Danske Dandridge

First Assignment


BIOGRAPHY: Caroline "Danske" Dandridge (1854-1914)

She was born the third child of Henry and Caroline Bedinger in November, 1854 in Copenhagen, while her father served as this country's first ambassador to Denmark. Her father died in November, 1858, just two weeks after returning to Shepherdstown. VA. (today in easternmost West Virginia). He had come down with pneumonia while speaking to a cheering crowd before a bonfire in front of the Entler Hotel.

The family lived a while at "Bedford" with her father's sister, Henrietta Bedinger Lee, and her husband, Edmund Jennings Lee, the first cousin of Robert E. Lee. (Bedford was burned by Union troops in July, 1864). Danske's frail mother soon bought Poplar Grove and fifty acres from the Morgan family.

During the battle of Antietam, Danske, her mother, brother, and sister cared for wounded men in their house. Her sister, Mary Bedinger Mitchell, would write a famous essay called "A Women's Recollections of Antietam" which appears in Vol. II of "Battles and Leaders," a widely used Civil War reference. Her step-brother, George Bedinger Rust was killed at Gettysburg. Danske's mother opposed slavery and hired all help.

When her mother, too, died in 1869. Danske, her writing gifts astir, went to live with her wealthy and prominent grandparents in Flushing, NY. She had been attending Mrs. Pelham's Priory in Staunton, Virginia, where she experienced a religious awakening.

She married Adam Stephen Dandridge in 1877, a handsome son of the venerable Dandridge family that lived at "The Bower," in Jefferson County. The Bower was the inspiration for an influential southern novel called "Swallow Barn" by John Pendleton Kennedy. The Dandridge's Bower also fed and entertained about 300 of J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry men for almost a month in September-October, 1862.

After what she called "Ten Perfect Years" in which she gave birth to her first two children, Serena and Stevie, Danske turned, at a friend's urging, to write in earnest.

A difference in temperment between the intense, otherworldy Danske and her genial, uncomplicated husband led them to pursue divergent interests; she her poems , her garden, and a wide range of "postal friends"; he, spending time playing Muggins (a game of dominoes) at the A. S. Dandridge Farm Implements Shop. Danske, a poet of delicate constitution, wrote of her struggle to make ends meet at their home, (which she owned and had inherited), while her husband was relatively unproductive. Danske would go away for stretches to sanitariums, paid for by her wealthy family. Stephen would serve in the West Virginia House of Delegates, spending in-session months in far away Charleston.

Danske published two volumes of poetry in the late 19th century: "Rose Brake," (the new name she gave her home), and "Joy and Other Poems." They were widely acclaimed. Had she lived in a large city closer to publishers and reviewers, she would have probably had yet greater reknown. Poet John Greenleaf Whittier included her poem, "The Struggle," in his anthology of great poetry covering a 400-year period.

She also wrote an estimated 200 gardening articles or letters to magazines, such as "Garden and Forest." She created, with the help of her African-American gardeners Tom and Charity Devonshire, a fabulous garden with a hundred varieties of roses along with innumerable other types of plant life.

She also wrote four books: "Historic Shepherdstown," "George Michael Bedinger: Kentucky Pioneer", "American Prisoners of the Revolution," and an unpublished manuscript about General St. Clair.

Her progression away from poems, to garden articles; and finally the dryer, more dispassionate study of history, mirrors the timing of the deaths of two of her children, 16-year-old Stevie and 12-year-old Dorothea, or "Dotise." Their losses seem to chart her gradual withdrawal from any writing that is emotionally intense and vulnerable.

Danske died June 3, 1914 with no will. Some of the town's waggier tongues punished Danske for her aloof unconventionality calling her "crazy", the price for eschewing her quota of church picnics. When a gun went off in her house the day she died with only Danske and an Irish nurse in the house, the same tongues called it a suicide. Helen Goldsborough, a relative who lived across the street at "Leeland," wrote that this is a claim Danske's family and persons who lived their entire lives at Rose Brake have always denied. Danske's death, Miss Goldsborough and other close family friends say, involved the disgruntled nurse the ailing Danske had fired just days before. The nurse had refused to leave.

Husband Stephen died about a decade later, leaving their artistic daughter Serena, also called "Miss Violet," to live out her life at Rose Brake. Her cousin, Nina Mitchell, daughter of Danske's sister, Mary, came to live at Rose Brake around the time of World War I. She and Miss Violet, who later asked to be called "Serena K." in memory of an aunt she loved, became two of the most beloved and generous residents Shepherdstown has ever had. Longtime residents have often said "Miss Violet and Miss Nina" are the very essence, and something of a source, of what is Shepherdstown, in style and outlook.

A friend said lovingly that almost everyone in this remarkable family was very religious, goodhearted, and greatly talented in the arts. Yet most also had a "slightly loose screw" to spice the memory of them. The friend said that this "crack" in the family's members was like one the Grecian goddess Diana decreed as "the place were the demons were shown out".

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