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Elizabeth Lyle Saxon, 1832-1915
A Southern Woman's War Time Reminiscences
Memphis, Tenn: Press of the Pilcher Printing Co., 1905.

Summary

Elizabeth Lyle Saxon, daughter of Andrew J. Lyle and Clarissa N. Crutchfield, was born December 2, 1832, in Greenville, Tennessee. Her mother died when she was only two, so Elizabeth was raised primarily by her father, who fostered her independent and creative spirit. She was schooled for a time in Alabama, under the tutelage of writer Caroline Lee Hentz. Elizabeth began writing when she was twelve under the pen name Annott Lyle and later had stories published in the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier; the Columbia, South Carolina, Banner; and the Philadelphia Courier. She married South Carolinian Lydell A. Saxon at sixteen, and together they had seven children, three of whom died in infancy.

Although Saxon continued to publish poems, stories, essays, and sketches in magazines, she earned national recognition for her work with the women's suffrage movement. In 1878, she became president of the Ladies Physiological Association and in 1879 helped a group of New Orleans suffragettes raise support for a voting rights petition that was eventually endorsed by hundreds of prominent citizens. Widely known as a moving and passionate orator, Saxon later spoke before the Louisiana Constitutional Convention, where a motion was made to give women equal voting rights. Her address was published in the June 11, 1879, issue of the New Orleans Times. She also spoke before the U.S. Senate's Judiciary Committee and accompanied Susan B. Anthony on a New England tour. Saxon served as state president of the Tennessee Suffrage Association and later became vice president of the Women's National Suffrage Association. She also gave speeches on behalf of the National Prohibition Alliance and addressed more than 5,000 women gathered at a meeting of the International Council of Women on Social Purity in Washington, D.C. As her fame grew, she traveled west to Washington territory, where she established a settlement and helped found a public library. Saxon eventually returned to Memphis, where she died on March 14, 1915, five years before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment gave American women the right to vote.

Saxon published her Civil War memoir, A Southern Woman's War Time Reminiscences, in 1905. The work, which is set in the Deep South, starts with a brief overview of her life in the six years leading up to the Civil War. Beginning in 1855, Saxon and her family spend winters in Alabama and summers in New York, where her husband had business obligations. In the summer of 1860, with sectional tensions rising, Saxon begins to display what she believed were psychic skills: while attending a drill competition by a group of soldiers from Chicago, Saxon had a vision in which she saw one of the commanders being killed. She later reported that this same captain was killed during the War in the same manner as her vision foretold. Saxon labeled her clairvoyance a "perfectly natural" spiritual sixth sense with which most people were born, but that most parents suppressed it in their children out of fear and prejudice. She encouraged women especially to explore these gifts within themselves in order to promote individuality.

In the winter of 1860, Saxon traveled to Savannah, where, she recalled, "it seemed as if the very air was ablaze with some terrible and unseen flame" in anticipation of the war (p. 15). Then, while on a trip to New Orleans just before the start of the war, Saxon had a vision of her father's death. She was unable to reach him in Arkansas, where he had traveled with his two sons, and for months she was "wild with despair" until "the ridicule of [her] relatives" led her to dismiss the vision (p. 25). With war imminent, Saxon returned to Alabama, where her community launched a rationing "craze" (p.18). Saxon describes the thrifty methods employed by Alabama households and the joy with which the women adopted them. When the war began, Southern fervor intensified. Saxon wrote that "Dixie" was played so often it became a kind of Confederate national anthem. She also said that people sacrificed carpets, supplies, and other material comforts for the soldiers. The first time she saw Confederate currency, however, she was rebuked by her companions for prophesying that it wouldn't be long before the Confederacy faced disastrous inflation.

As fewer letters came from friends and more reports of Confederate losses reached Saxon, she reported a renewed anxiety over her father. In late 1863 she resolved to find him. Since the trip would involve leaving the Confederacy, she secured a pass from the governor and exchanged as much of her Confederate currency as possible for gold. In Memphis, where she had to secure another pass in order to continue, her petition was refused, and despite another troubling vision of her father, she decided instead to travel to New York to join her Unionist husband. On board a steamer, she met a woman who knew her father and told Saxon that he was gravely ill in a Memphis prison, where he was being held as a Confederate spy. Saxon reached him shortly before his death, and her earlier vision was fulfilled. She remained in Memphis for two years. Although she was also accused of being a spy and vehemently proclaimed her Confederate sympathies, she was not formally charged.

Works Consulted: The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 16, New York: James T. White & Co., 1918; Woman of the Century; a Comprehensive Encyclopedia of the Lives and Achievements of American Women during the Nineteenth Century, ed. by Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore, New York: Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick, 1897.

Jennifer L. Larson

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