decade. 

Mildred died in 1928. She is buried in Georgia. 

There is very little written about this woman; keep watching this space for further resources.