Lucy Virginia French, poet and novelist, was born in Accomac County, Virginia, to a family of wealth and culture. Her parents were Mease W. Smith, an educator and lawyer, and Elizabeth Parker Smith, daughter of a wealthy merchant. She graduated with high honors from Mrs. Hannah's School, a private academy in Washington, Pennsylvania. After her mother's death and her father's remarriage, she and her sister relocated to Memphis, where they both became teachers.
She also began writing for the Louisville Journal under the pen name “L'Inconnue,” and in 1852 she became editor of the Southern Ladies Book. After her 1853 marriage to Colonel John Hopkins French of McMinnville, she edited a number of newspapers and magazines including the Southern Homestead, the Rural Sun, the Sunny South, the Crusader, the Ladies Home, and the Southern Literary Messenger. She also published poetry, a five-act tragedy (Istalilxo: The Lady of Tula, 1856), and two novels (My Roses, 1872, and Darlingtonia, 1879). French's poetry is widely considered her best work; foremost among these pieces are “Wind Whispers,” “Tecumseh's Foot,” and “The Great River.” On March 31, 1881, she died at Forest Home, the McMinnville residence where she spent her entire married life. French also kept diaries during the Civil War (now housed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives) which give detailed accounts of her family's wartime experiences, both at the plantation in McMinnville and at nearby Beersheba Springs, where they resided during 1863 and 1864.