Winston Guards learn about ‘Girls of Arlington’

Submitted by Judy Goodin


Winston Guards No. 2643 MS Division United Daughters of the Confederacy met on October 1, 2013 in the Colonial Room at Lake Tiak O Khata at 5:30 p.m. The hostesses for the meeting were Ruby Rogers and Judy Goodin. The tables were decorated with fall decorations pumpkins, fall leaves and bags of peanut M&M’s. Frances Woodruff, President, called the meeting to order at 5:40p.m. Eve Haggard brought the invocation and blessed the food.

After the meal, Judy Goodin presented the program, “The Girls of Arlington”. She told of the lives of the daughters of Robert E. Lee and Mary Ann Randolph Custis Lee as they grew up during the War Between the States.

Children born in the early 1800’s grew up surrounded by the influences of their parents s well as traditions passed down through the generations. Other experiences also shaped the children of this era. Many events were transpiring in the communities in which they lived, but one of the most influential was listening to the talk of war. This was also true for the daughters of Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee.

Mary Anna Randolph Custis was the great granddaughter of George Washington and Martha Dandridge. Born in 1808 to George Parke Custis and Mary Lee Fitzhugh, Mary Anna was the only child to survive this union. Therefore, much attention and affection was shown to her during her life by her parents.

At a young age, Mary Anna Randolph Custis developed a friendship with a young boy named Robert E. Lee, child of Henry “Light Horse” Lee and Ann Carter, when his family visited the Custis family at the Arlington House. Eventually, the two fell in love and became engaged in the summer of 1830. As wedding preparations were being made, Mary’s parents became concerned that the Lees were not of the same social class as their daughter. However, Mary’s love for Lee ultimately won out and her parents eventually agreed to the union. The two were married on June 30, 1831, in the parlor of her family’s home at Arlington.

Their first child was born in September of 1832. George Washington Custis Lee (nicknamed “Custis” and “Boo”) won the loving affection of the entire Custis family. Shortly following his birth, the Custises invited the Lees to move their young family into The Arlington House. During their time there, the family grew. Of the seven children born to Robert and Mary Anna, four were daughters.

The first daughter, was born on July 12, 1835 and was named Mary Custis Lee. Her nickname was “Mee” until age thirteen when she became affectionately nicknamed “Daughter.” The second, Anne Carter Lee, born in 1839, was nicknamed “Gentle Annie.” On February 27, 1841, a third daughter, Eleanor Agnes Lee, was born. Agnes, as she was called, had three nicknames, “Wig”, “Wiggie” or “My Little Agnes.” On February 10, 1846, the last daughter, Mildred Childe Lee, was born. She was named for Lee’s sister who lived in Paris and nicknamed “Precious Life.” The Lees were devoted to all their children, but their daughters played a huge role at the Arlington House.

The girls loved growing up at Arlington and the time they spent there with their father. However, Robert E. Lee was a soldier and his profession was very demanding, causing Lee to be away from his family for long periods of time. Their mother insisted that the girls experience a life immersed in devotion to religion and education. Throughout the family’s time at the Arlington House, the girls were influenced not only by the Custis family but also by hearing the tales of George and Martha Washington and the stories of the American Revolution.

Mary Anna Lee was fluent in Latin, French and Greek and was also well versed in current events. There can be no doubt that the girls of Arlington were exposed to a wealth of knowledge and exceptional education from their mother. Mary Coulling, author of the book, The Lee Girls, wrote:

The older ones had studied in the downstairs schoolroom, as Mrs. Lee had done, and learned their hymns and Bible verses during morning prayers at the dining table.

