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Sara Henderson Smith collection

Identifier: MS-0536
The collection contains three manuscript notebooks containing verse letters, poetry, notes, and a few newspaper clippings, bulk 1861-1865. One of the volumes is titled "Order Book, 9th Regiment Va. Volunteers, Craney Island"; on the endsheets of this book are glued original manuscript signatures of VMI faculty and others , apparently clipped from letters. The pages of this volume contain Sara's writings. A folder that contains Sara's writings on loose pages within the "Order Book" is also part of the collection. A facsimile copy and an annotated copy of the "Order Book" are available for use by researchers.

Many of the verse letters in these notebooks concern Civil War incidents relating to VMI and Virginia; they were written to her brother-in-law and other family members, relaying news received from her husband Francis who was serving on the Governor's Militiary Commission in Richmond and on Craney Island. Additional letters originated from her husband - it appears that Francis Smith wrote his informative letters to Sara in verse and she recoppied them into the notebooks, sometimes adding her own news. The letters end with news that "Gen. Lee to Manassas had gone, to prepare/For the vandal approach that now threatens us there."

The collection also contains miscellaneous receipts; copies and reprints of Smith's publications; and a typescript of a 2014 paper about Sara written by historian Edwin L. Dooley, Jr., "Lexington's Other Woman Poet: Sara Henderson Smith".


  • Majority of material found within 1850 - 1865


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions

Conditions Governing Use

Manuscript collections in the VMI Archives are made available for non-commercial educational and research use. The VMI Archives should be cited as the source. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright holders. Materials from our collections may not be redistributed, published or reproduced without permission from the VMI Archives. Contact the VMI Archives for additional information.


1 boxes

Biographical / Historical

Sara Henderson Smith, born in 1812, was the daughter of Dr. Thomas Henderson and Ann Maria Truxton Henderson. In 1835 she married Francis Henney Smith and the couple had seven children. They settled into domestic life in Lexington, VA in November 1839, when Francis became the first Superintendent at the Virginia Military Institute. In addition to raising children, supervising her household, interacting with cadets and faculty, and active participation at the Grace Episcopal Church, she was a published poet. Although a contemporary and friend of poet Margaret Junkin Preston (who was the wife of J.T. L. Preston, one of VMI's founders and a longtime faculty member), Sara never gained the fame enjoyed by Preston.

Sara wrote stories and devotional poems, focusing on themes of religion, worship, piety, and moral conduct. In addition, during the Civil War she composed a series of long verse letters providing accounts of local and regional wartime events. After 1865 she returned to composing primarily devotional poetry. Sara died at Lexington, Virginia on May 18, 1884.

Physical Location

Manuscripts stacks

Repository Details

Part of the Virginia Military Institute Archives Repository

VMI Archives
Preston Library
Lexington VA 24450