Tuesday, November 10, 2015

From Southern Belle to Socialist Botanist - Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931

Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931

What would turn a fashion-loving, privileged Southern Belle into a Socialist botany geek?  From her birth in 1840 to her death in 1931, the world she had known turned upside down.  Eliza Frances Andrews (1840-1931), was born at Haywood, her parents' plantation near Washington, Ga., a thriving planting community in the northeastern part of the state.  She had the history to guarantee her a firm position in the highest social circles of the Old South. The 2nd daughter & 6th of 8 children of Garnett & Annulet (Ball) Andrews, she was descended from James Andrews, an Englishman who had settled in Virginia about 1670.  Her father, a prominent lawyer & jurist, encouraged his children's literary & academic interests.  Fanny, as she was known, attended the Washington Seminary for Girls & in 1857 received an A.B. degree as a member of the 1st graduating class at the La Grange (Ga.) Female College.

Strong-willed, determined, & sophisticated, Fanny Andrews possessed a freedom & self-assuredness unusual for a woman of her time. But soon, the Civil War exploded & was easily the central event of her life.  Garnett Andrews, though himself the owner of 200 slaves, was a Unionist who deplored & worked against secession, while all his children were ardent Confederates, 3 sons serving in the Southern armies.  Their home was not directly in the battle area, but late in 1864, after General Sherman's "March to the Sea," Fanny & her younger sister were sent for safety to a brother-in-law's plantation near Albany, in southwest Georgia. 

Haywood House & Plantation, erected in 1794-95 by Judge Garnett Andrews, from a photograph taken in 1892, after 20 years of neglect & decay, just before it was torn down to make way for a roadway.

Petite, lively, auburn-haired, & not noticebly inhibited by her traditional Episcopal religion, Fanny Andrews here enjoyed frequent parties, dances, & flirtations.  She also bitterly recorded in a diary her reactions to the fall of the Confederacy & the beginning of Reconstruction.  In 1865, once more at Haywood, she vowed never to marry but to pursue "the career I have marked out or myself." She would become a writer. 

In July 1866, Godey's Lady's Book published her views on the difficulties of remaining fashionable in wartime; here, as later, she wrote under the pseudonym "Elzey Hay."  In 1865, Andrews published an article in the New York World about the theft of gold & jewelry that was stolen along with Confederate gold from a wagon convoy in Georgia, purportedly a Northern officer's lament over the evils of Reconstruction. 

In the 1870s, she wrote about Eli Whitney & his invention of the cotton gin, giving credit to Catharine Greene for helping Whitney to refine his gin design. It would be a long time before historians acknowledged Greene's role in Whitney's accomplishment.

But as life resumed a semblance of normality with the Civil War & Reconstruction fading into the background. her interests in authorship, not a particularly trade, seemed to fade, & for some years she resumed her privileged life at home.  In 1873, however, her father's death & the loss of his estate through the speculations of a "trusted" adviser brought her to the verge of poverty.

Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931

The secession & the Civil War destroyed the Southern family's aristocratic way of life. Andrews's mother & father died within 8 years after the South's defeat. Fanny Andrews & her siblings were forced to sell the family home & plantations.

Confronted at the age 33 with the problem of day-to-day survival, Fanny Andrews initially turned to school-teaching.  For one year, 1873-74, she attempted to serve as principal of the Girls' High School in Yazoo City, Miss., where a brother was practicing law. Working under a Negro superintendent of education, she seemed to experience the painful alteration in status common to many of her class throughout the South at this time.  Returning to Washington in 1874, Fanny opened the Select School for Girls with a cousin. In 1885, after 3 years of illness, she joined the faculty of the Wesleyan Female College at Macon, teaching literature & French & working in the library. 

Circumstances had likewise renewed her interest in writing, & throughout these years she appeared frequently in print, under both her own & her pen name.  During this time she also began work on her 1st novel, A Family Secret, a fictionalized account of her wartime journal. It was published in 1876 to much critical acclaim & enjoyed a wide readership. A Family Secret, published in Philadelphia by J. B. Lippincott & Company, was said to have been that firm's most successful offering for 1876. Two other novels followed: A Mere Adventurer in 1879 and Prince Hal: or The Romance of a Rich Young Man in 1882. 

