Although he grew up in Bowling Green, John Cox Underwood (1840-1913) was born in Washington DC, where his father, serving in Congress, had married the daughter of Georgetown’s mayor. Trained as an engineer, Underwood broke with the rest of his family and supported the South during the Civil War.
After the war, as a leader of the United Confederate Veterans, Underwood sought a favor on behalf of Jefferson Davis’s widow, Varina Howell Davis, and her daughter Winnie. In 1891 Varina had moved to New York, where she showed more interest in pursuing a literary career than in fulfilling any symbolic role as matron of the Lost Cause. Nevertheless, Underwood was concerned that Varina and her daughter be well treated at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, which they planned to visit in 1892. Writing to Bertha Honore Palmer, a Louisville native, president of the Exposition’s Board of Lady Managers and queen of Chicago society, he asked that she and a few other prominent women show Varina and Winnie “such courtesies as they would naturally receive in London or Paris or any other large city,” in order to demonstrate that the clouds of sectional bitterness had long lifted from the region.
A copy of Underwood’s letter to Mrs. Palmer is part of the collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library. Click here for a finding aid. To find other collections relating to the Underwood family, search TopScholar and KenCat.