Miss Knight Abroad


In the last week of July, John and Frances Knight and their daughter boarded the iron-hulled paddle steamer Persia, pride of the Cunard Line, bound for home. They reached New York on August 3 and Fanny, in one of her last travel-diary entries, wrote: “New York looks very lively and bustling and somewhat shabby, but how glad I am to be at home again! … I tell Pa that, after being so long in Europe, I will be entirely forgotten by all my friends, and in my old age will feel myself a stranger in my own land, should all my youth be spent in foreign countries. I am still proud of being a daughter of America, and will ever prefer my motherland to any other. … Pa has decided that we shall pass the winter in New Orleans, so I shall see HIM again!!”

“Him” was Thomas McDannold, a young New Orleans lawyer who had been attracted to Fanny during a previous meeting, who would remain her ardent suitor through four years of war—he served with a Louisiana regiment in nineteen major battles—and who would finally win her hand in 1867.

Throughout the remainder of her life Fanny never forgot her Grand Tour. For whatever might be said, then or now, about the snob appeal of such a sojourn, it was an education, one which would have been hard to match. In a few brief years—and those her most impressionable ones—young Fanny Knight had seen at firsthand many of the crowned heads of Europe. She had seen the fruits of one revolution—in France—and the seeds of another—in Czarist Russia. She had been introduced to the cultures of the ancient world, of the Renaissance, and of her own time. And she had visited most of the countries whose emigrants would, in the next half century, so profoundly alter the character of her own.

It was an expensive education, to be sure (the first two years alone, John Knight calculated, cost him over $12,000), but it was infinitely superior to the provincial female seminaries which were the only institutions of higher learning then available to women in the United States—even to the daughters of the wealthy. For a young woman with Fanny’s spirit, curiosity, and quick mind, the Grand Tour was a treasure that sustained her richly to the end of her days.