LADD, Catherine Stratton (28 Oct. 1808-30 Jan. 1899), educator and writer, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the daughter of James Stratton and Ann Collins. Her father, a native of Ireland, had been in the United States for only two years when, just six months after Catherine's birth, he fell off a boat and drowned. Catherine Stratton was educated in Richmond at the same school attended by Edgar Allen Poe. in 1828 she married George Williamson Livermore Ladd, a portrait and miniature painter, who had studied with S. F. B. Morse in Boston; the couple had two children.
The Ladds first settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where not long after their marriage, she began to write stories, poems, and essays, particularly on art and education. These were published under several different pen names--Minnie Mayflower, Arcturus, Morna, and Alida--in various southern journals, among them, Floral Wreath. As reflected in "Unknown Flowers" (by Morna), which was published in the second volume of the Southern Literary Messenger (Jan. 1836), her poems focused on nature and exhibited a religious zeal that was characteristic of her era:
Oh! many are the unknown flowers,
By human eyes unseen,
That bloom in nature's woodland bowers,
Of bright and changeless green...
And lovely birds, whose brilliant wings
Are bright with hues of brighter things,
Make music in those woodland bowers,
those Edens of the unknown flowers.
In addition to her poems and sketches, Ladd is said to have contributed articles to the Charleston News and Courier, in which she advocated the use of white labor and the development of manufacturing in the South. At least as early as 1851 she argued that South Carolina could not compete with the Deep South in raising cotton and that even with an extensive system of slave labor South Carolina cotton farmers would realize no profit. Ladd also wrote at least two plays, Grand Scheme and Honeymoon, which were performed by friends and reportedly were locally popular, though this cannot be confirmed.
After living in Charleston, the Ladds moved to Augusta and eventually to Macon, Georgia, where for three years she was principal of Vineville Academy. In 1839, after hearing that an unused building that was suitable for a girl's school had become available, the Ladds returned to Charleston. In 1840 she opened the Winnsboro (also spelled Winnsborough) Female Institute at Winnsboro, South Carolina. The Winnsboro Institute was one of the largest and best-known boarding and day schools for young women in South Carolina. During the Civil War the school had full enrollment; some students were from Winnsboro, but the majority came from other parts of the state. Music, art, literature, dramatics, and the social graces were especially emphasized. The "formal education of women in Winnsboro made a notable advancement" when Ladd opened the institute (Bolick, p. 66). Still successful ten years later, the institute employed nine teachers and had an enrollment of about one hundred students. Over the years her school--and home--became cultura and social centers for the entire community.
In 1861 the Winnsboro Institute was closed by the Civil War. As permanent president of the Ladies' Relief Association of Fairfield County, Ladd spent the war nursing Confederate soldiers, among whom was her son, Albert Washington Ladd, wounded at the battle of Seven Pines (Va). Ladd's husband died in 1864, and in early 1865 her home was burned to the ground by Union troops during General William T. Sherman's march through South Carolina. Winnsboro Institute was not reopened until 1870.
In 1880 Ladd retired to "Buena Vista Plantation," situated nineteen miles from Winnsboro, near Buckhead, South Carolina, and she died there almost two decades later. She had been losing her sight for some time and by 1891 was completely blind, but she continued to write, penning the following verse as late as 1898:
Though our way be dark and dreary,
Though life's trials press us more,
Thou hast mansions for us ready,
Homes where troubles come no more.
O, my Saviour, guide me, watch me,
Lead me by Thy loving hand;
Let me feel that Thou art near me.
Until I reach the Promised Land.
Ladd's ability to organize cultural, social, and educational activities outweighs any modern interest in her minor and now obscure writings. By supporting the arts and by spreading a knowledge and appreciation of music, art, literature, and drama, Ladd provided her region with a center of culture and stability in the years of great social upheaval just before, during, and immediately following the Civil War.
Taken from: American National Biography, Volume 13, Oxford University Press. New York. 1999. pages 19-20.
Copyright M. A. Webb, 2006. All Rights Reserved
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