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A Real Southern Belle
Although there were belles all over America in the nineteenth century, Southern belles have always held a strange, seductive power around the country that endures to this day. Belle is French for "beautiful" and is referring to any young beauty. The ladies were known for not only their beauty, but also their easy grace and elegance in everything they did. The moment a Southern woman opens her mouth, she is branded for better or for worse with the term. The term designates a woman born and bred in the South who is usually of the upper class, adheres to strict societal rules, and knows how to plan and execute an elegant event. She was expected during the 1800's to have some education in mathematics, literature, foreign languages, and the art of conversation as well as be accomplished in an art of some type: sewing, music or art. In this fashion, she would make an excellent wife and hostess.
Octavia Debuts in Washington, D.C. in 1833
Great Movies About Southern Belles
LeVert Mansion and Doctor Office
Further Reading On Famous Belles
Octavia Walton LeVert (1811-1877)
Today no one is familiar with Octavia, who was the queen of the Southern belles. American royalty, she was the granddaughter of George Walton, one of the Georgia signers of the Declaration of Independence. George was immediately tapped to serve as the territorial governor of Florida in nearby Pensacola. Octavia, being an intelligent child, relished Native American tales of the area and valued them, even naming Florida's capital, Tallahassee. They returned the favor calling her "the White Dove of Peace". Later, her father moved the family to Mobile, Alabama in 1835. Earlier there, she had traveled from Pensacola and met the Marquis de Lafayette in 1825, who predicted she would have a brilliant career when she was just 14 years old.
Accomplished in all the arts as well as speaking five different languages, she was celebrated by Washington Irving, who said,"Such a woman comes but once in the course of an empire." During a yellow fever season visit to Saratoga, New York, she entranced Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote a poem, "Octavia" for her. Famed statesman, Henry Clay was godfather to her children. A handsome French doctor, Henry LeVert of Mobile, AL, won her hand despite admirers such as Zachary Taylor, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Buchanan.
In her home in Mobile, which was then the third largest port in the USA, she ruled over a European-style salon where she entertained important visitors and was a tastemaker all over the South through newspaper stories about her pink satin slippers and the like. Her salon was open on Mondays from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m.; unusual for the time, she entertained actors.. Later, she wrote a book called "" about her European tour. During the tour, she inspired the marked interest of Queen Victoria, as well as other European royalty, including the Pope, with whom she conversed fluently in Italian. Souvenirs of Travel
Of her appeal, it is said that although of a very pleasing appearance of brown hair and shining blue eyes, she wasn't incredibly beautiful. Her appeal lay in her intelligence, vivacious charm and graceful way of handling conversation. She was a brilliant conversationalist. She was considered "the most charming woman in the world." Her reign ended when she, never really a Confederate supporter, invited high-ranking Union officers into her home after the Civil War. Immediately censured by Mobilians, who perhaps resented her power, and having recently lost her husband to death, she first retired to the North and then to her birthplace, Augusta, Georgia, to die in obscurity and impoverished.
She is all but forgotten, despite her reign over statesmen such as Clay and Calhoun, who called her "the South's gifted daughter" nearly two centuries ago. Today her portrait and artifacts, as well as others of her husband and parents, can be found at the Historic Mobile Preservation Society's house museum, the Oakleigh Mansion. Her lessons, to be an attentive and engaged listener with a kind and joyous spirit that ignites the beauty within us all, are timeless.