Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name




Author's Keywords

Kentucky history; New South, United Daughters of the Confederacy; Lost Cause; Civil War; Southern studies


For over a century, the Kentucky division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy has worked to instill the Lost Cause myth of the Confederacy in the state’s public schools, libraries, and places where a white child could learn about the past. Few scholars have studied the activities of the Kentucky division of the UDC, although some of the organization’s most influential work took place in the state, and the organization’s national founder, Caroline Meriwether Goodlett, was born in Todd County, Kentucky. This honors thesis offers an in-depth examination of the work of the Kentucky division, drawing from the rich primary source materials held at local repositories, including the Filson Historical Society in Louisville and the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort. In addition, publications penned and edited by UDC members, including the Louisville-produced The Lost Cause: A Confederate War Record, provide insight into the group’s efforts to rewrite the history of the war and slavery consumed by the public. The UDC’s campaigns of indoctrination, in short, have for generations shaped the historical memory of white Kentuckians and Americans. This thesis argues that the organization’s influence was particularly strong in Kentucky, a divided Union state during the war, but one that became in the postwar memory of white Kentuckians a Confederate state. I conclude that these activities made the Kentucky chapter unique, enabling its members to accomplish some of the organization’s most significant and influential work in the United States.

Lay Summary

The Lost Cause ideology, first developed in the decades after the Civil War by former Confederates in the Deep and Upper South, argued that the Confederacy fought a valiant struggle against the oppressive northern states for a just cause: the protection of individual and states’ rights.[1] In addition, promoters of the Lost Cause praised the Confederate soldiers who, they argued, staunchly fought and died for these principles, while encouraging southern white women to promote this veneration. The narrative also discounted the role of slavery in the coming of the war. Civil War memory remains an important issue in American society today. More than one hundred fifty years after the war’s end, debates over the public display of Confederate imagery, including flags and monuments, continue, given new life by the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Today, social justice organizations like BLM highlight the white supremacist ideology that reinforced the Lost Cause myth and the Confederate iconography and memorialization that resulted, calling for its removal. In this effort, they are combating the legacy of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, whose relentless efforts to promote the racist mythology of the Lost Cause has ensured that many white American remember the Confederacy and its objectives favorably.

[1] Gary W. Gallagher and Joan Waugh, The American War: A History of the Civil War Era (State College, PA: Flip Learning, 2015), 237.