Andrews, Eliza Frances (1840–1931)
Andrews, Eliza Frances (1840–1931)
American author and botanist. Name variations: (pseudonym) Elzey Hay. Born in Washington, Georgia, on August 10, 1840, a member of the Southern landowning class; died in Rome, Georgia, on January 21, 1931; daughter of Garnett Andrews and Annulet Ball Andrews; had two sisters and five brothers.
Her family escaped the devastation of the Civil War (1861–65), but became impoverished after her father died (1873); her diary of the Civil War became a classic chronicle of the conflict, compared by some historians to the famous diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut ; wrote novels, taught in public schools, and became a noted botanist whose scientific knowledge was self-taught; unafraid of espousing new ideas and indifferent to peer pressure, proclaimed herself a Marxian Socialist in a region hostile to any form of social or political radicalism.
Born in Georgia when "Cotton was king," Eliza Frances Andrews grew up in a large family that had considerable influence in Wilkes County. Her father Garnett Andrews, a lawyer, judge, and politician, was a loner, fiercely independent and honest. Though he owned 200 slaves, he supported the Union. Both before and during the Civil War, he criticized vehemently the folly of secession while his eight children, including Eliza, fervently supported the Rebel cause. The Andrews children were raised in an environment of intellectual excitement, which included lively discussions and debates on the arts and current events. As a young woman, Eliza wrote intermittently for various Southern newspapers, usually submitting her pieces anonymously or pseudonymously.
When war came, Andrews did not write about it at first. But by 1864, surrounded by death and devastation, she began to keep a diary. Not published until 1908 when she permitted an edited version to appear in print, her War-Time Journal is considered one of the Civil War's best. In part, it describes tensions at Haywood, the family home and plantation near Washington, Georgia, between Garnett Andrews and his children. The journal also vividly describes Sherman's March to the Sea. Though her home was spared, Eliza and her younger sister were sent for safety to a brother-in-law's plantation in southwest Georgia near Albany as Sherman's troops burned their way to the coast. Andrews' journal gives a detailed account of the collapse of her traditional agrarian world.
The financial crisis of 1873, and the death of her father the same year, brought severe financial reverses for the formerly affluent Andrews clan, and they lost Haywood due to the reckless speculations of a trusted family adviser. At age 33, Eliza Andrews was confronted with the necessity of earning a living for the first time. She left home to become principal of the Girls' High School in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Working under an African-American superintendent of education, she experienced a perceived loss of status: a planter's daughter was now an employee of former slaves. After only a year in Yazoo City, she returned home in 1874 to Washington, living with one of her married sisters and serving for almost a decade as principal of the local girls' school. After several years of forced idleness due to illness, Andrews taught literature and French at Wesleyan Female College in Macon, Georgia, from 1885 to 1896. From 1898 until her retirement in 1903, she was once again in her hometown of Washington, where she taught botany at the local public high school.
Andrews supplemented her income with the publication of several novels. She also published serialized stories in magazines and for a time was a lecturer on the Chautauqua circuit. Her most substantial writings were three novels. In her 1876 novel A Family Secret, she described the physical devastation and psychological stresses of the post-1865 South, whereas A Mere Adventurer (1879) and Prince Hal (1882) celebrated the Old South's antebellum culture. Although not considered great literature, these novels are still of considerable interest. Eliza Andrews' writings breathe a deep and abiding contempt for the crude, money-grasping mores that replaced the leisured semi-feudal culture she had known in her youth.
Andrews' philosophical approach to these changes was innovative—she embraced the doctrines of Marxian Socialism. She defined the hated Yankee capitalists as the ruling class fated for destruction in Marxist thought. In her view, the system imposed by carpetbaggers was doomed and would soon be replaced by a revolutionary upheaval led by the exploited industrial proletariat. Andrews was serious about her political beliefs. From 1899 to 1918, she was listed as a Socialist in Who's Who in America. As late as July 1916, she wrote an article entitled "Socialism in the Plant World," which appeared in the International Socialist Review.
In an 1865 diary entry, Andrews had vowed never to marry but to pursue "the career that I have marked out for myself." Though she enjoyed parties, dances and flirtations, she did indeed remain single. As she grew older, she became more freespirited, venturing forth into new fields as she entered the seventh decade of her life, including the publication of a textbook in 1903, Botany All the Year Round. Entirely self-taught, Andrews absorbed a vast amount of information on botany, developing an ability to communicate these ideas to a general audience. A positive response to her first botany book led to further research, much of it conducted at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn. In 1911, she published A Practical Course in Botany, a book that remains remarkably fresh despite many advances in factual knowledge in the field. Not simply a plant taxonomy, A Practical Course places plants in an organic, universalistic context of interdependence between the natural and man-made environments. Written by an individual who was an autodidact in an impoverished and war-devastated region, it is an amazing achievement and an astonishingly modern work. The intellectual quality of Andrews' book was recognized at the time and it was translated for school use in France.
Eliza Andrews' political and scientific judgments were bold to the end of her extraordinarily long and productive life. In her introduction to the first edition of her diary, she explained how the Civil War had radically transformed the role of women in Southern life, stating, "The exigencies of the times did away with many conventions." Although she found some of these changes difficult to accept, Andrews became an assertive, independent woman who left her mark on her state and region. She died in Rome, Georgia, on January 21, 1931, and was buried alongside her family at the Rest Haven Cemetery in Washington, Georgia.
Andrews, Eliza Frances. The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, 1864–1865. Edited by Spencer Bidwell King. New reprint edition. Atlanta, GA: Cherokee Publishing, 1976.
Patton, James W. "Eliza Frances Andrews," in Notable American Women 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. 3 vols. Edited by Edward T. James et al. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971, vol. 1, pp. 45–46.
Reitt, Barbara B. "Andrews, Eliza Frances," in Dictionary of Georgia Biography. 2 vols. Edited by Kenneth Coleman and Charles Stephen Gurr. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1983, Vol. 1, pp. 29–31.
John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia