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The Museum traces its roots to one of the many Confederate ladies memorial associations formed immediately after the war. The Ladies Hollywood Memorial Association (LHMA) was founded at Richmond’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on May 3, 1866. The duties of the group included caring for and honoring the graves in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery. The women were involved in other projects, which honored the Confederate dead such as raising money to build one of the south’s first Confederate monuments. The Museum was born when the Society elected one of Richmond’s wealthiest and most active women, Isobel (Belle) Stewart Bryan, as its president in 1890.
In late 1889, the City council had announced plans to demolish the former Confederate executive mansion and construct a new school in its place. The mansion, also referred to as the Confederate White House, was the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his family from August 1861 to April 1865. After Richmond fell, the elegant home became a headquarters for federal troops during the Reconstruction Period. When the property reverted back to the City of Richmond, it was utilized as the Central School from 1871 to 1894.
At her first meeting as the President of the LHMA, Belle Bryan suggested that the mansion not only be saved but that the building should belong to the LHMA and be utilized as a Museum for preservation of records or relics of the Confederacy. Bryan and her husband would head the effort to save the Davis Mansion as the LHMA members petitioned for and eventually received the title to the building.
Because the city charter in Richmond required organizations receiving property to be dedicated to literary or benevolent pursuits, the LHMA had to create a spin-off organization. As a result, the Confederate Memorial Literary Society (the Society) was chartered on May 31, 1890 with Belle Bryan at its head. The group was composed entirely of women, primarily Richmonders, who were the daughters, sisters and wives of Confederate veterans. The title to the Davis Mansion was conferred on June 3, 1894, Jefferson Davis’ Birthday. On February 22, 1896, the former home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, opened its doors to the public as The Confederate Museum.