Fannie Amelia Dickson Baker Darden was a leading figure in the cultural life of Colorado County for most of the last half of the nineteenth century. She was born in Autauga County, Alabama, on September 13, 1829, to Eliza (Ward) and Moseley Baker. Her father escaped from an Alabama jail and went to Texas to avoid prosecution for embezzling a large sum of money from a bank. He became an officer in Sam Houston's army during the Texas Revolution. In spring 1837 Fannie and her mother left their home in Alabama and sailed to Texas to join her father. They landed at Galveston Island and later moved to Houston. From 1842 to 1846 Fannie returned to Alabama to attend school.
On January 26, 1847, when she was seventeen, she married William John Darden. In 1851 her husband ran a Houston newspaper, The Beacon, which apparently failed before the end of the year. In 1852 he opened a law practice in partnership with John H. Robson in Columbus. In later years he served as the town's mayor, then in the army (where he was wounded) and the government of the Confederate States of America. She had two children, both sons. One of her sons died when he was four years old, and the other of yellow fever in 1873 while still in his early twenties. She began a career as a painter and writer before the Civil War, and was one of three Colorado County artists who lived for a time, with their families, in the large Columbus home of art-patron Robert Robson.
Her husband died on May 29, 1881, after which she sold his library of more than 350 law books and pursued her career in earnest, at various times teaching art in a local school and submitting articles and poems to her hometown newspaper, the Colorado Citizen, and to other publications. She sold her undivided half interest in a 600-acre plantation southeast of Columbus (her husband had been forced to forfeit the other half in 1878) on January 24, 1883, for the low price of $300. She pursued, and on April 10, 1883, received, a headright certificate to replace one secured by her father many years earlier. In early 1883 she was hired to write for an Austin magazine, American Sketch Book, but in less than six months she quit and became a contributor to a magazine published in Corsicana—Texas Prairie Flower.
She was extremely active in St. John's Episcopal Church in Columbus where memorials to her remain even today. She was devoted to the early history of Texas and to the Confederacy, both during and after the Civil War. In November 1882 she had surgery for breast cancer but survived another seven years. When she drew up her will on December 11, 1889, she noted that a substantial debt she had incurred at least thirty years earlier was still outstanding. She died on January 4, 1890, leaving a library of at least 150 books, including works by Joseph Addison, John Keats, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Milton, Plato, Edgar Allen Poe, Alexander Pope, Walter Scott, Percy Shelly, William Shakespeare, and Noah Webster. She also owned copies of Henderson Yoakum's and Homer Thrall's histories of Texas, Edward Gibbon's history of Rome, lengthy biographies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, plus Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man, and books on phrenology, hydropathy, and the witches of Salem, Massachusetts.
Her earliest known published works were poems. Ten poems dated between 1858 and 1870 and published, presumably in those years, have come to light. Between 1872 and 1889, she published thirty-three poems in the Colorado Citizen. Her poetry was also included in various issues of Texas Prairie Flower, in Sam Houston Dixon's Poets and Poetry of Texas, in Ida Brigand's Southland Writers, in Ella Hutchins Steuart's Gems from a Texas Quarry, in Davis Foute Eagleton's Texas Literature Reader, and in Evelyn M. Carrington's Women in Early Texas. In all, Darden is known to have published fifty-eight poems.
Her best known prose piece, "Dillard Cooper's Account of his Escape from Fannin's Massacre," was first published in the Colorado Citizen on July 30, 1874. It was reprinted in American Sketch Book in 1882. From 1883 through 1885, Texas Prairie Flower published a series of her reminiscences and a series of her short stories, some of which certainly have been lost. More of her prose appeared in these three publications and in Texas Siftings and Steuart's Gems from a Texas Quarry.
Few of her paintings are known to be extant. St. John's Episcopal Church in Columbus owns her self portrait and one or two other works.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Colorado Citizen, April 24, 1858, June 2, 1881, December 7, 1882. Evelyn M. Carrington, ed., Women in Early Texas (Austin: Pemberton, 1975; Reprint Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1994). Darden Family File, Archives, Nesbitt Memorial Library, Columbus, Texas. Fannie A. D. Darden, "Autobiography of Childhood: The Journey to Texas," Texas Prairie Flower (November 1883). Sam Houston Dixon, ed., Poets and Poetry of Texas (Austin: Dixon, 1885). Bill Stein and Jayne Easterling, comps., "The Writings of Fannie Amelia Dickson Darden," Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal (September 1999).
Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
Dramatists and Novelists
Authors and Writers
Republic of Texas
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
Upper Gulf Coast
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