Book inscribed by Varina Howell Davis (1868)
Varina Howell Davis was born to William Burr and Margaret Kempe Howell on May 7, 1826, and grew up near Natchez, Mississippi. A highly educated woman at a time when it was not fashionable, Varina eventually captured the attention of Jefferson Davis, a wealthy Mississippi plantation owner and Mexican War hero. The two were married in February of 1845, just prior to Jefferson taking a seat in congress. For fifteen years the Davises lived in Washington D.C. where Jefferson represented Mississippi in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. He also served as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. In 1861, Jefferson Davis was appointed the president of the Confederate States of America, and Varina was known for the rest of her life as the First Lady of the Confederacy. After the war and into the 1870s and 1880s, the Davises were treated almost as celebrities in the South, and Varina found it somewhat difficult to endure the constant stream of visitors to their home at Beauvoir on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. After Jefferson died of pneumonia in 1889, Varina Davis moved to New York City to be with her youngest child, Winnie. She lived there until her death in 1906.
The de Grummond Collection has within its holdings a book entitled Puss in Boots with original illustrations by Henry Louis (H.L.) Stephens, printed in oil colors by F. Bien (printer). The title was published by Hurd & Houghton publishers in Boston, the predecessor of Houghton Mifflin Company, in 1866. The book owned by de Grummond has an inscription that reads, “To little friend Helen from her Aunt Varina, Feb. 13th, 1868.” Although “Aunt Varina” in the inscription is most likely Varina Howell Davis, the identity of “Little Friend Helen” is currently unknown. The provenance of the book is undetermined.
The book’s call number is PZ8 .P426 Pu 1866 and it can be viewed in the reading room at McCain Library (Room 305), Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information about this book, contact Danielle Bishop at Danielle.Bishop@usm.edu or 601.266.6182.
Encyclopedia Virginia staff. “Varina Howell Davis (1826-1906).” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 2 June 2014. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.
Stephens, Henry Louis. Puss in Boots. Boston: Hurd & Houghton, 1866. Print.
Text by Danielle Bishop, Assistant Curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.