Catherine Stratton Ladd
Born in Richmond Virginia in 1809. She was a playwright, poet, and educator. While she was still an infant, her father, James Stratton, an Irish immigrant, fell off a boat and drowned. As a child, she was a playmate of Edgar Allan Poe, and they attended the same school.
At the age of 20, Catherine Stratton married George Ladd, an artist who had studied with Samuel F. B. Morse in Boston. The Ladds first lived in Charleston, South Carolina, where George painted portraits. It was there that Catherine began to write stories, poems, and essays, which were published in periodicals, and she was a correspondent for several newspapers.
They then moved to Augusta and eventually to Macon, Georgia, where Catherine served as principal of Vineville Academy for three years. During that time, she gave birth to two children, a daughter and a son.
In 1839, the Ladds returned to South Carolina. In 1840, Catherine opened the Winnsborough Female Institute, which became one of the largest boarding and day schools for young women in the state. The school taught music, art, literature, dramatics, and the social graces.
In 1861, Catherine closed Winnsborough Female Institute and devoted herself completely to the Confederate cause, and she contributed to the design of the Confederate flag. She was elected president of the “Soldiers' Aid Association,” and remained in that position until the close of the war. She put aside her pen and took up a needle, and kept the society well supplied with clothing.
She spent the war nursing Confederate soldiers, one of whom was her son, Albert Washington Ladd, who was wounded at the battle of Seven Pines. Her husband, George, died in July 1864.
In February 1865, Union General William Sherman was marching north through South Carolina. After dark, Catherine and her neighbors watched as their beloved city of Columbia burned in the distance, and then the country homes nearby, as the Union troops came closer and closer, leaving only brick chimneys and blackened ruins in their wake.
“My father had painted a large, handsome Masonic chart, which stood on an easel in the parlor,” Catherine’s daughter later wrote. “When the crack and the snap of the fire was first heard and we could see the red flames leaping upward and house after house succumb, suddenly we noticed a Federal officer ride up to our gate, quickly dismounting, dash into the house, and, securing this chart, hurriedly give orders to some of his men to dig a hole in the garden, place between mattresses and bury it.
“Recognizing in this man a member of the Masonic fraternity, mother asked him to follow her, and together they rushed into the already blazing Masonic hall and saved the Masonic jewels. She anxiously and frantically sought the charter, but was prevented from securing it by the smoke and flames, knowing as she did that leaving her own home for only these few moments meant the loss of all her own property, including the literary works of thirty years. We can but say it was only one instance of her entire unselfishness.
“The flames roared and crackled and spread with desperate rapidity, devouring everything within reach. Swiftly as her feet would carry her, my brave mother put the box containing the jewels in a place of safety and returned to her own house which was by this time burning. The officer ordered his men to carry out our piano, which they did with the loss of one of its legs.” The house burned down to the ground.
Catherine couldn’t reopen the Winnsborough Female Institute until 1870. In 1880, she retired to Buena Vista Plantation in Fairfield County, South Carolina, some nineteen miles away. She had been losing her eyesight for some time. By 1891, she was completely blind, but she continued to write poetry, until her death at the plantation in early 1899. The following verse as late as 1898:
|Though our way be dark and dreary,
Though life's trials press us more,
Thou hast mansions for us ready,
Homes where troubles come no more.
O, my Saviour, guide me, watch me,
Lead me by Thy loving hand;
Let me feel that Thou art near me.
Until I reach the Promised Land.
|Oh! many are the unknown flowers,
By human eyes unseen,
That bloom in nature's woodland bowers,
Of bright and changeless green...
And lovely birds, whose brilliant wings
Are bright with hues of brighter things,
Make music in those woodland bowers,
those Edens of the unknown flowers.
Birth: Oct. 28, 1809
Death: Jan. 30, 1899
Burial: Presbyterian Cemetery Winnsborough Fairfield County
South Carolina, USA
A native of Virginia, Catherine became a well-known writer and educator in South Carolina. After her marriage, she began to write stories, poems, and essays, particularly on art and education. These were published under several different pen names--Minnie Mayflower, Arcturus, Morna, and Alida--in various southern journals. In 1840, after hearing that an unused building that was suitable for a girl's school had become available, she opened the Winnsboro (also spelled Winnsborough) Female Institute at Winnsboro, South Carolina. The Winnsboro Institute was one of the largest and best-known boarding and day schools for young women in South Carolina.
Ladd's ability to organize cultural, social, and educational activities outweighs any modern interest in her minor and now obscure writings. By supporting the arts and by spreading a knowledge and appreciation of music, art, literature, and drama, Ladd provided her region with a center of culture and stability in the years of great social upheaval just before, during, and immediately following the Civil War.