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LEDBETTER, LENA DANCY

LEDBETTER, LENA DANCY (1850–1938). Lena Dancy Ledbetter, civic leader and amateur composer, was born on August 20, 1850, in La Grange, Texas. She was the daughter of John Winfield Scott Dancy and Lucy Ann (Nowlin) Dancy. Her father, a legislator, lawyer, and early advocate of railroad construction, owned a large plantation on the west bank of the Colorado River near La Grange, and Lena spent her early childhood there. About 1855 she was sent to Austin to live with her maternal grandparents and attend B. J. Smith’s Academy. In a feature on her life published in the March 22, 1931, edition of the Dallas Morning News, she recalled many interesting experiences in Austin, including meeting Sam Houston and having the honor of being his dance partner at his inaugural ball after he had won the governorship in 1859.

By the advent of the Civil War, Lena Dancy was living on the family plantation near La Grange. During the war, the Dancy plantation served as a haven for exhausted and sick Confederate soldiers; the Dancy household knitted and sewed the soldiers’ clothing, and Lena and her sisters played and sang songs for them. During this time, Lena also made her own homespun dress—completely by hand. With the death of John Dancy just after the war, his wife and their children were left to manage the plantation by themselves.

Lena Dancy attended the Carnatz Institute in New Orleans. There she received vocal lessons and studied piano. Shortly after her graduation and return to La Grange, she married James Peacock Ledbetter in 1870. They had five daughters and two sons.

In 1888 the family moved to Coleman, Texas, and established a ranch there. Lena Ledbetter was active in civic affairs, and the Ledbetters used their home to hold services for the Episcopal Church. In later years, she devoted more time to numerous organizations, including the Daughters of the American Revolution, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and United Daughters of the Confederacy. She also became an active advocate for women’s suffrage and for the prohibition movement.

Throughout her life, Ledbetter had maintained an interest in music. Her musical talents also extended to her children, and she and her husband organized a family orchestra. They often performed at public events. She also established a ladies’ orchestra in Coleman, as well as a music club. Ledbetter composed a number of songs and established her own music publishing company—the first of its kind in Coleman. Among her popular compositions was “Yosemite,” a “descriptive musical creation of the falling waters in the national park.” Her son, Dancy, in 1894 composed the “Varsity Gavotte” while attending the University of Texas, and his mother wrote a piano arrangement as well as melody parts for the song’s varsity yell.

Lena Dancy Ledbetter outlived her husband and four of her seven children. By the 1930s she was living with a daughter in Tulsa. Another daughter, Unity Ledbetter, was a cross-country airplane pilot. Ledbetter donated a number of her possessions to different museums and archives. The relics included the homespun dress she made during the Civil War. She died in 1938 and was buried in Coleman Cemetery in Coleman County, Texas. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Coleman Cemetery, Coleman County, Texas (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jrterry/colemancounty/cemeteries/coleman-mp07.html), accessed June 24, 2011. Dallas Morning News, March 22, 1931. Lena Dancy Ledbetter Papers, 1830–1950, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. 

Laurie E. Jasinski

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Laurie E. Jasinski, "Ledbetter, Lena Dancy," accessed October 23, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fleam.

Uploaded on May 26, 2015. Modified on June 6, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.