Little Eva, The Flower of the South
Published around 1853, Little Eva, The Flower of the South is an anonymously written children's story based on Eva, the enormously popular character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Aiming to thwart the spread of anti-slavery sentiments in Stowe's best-seller proponents of slavery published "Anti-Tom" or "plantation novels." Unlike other works in that literary genre, Little Eva sought to teach children. In this story, well-treated, child-like slaves (such as Sam) were gratefully content. (Note that the badly abused Topsy is conspicuously absent.)
Though there are many similarities, there are more differences between the two Evas. The one in this story is 9 years old, not 6, and she lives in Alabama, not New Orleans. It is a slave named Sam, not Tom, who rescues Little Eva from drowning. Moreover, the Eva in this children's story does not oppose slavery. In fact, the thought never crosses her mind as it haunted her angelic namesake. Then, instead of dying, this little girl blissfully celebrates her birthday, a recent cultural practice recognizing children's individuality.
Although this dutiful, sweet, pious, and caring Eva personified the ideals of southern white girlhood, does she lack the agency associated with that gender prescription? What evidence (in the plot and illustrations) is there that little girls of elite southern slaveholders might have engaged in spirited activities that tested the limits of slavery and patriarchy (e.g., teaching slaves to read)? How does this Little Eva contribute to historians recent understanding of the challenges that adolescent girls mounted against the late 19th and 20th century social order? In what ways were girls in the South more like those in the North who spent their days jumping and skipping?
LITTLE Eva lived in the bright sunny South, in the State of Alabama. She was the only daughter of a wealthy planter, who owned many slaves, and a large plantation. Eva was the joy and pride of her parents, she obeyed them in everything; she had a smile or a kind word for all; she is called the Flower of the South.
Here you see, is little Eva teaching the little colored boys and girls the alphabet. See how pleased they are, for they all love Eva, and would do anything to please her; and Eva takes a great deal of pleasure in teaching them and making them happy. She is teaching them the letters one by one, which she marks on the black-board.
Eva does not forget her friends, for she calls on her old nurse every day, to give her comfort and bring her all the news that is going about, for her nurse is very old and sick. Eva has just brought her some chicken broth; the nurse is always glad to see Eva, and she loves to talk of the time when Eva was a dear little baby.
It is Sabbath morning, and Eva as usual, is reading the Bible to the colored people; she has learned some of them to read, but they would rather hear Eva read than read themselves, for they say her voice is so sweet; and she always explains all the questions they ask her so pleasantly, that it is a greater pleasure to hear her.
Eva rises early like all good children. Sometimes, when the weather is clear and beautiful, she takes a walk, and gathers a pretty bunch of flowers for her dear mother, who is very fond of them. Eva is riding a pony this morning, she is not afraid of him, for he is a very kind and gentle animal, he sometimes follows her like a dog.
Eva has fallen into the water. See how the poor dog is swimming to save her, but he is too late, for Sam is taking her safely out. Poor Eva, she was reaching to catch hold of some grass which grew in the water, when she lost her balance and fell; but she is safe now. She will remember not to play again near the water.
This is Eva's birth-day. She is just nine years old; there is a double rejoicing, both because Eva was saved from drowning, and because it is her birth-day. See, she is presenting Sam with a beautiful Bible, as a token of her esteem. Eva's parents were so pleased with Sam for saving Eva, that they gave him his freedom; but he never left them, he loved them all too well.
Little Eva. The Flower of the South. Aunt Mary's Picture Book New York: Phil. J. Cozans, c. 1853. Available online: Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture archive, http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/childrn/cbcbambt.html (accessed November 8, 2009). Courtesy the John Hay Library, Brown University; all rights reserved.©2001 Stephen Railton & the University of Virginia. All rights reserved. Annotated by Miriam Forman-Brunell. Also available at the Internet Archive.