Varina Howell Davis


Varina Howell Davis (1826‒1906) was the second wife of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, and thus the only first lady of the Confederacy. Born in rural Louisiana to a family with roots in both the North and the South, she was educated at a boarding school in Philadelphia. She married Davis, a widower, in 1845. She is known to have been skeptical about the South’s ability to win a war with the North and about her husband’s suitability as a national leader, but she graciously played her role as hostess at the Confederate White House in Richmond. She was the mother of six surviving children. In 1890, after Jefferson Davis’s death, she moved to New York City, where she spent the remainder of her life. In an article that appeared in the New York World in April 1901, Varina Davis wrote that it was God's will that the North had won the Civil War. The image is from an album of mostly Civil War-era portraits by the famous American photographer Matthew Brady (circa 1823‒96) that belonged to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825‒91), a collector of photography as well as a photographer himself. The album was a gift to the emperor from Edward Anthony (1818‒88), another early American photographer who, in partnership with his brother, owned a company that in the 1850s became the leading seller of photographic supplies in the United States. Dom Pedro may have acquired the album during a trip to the United States in 1876 when he, along with President Ulysses S. Grant, opened the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Brady was born in upstate New York, the son of immigrants from Ireland. Best known for his photographs documenting the battles of the American Civil War, he began his career in 1844 when he opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Streets in New York City. Over the course of the next several decades, Brady produced portraits of leading American public figures, many of which were published as engravings in magazines and newspapers. In 1858 he opened a branch in Washington, DC. The album, which also contains a small number of non-photographic prints, is part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection at the National Library of Brazil. The collection is composed of 21,742 photos assembled by Emperor Pedro II throughout his life and donated by him to the national library. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects. It documents the achievements of Brazil and Brazilians in the 19th century and also includes many photographs of Europe, Africa, and North America.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Edward Anthony, New York


Title in Original Language

Mrs. Jefferson Davis

Type of Item

Physical Description

1 photographic print of a drawing : carte-de-visite, albumen paper ; 8.2 x 5.4 centimeters


  1. Encyclopedia Virginia staff, "Varina Howell Davis (1826–1906)," in Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Last updated: March 22, 2016