Mary Loughborough (1837–1887)

Mary Loughborough was a bestselling author and the publisher of the Southern Ladies’ Journal in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

Mary Ann Webster was born in Phelps, New York, on August 28, 1837, to Ashburn W. Webster and Julia Strong Webster. In 1842, when she was five years old, she was temporarily in the care of a New York City almshouse, possibly because of the death of her mother. By 1850, her father had moved his family to Carondelet, Missouri (now part of St. Louis). She attended Monticello Seminary in Godfrey, Illinois, graduating in 1853. On October 11, 1857, in Carondelet, she married prominent St. Louis attorney James Moore Loughborough, a native of Shelbyville, Kentucky. The couple would have six children. The eldest, Julia, was an infant when the Civil War broke out in 1861. In sharply divided Missouri, this event threw the pro-Confederacy family’s life into upheaval.

Like many officers’ wives, Mary Loughborough followed when her husband departed with the Missouri State Guard for Arkansas and later for Tennessee and Mississippi. She and her infant daughter soon followed her husband on his campaigns. She traveled via Memphis through the Mississippi communities of Oxford, Tupelo, Ripley, Pontotoc, Water Valley, Coffeeville, and Grenada before ultimately reaching Jackson, managing to stay ahead of General Ulysses S. Grant’s unsuccessful invasion of Mississippi in 1862. As she wrote, “I am unlucky enough to be identified with some retreat or threatened city.”

In April 1863, she visited Vicksburg for a short excursion with friends only to arrive there for the momentous passage and bombardment on April 16 of Admiral David Porter’s gunboats and transports as they sneaked past the thirteen riverfront batteries of the city to meet with Grant’s army farther south and transfer Union troops across the Mississippi River from Louisiana. Less than a month later, she escaped just before the fall of Jackson on May 14, becoming trapped during the Siege of Vicksburg. She lived in one of the many caves that the town’s citizens dug for themselves for protection from bombardment.

When the siege ended and she was able to return to Missouri, friends in St. Louis who heard her tale encouraged her to write a book of her experiences. In 1864, D. Appleton & Co. of New York published her memoir, My Cave Life in Vicksburg. Reprinted often, this work is recognized as the best account of civilians’ experience during the siege.

After the war, the Loughboroughs resettled in St. Louis, where Mary contributed articles on St. Louis’s early history to the periodical The Land We Love. By 1871, the family had moved to Little Rock, where her husband died in 1876.

In 1881, Loughborough launched the Ladies’ Little Rock Journal inside the Rural and Workman newspaper. It would become the Arkansas Ladies’ Journal and finally the Southern Ladies’ Journal. The journal represented a major new departure for the South, as it dealt not only with women’s domestic concerns, but took a stand on political issues, such as women’s right to vote and marital issues for which she published a serial called “For Better, For Worse.” She also tried to help women get better jobs through creating the Woman’s Exchange.

In 1887, Loughborough planned to expand the journal, but in February she fell sick and ultimately died on August 26, 1887. The Arkansas Gazette called her “a much respected and talented woman” whom friends would miss greatly. On March 3, 1888, the new Woman’s Chronicle reported that her death led to the demise of the journal. Loughborough is buried alongside her husband in Little Rock’s Mount Holly Cemetery.

For additional information:
Cahill, Bernadette. “Mary Ann Webster Loughborough: Her Life in a Cave 160 Years Ago.” CALS Roberts Library blog. (accessed August 10, 2023).

Loughborough, Mary. My Cave Life in Vicksburg. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1864.

Wilson, James Grant, and John Fiske. Appletons’ Cyclopedia of American Biography, vol. IV. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1888.

“Women at Vicksburg: Mary Loughborough.” Vicksburg National Military Park. (accessed August 10, 2023).

Bernadette Cahill
Vicksburg, Mississippi


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