Though romantically nostalgic, these novels revealed Fanny Andrews' abiding disdain for what she saw as the vulgar postwar plutocracy & her resentment of the limited sphere of action prescribed for women. She never seemed to rid herself of the bitterness felt when her antebellum lifestyle was lost & seemed to hold both greedy Yankee capitalists & African Americans responsible. She also published serial stories in various periodicals & briefly attempted lecturing on the Tennessee Chautauqua circuit.

Fanny Andrews' most memorable literary work, however, was her actual personal diary she had begun in December 1864 & which she continued during the remainder of the war & the months immediately following.  Forth years later she decided to publish it. The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, issued in 1908, is a revealing record of experiences both major & trivial.  It has been compared by some historians with the diary of Mary Boykin Chestnut, & cited as offering "unexcelled" insight into "the minds & sentiments of many Southern women during wartime & early Reconstruction."

By 1900, Fanny returned again to Washington & began teaching in Washington's public high school Science. Turning serious attention to one of her lifelong interests, botany, she spent a summer immersed in research at Johns Hopkins University.  In 1903 her 1st textbook, Botany All the Year Round, was published. It was a simple, practical book especially useful in rural schools which seldom had laboratories or supplies. From 1898 to 1903 she taught botany in Washington's public high school.

Fanny Andrews had never been fully satisfied with merely sentimental or nostalgic justifications of the Civil War. Discussions with her Unionist father had forced her to seek a rational basis for her Confederate sympathies, & by the time she published her War-Time Journal she had found this, surprisingly, in Marxist socialism.  Economic determinism seemed to offer not only scientific confirmation of the Southern belief, that the moralistic Yankee crusade had masked economic purposes, but also the bittersweet knowledge that the rebellion had been "doomed from the first by a law as inexorable as the one pronounced by the fates against Troy." She also found satisfaction in the thought that although "wage slavery" had vanquished outmoded chattel slavery in 1865, the Yankee capitalists, in their turn, were soon to fall before socialism, her vision of the next evolutionary stage.  From 1899 to 1918 she listed herself in Who's Who in America as a Socialist, & she contributed at least one article to the International Socialist Review "Socialism in the Plant World," July 1916.

Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931

After her retirement from teaching, Fanny Andrews spent much of her time pursuing the study of botany, in which she had become interested as a young girl. Andrews became a strong proponent of conservation, writing articles to rail against turpentine distillers & developers for destroying woodlands.  She  was largely self-taught but ultimately achieved considerable competence in this area & produced 2 textbooks. Long an advocate of making botany a basic part of school curricula, she published high school textbooks, Botany All the Year Around, in 1903, & A Practical Course in Botany (1911).  

In 1911 Fanny’s 2nd, more advanced textbook was published. A culmination of 6 years of study in Alabama, the text was aimed at high school & college students.  She collected more than 3,000 plant specimens during summer travels throughout the American West, Mexico, & Europe. Having spent time at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute editing the text & working with other botanists, Fanny donated more than 3,000 plant specimens she had collected to the Alabama Department of Agriculture. Her 2nd textbook was translated for use in the schools of France.  She continued to write, mainly on botany, throughout the last years of her life in Rome, Ga.

The “Remarkable Behavior of a Veteran White Oak” was published in 1926. The royalties from her textbooks provided her with a comfortable income during her later years. In 1926, she was invited to become a member of the International Academy of Literature & Science, the only American woman so honored.

Dying in 1931 at the age of 90, she was buried in the family plot in Rest Haven Cemetery, Washington, Ga. "The exigencies of the times did away with many conventions," Fanny Andrews had written in 1908 of the impact of the Civil War upon Southern women (War-Time Journal, p. 21). Certainly its unsettled aftermath had opened the way for her own productive career.


Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971

Georgia Women of Achievement  - Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931 

New Georgia Encyclopedia - Eliza Frances Andrews 1840-1931 

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