“Lexington’s Other Woman Poet: Sara Henderson Smith”
Presented by Col. Ed Dooley
Turman Room, VMI’s Preston Library
Monday, September 29, 7:30 PM
Col. Edwin L. Dooley will present the next RHS program on Monday, September 29 at 7:30 in the Turman Room of VMI’s Preston Library. Col. Dooley, is retired from VMI where, for 30 years, he taught history, and variously served as Public Information Officer, Director of the VMI Museum, and Special Assistant to the Superintendent. He has written extensively on the history of VMI and on mid-nineteenth century Lexington, among other areas.
Among the more recognized of Southern women poets is the name of Lexington’s Margaret Junkin Preston, wife of VMI professor J. T. L. Preston. Little known, however, is the name of her friend and wife of VMI Superintendent Francis H. Smith, Sara Henderson Smith. She, too, was a poet and writer, though most of her verses were not published until after her death in 1884.
One of the reasons for Sara’s obscurity as a poet, outside the circle of her family and friends, may be attributed to the emphasis she placed on devotional poetry. She and her husband were devout Evangelical Episcopalians, and most of her writings reflect her religious beliefs and concerns. In doing so, however, she was more typical of Southern women poets in the nineteenth century than of the broader outlook of Margaret Preston. During the Civil War, she also wrote a number of patriotic Southern poems as well as the start of an epic poem on the role of VMI in the war. These poems, understandably, faded into complete obscurity after the war and were not included in the book of poems published by her family after her death.
Handwritten, original volumes of Sara’s writings were recently given to Col. Dooley, who has studied them for what they reveal about Sara and the world in which she lived. These sources also indicate that her husband, Superintendent Smith, wrote poetry in the form of verse letters from Richmond and Craney Island to Sara during the war. Col. Dooley’s presentation will not only add to an understanding of Sara Smith, but also of her husband and of the beliefs of Evangelicals in Lexington in the mid-nineteenth century.
The RHS program is free and open to the public. For more info, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.