Warm hospitality was always abundant at Arlington. Visitors were received throughout the year but most especially during the Christmas season. This was a very special time for the girls of Arlington. From the book Growing Up in the 1850s: The Journal of Agnes Lee, edited by Mary Custis Lee deButts, Agnes wrote the following regarding Christmas Eve in 1852:

I am flying about preparing presents and hanging up stockings. I am in a perfect twirl cant keep still a minute. Tomorrow is Christmas, I what a happy time I expect to have. I have received most of my gifts already viz, a new dress from Grandpa which I am going to put on tomorrow morning. “Angel over the right shoulder” from Grandma. “The Distant Hills” from Cousin M. Goldsborough. A portmonaie form Miss Susan Poor (our governess). Cousin Mary Meade is my only dependence. How I wish they all were here then my cup of happiness would be full. But never mind next summer we will all meet. I do so long for next summer for many reasons and visiting West Point is one of the principles.

I will miss Aunt Lewis’ Christmas present so much she always gave me something. I shall value her gifts more now since I may receive no more of them. She died last July. She has gone to her reward for she died full of trust in her Savior. Death is so dreadful to the wicked but delightful to the righteous.

Miss Sue says I must keep a journal it will improve my “style.” At any rate it will be amusing in after years to know what I did and felt when I was young!

Christmas was truly a special time for the girls of Arlington.

When Robert E. Lee accepted this appointment as General of the Confederate States Army, he worried about his wife and girls still residing at the Arlington House. Lee felt the family should leave and move to safety. After much insistence from her husband, Mrs. Lee reluctantly heeded the warnings and hurriedly stored some of the family valuables in the cellar at Arlington House before fleeing. Mrs. Lee and daughters, Mary Custis and Eleanor Agnes, who were still living at home, left and traveled to Ravenswoth ten miles away. The Lee’s new home had a calming effect for the girls.

Two of the Lees’ daughters were not living at home during the family’s hasty evacuation. Anne Carter was living in Hot Springs, VA, due to her poor health. Mildred was in Winchester, where she was completing her schooling. All the girls of Arlington dreamed of one day returning home. Their father counseled them saying:

It is better to make up our minds to a general loss. They cannot take away the remembrances of the spot, and the memories of those that to us rendered it sacred. That will remain to us as long as life will last and that we can preserve.

Although the girls of Arlington realized their father was right, they secretly hoped that after the War, they would return to the life they once know at Arlington. However, the girls’ dreams were shattered and their hopes of returning home to the life they once know would never be materialized.

Of the Lee’s four daughters, the first to die was Anne. She was a self-conscious young lady who had lost an eye at the age of three while playing with scissors. Anne died of typhoid fever. Agnes died in 1873 while visiting at Warren Springs, North Carolina. Agnes is best known for the diary she kept describing the Lee’s life at Arlington. The third daughter, Mildred, who loved to read, died in New Orleans of a massive stroke in 1905. Mary Custis was the Lee’s oldest daughter and the most independent of the girls. She traveled extensively throughout her life. Sadly, none of the girls ever married. Perhaps no one ever measured up to the statue of their father.

The 1800’s were the best and the worst times for children of this bygone era. The love experienced from their families, traditions passed down through the generations and the experiences they endured during war shaped the lives of these children. The girls of Arlington grew up in a time of turmoil, but through it they experienced not only the love of a devoted father and mother but the love of a nation.

After the program, Frances led the group in the pledges, salutes, songs, and the UDC ritual. Judy Goodin, Connie Faye Estes Susan Jones and Frances Woodruff attended the MS Division Convention in Southaven, MS. Frances told the members about the awards that the chapter had gotten. The treasurer’s report was given and a reminder that it is dues paying time. The Granddaughters’ Club dues were discussed. Beth Hemphill reported that the CofC would meet on October 5. Judy Goodin made a motion that we hold a Bakeless Bake Sale to raise money for gift able gifts to our Veterans at Kosciusko. Eve Haggard seconded the motion. Plans to interview Veterans for the Veterans History Project ware discussed. Eve Haggard made a motion that Frances Woodruff and Susan Jones represent Winston Guards at the General UDC Convention to be held in Tulsa, OK. Gwynn Hall seconded the motion. Frances gave reports on the new Jefferson Davis Highway markers to be placed and on Beauvoir. The meeting adjourned with us holding hands and singing “Bless Be The Tie That Binds”.