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Kate Stone’s Civil War: They thought me so ugly

June 12, 2012

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, the daughter of Louisiana cotton plantation owners who chronicled her turbulent life throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

July 1861 at Brokenburn began amidst sickness, and Stone was restless. She had always known she was smart, witty, well-read, and insightful. Like many people today, she never believed she was attractive, and that insecurity was a black cloud that darkened every aspect of her emotional life. But on one rainy day, a conversation with her mother inspired her to completely reshape her self-image.

July 1

Mamma is sick again today from the medicine. I hope she will be relieved by tomorrow. It upsets everything for her to be sick. I cannot settle to any work or even read with any comprehension. … A wet disagreeable day, Mamma sleeping through most of it, but she waked up this evening and was telling me tales of my babyhood and early childhood.

It seems My Brother and I were quite noted little people in our circle of acquaintances. At eighteen months I learned my letters with My Brother, who was fifteen months older, and by the time I was two and a half could read very well. I knew “Mother Goose” by heart, could repeat pages of poetry and a number of little tales, and chatter of any and everything by the hour.

And yet I was a good little child and the delight of my Father, who thought me a wonderful little creature and would never let me be crossed. I was his only daughter for so long. I remember his pleasure when Sister was born after six sons had been ushered into the world. …

I do not remember the time when I could not read. My first recollection of books was trying to teach my little Aunt Serena, three years the older, her letters, sitting side by side on the steps. How strange it seemed to me that she could not read. I thought everybody read as everybody talked naturally.

Mamma’s talk was a great surprise to me as I had always thought I was the ugly duckling of the whole family. … I had always, since I could think, had the idea that my Father and all the family petted and encouraged me because they thought me so ugly and were sorry all the time that I was suffering from this idea, for it has been the shadow on my life. I was my Father’s favorite; he thought me perfect. I had the admiration of the rest of the family for what they were pleased to think my quick, bright mind.

The knowledge of this will, I think, change my life from this night. Finding that I have been much beloved all my life, I will try to put away the morbid thoughts that have so often harassed me the fear that, being ugly and unattractive, no one could ever really care for me, and that I was doomed to a life of loneliness and despair. Mamma by one long, sweet talk … exorcised this gloomy spirit; from this time forth I will try to make the best of the girl that Father loved so.

Mamma says I was the quaintest-looking little figure when three years old, being small with long yellow hair plaited down my back my Father would never allow it to be touched with the scissors. I had a short, stumpy, little body and the very tiniest feet and hands, like bird claws, so small and thin, and a grave dignified manner. But I was an incessant chatterbox with the funniest lisp when perched in a high chair in the chimney corner reciting poetry and telling tales to amuse the laughing grown folks.

The lisp I have kept to this day, try as I will to get rid of it. But not another feature is like the Kate of today. I am tall, not quite five feet six, and thin, have an irregular face, a quantity of brown hair, a shy, quiet manner, and talk but little.

What an egotistical page, but it has made me happy. No more morose dreamings, but a new outlook on life.

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