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McCord, Louisa (Susannah) Cheves

McCORD, Louisa (Susannah) Cheves

Born 3 December 1810, Charleston, South Carolina; died 23 November 1879, Charleston, South Carolina

Wrote under: L. S. M.

Daughter of Langdon and Mary Elizabeth Dulles Cheves; married David James McCord, 1840 (died 1855); children: three, plus 10 stepchildren

Although born in South Carolina, Louisa Cheves McCord spent formative years (1819-29) with her family in Philadelphia, where her father served under Monroe as president of the Bank of the United States. Langdon Cheves early recognized his daughter's intellect and motivation and, despite his strict conception of a woman's role, encouraged her education with her brothers in math and Latin. Inheriting "Lang Syne" from an aunt in 1830, McCord skillfully managed the large cotton plantation with its 200 slaves near Columbia, South Carolina. Her husband, a widower with 10 children, was a minor but vigorous political figure, with high if traditional expectations of his wife: beyond her responsibilities for her stepchildren and her own three children, McCord became a perceptive participant in her husband's social and political world.

Encouraged by her husband to support the Southern cause while maintaining the conventionally female role in which she ardently believed, McCord translated Frederic Basiat's Sophisms of Protection (1847) in 1848. Vehemently against protective tariffs and for free trade, the document has sharpness, passion, and wit; McCord's translation is precise yet literal and dull. The work was well received in the South, and McCord soon began to publish her own writings.

Later in the same year, My Dreams, a collection of abstract and formal poems, appeared. This work suggests the girlhood tensions that probably underlie her staunch support of an essentially conservative and traditional position for women. She quickly followed these pieces with other occasional poems and with frequent articles on economics, finance, slavery, and women's rights. Both her husband's and Basiat's influence is clear in these writings, but their emotional vigor, acute wit, and satire make them compelling reading.

McCord was startlingly versatile in her writing. In 1851, when her own son was ten, McCord published Caius Gracchus, a blank-verse tragedy in five acts, with strong autobiographical elements: The protagonist, Cornelia, strongly influences the development of her able son, Caius. Veiled but clear parallels between the exploitive Senate and the North and between the plebeians, inspired by the orator Caius, and the oppressed South pervade the work. The drama's interest for today's readers lies primarily in the implied identification of McCord with her son and the revelation of her sublimated political desires.

After her husband's death in 1855, McCord settled in Columbia, South Carolina, and devoted herself to her children and to civic pursuits. She took a brief European tour after her father's death in 1857. During the Civil War she spent much of her time nursing the wounded and encouraging the Confederate troops; in 1861, she was elected president of the Soldier's Relief Association and of the Lady's Clothing Association. During this period, her friend Mary Boykin Chesnut noted in her diary that McCord had "the intellect of a man and the perseverance and endurance of a woman." At the end of the war, McCord lived in Canada for two years before agreeing to take the oath of allegiance to the federal government.

McCord strove ardently with both unusual strength and style to preserve a passing way of life. This position places her firmly within a strict southern tradition, while her energy, sharp perception, and firm character give her a deserved prominence in southern letters.

Bibliography:

Chesnut, M. B., A Diary from Dixie (1905). Fraser, J. M., Louisa C. McCord (1920). Smythe, Louisa McCord, For Old Lang Syne (1900). Thorp, M. F., Female Persuasion (1949).

Reference works:

CAL. The Living Female Writers of the South. The Living Writers of the South. LSL. NAW. NCAB. The Writers of South Carolina.

Other references:

South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine (Oct. 1933, July 1934).

—CAROLINE ZILBOORG

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