WELCOME TO THE BLOG IN THE WORDS OF WOMEN

Based largely on the book of the same name, the blog is a kind of trailer for it and the primary source material it contains. An invitation, you might say … to eavesdrop on the lives of women writing 250 years ago … to become acquainted with 144 little-known but amazingly articulate chroniclers … and to discover a valuable new perspective on the Revolutionary Era.

The women featured lived between 1765 and 1799. But once you attune your ears to their way of writing, their voices easily leapfrog across the centuries. Read just a few sentences and you’ll find yourself back in time, entering their concerns, sharing their feelings. And what they have to say is always fascinating, often eye-opening, sometimes heart-rending.

Please bookmark the blog and visit regularly to see which writers and issues are being featured. There are two new posts weekly: on Monday and Thursday. And do explore those related to the many topics listed on the right. In addition to posts based on the book, others introduce the writings of women who didn’t make it into the book or who turn up as a result of ongoing research. To subscribe via email, click here. Leave a comment. Email a question. And enjoy your visits.

“Happy mortals are we, that we cannot dive into futurity!”

Following are some of the last entries from the journal of SARAH EVE, a young woman in Philadelphia in 1774.

March 27th. — A fine day, but still windy. In the morning I went over to Mrs. Stainforth’s and staid with her until dinner time. We had the pleasure of Mr. Clifford’s company to dine with us. In the afternoon Mr. & Mrs. Garriguse, Hannah Mitchell, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Rush (bless me, what a girl, Mr. Rush should have been set down first, I am sure, but now it is too late), and Mr. J. Giles drank Tea with us.

March 30th.— “Warm and cloudy. In the morning I went to Mrs. Rush’s where I spent the day and night. . . . About ten o’clock I went to bed and left Miss Bets up. Query, which was the happier, that lady sitting up with her, or myself lying in a fine soft bed, reading the ” Adventures of the renowned Don Quixote,” and in a most excellent humour to enjoy it?

May 1st. — A May morning indeed!. . . .This day is five years since my dear father left us; I am persuaded that had we known that morning we parted with him, that he was to have been absent so long, we should
have thought it impossible to have existed for one half the time ; nay, I know not at that time whether we should have wished it. Happy mortals are we, that we cannot dive into futurity! if we could, how pleasure would be anticipated until it became tasteless, and the knowledge of distant evil would render us utterly insensible to the joys of present good.

May 2nd. — In the evening I went to church and heard Mr. Stringer for the first time since his return from England. I dined at Mr. Rush’s. Betsey & myself in the afternoon went to Christ Church.

May 18th. — Mama and myself went to town in the morning, called at Mr. Rush’s. . . .

June 24th. — This morning I went to town, staid a little while at Mrs. Clifford’s, from there I went to Smith’s and spent the day. In the evening called at Mr. Rush’s. . . .

June 27th. — In the afternoon Mr. Cummings came here. In the evening the two Mr. Rushes called to see us.

July 3rd.— This day I spent at Mr. Rush’s. . . .

July 12th.— In the evening B. Rush, P. Dunn, K. Vaughan and myself carried Mr. Ash’s child to be buried . . . .

It was the custom at one time for friends and relatives of the deceased, including women, to carry the coffin to its resting place.

August 3rd. — This day I spent at Mr. Clifford’s . . . . In the evening called at Mr. Smith’s and Mr. Rush’s, then went to my sister’s where I met Mama and the Boys to go home with me.

August 13th. — About four o’clock we went to Town. I drank Tea at Mr. Rush’s, afterwards went down to see Mrs. Smith . . . .

September 4th. — To-day very unwell with a chill and fever. In the afternoon Mr. Rush and Betsey Rush were here.

September 5th. — In the morning I found myself much better and came down stairs and expected to have had no more of the fever, but about eleven o’clock found myself colder than December, and in the afternoon warmer than the inhabitants of Mercury — what a contrast in a few hours! In the afternoon my sister and Peggy Campbell and in the evening the two Betsey Rushes and Capt. Bethel.

September 21st. — Hearing that little Bets was unwell, I went to see her, and then to Mr. Smith’s to spend the day. Mr. Clifford read a paragraph in the York paper that mentions that my brother was to leave the Bay the 3rd of Sept.for Georgia, with some of the principal inhabitants and a hundred negroes on board, and that there were but two Vessels in the Bay, so that whether or not my Father has sailed we cannot tell. What doubt and anxiety attend absence — Oh! that our present uneasy apprehensions could but sleep ! Came home exceedingly unwell.

September 26th. — Last night Mama was extremely ill, Isabel very poorly and I not much better. . . . In the evening Mr. Rush came to see us, he did not know we were sick until he came here; he seemed so distresst that he did not know how to leave us, ” You should, why did you not let us know how you were, that we might have been up before.” Are we not blest with the best of friends.

September 27th. — Mama still bad, this morning we sent for Dr. Rush who gave Mama some powders and me some elixir, which we think have been of service to both. In the afternoon Mr. & Betsey Rush and Peggy Campbell came out here, and in the evening Mr. Rush.

September 29th. — Mrs. Clifford came out, although the weather extremely hot and sultry. About twelve we had a gust and it turned cold, so great a change in the weather gave me a chill instantly. Mrs. Rush and Betsey walked out here, but did not stay long as it looked like rain.

September 30th. — To-day cold, blowing and raining, so great an alteration in the weather in so short a time, I believe never has been. But notwithstanding Mr. Rush came through it all to ask how we did.

October 7th. — This morning we had the infinite pleasure of seeing my dear brother Jackey after an absence of twelve months. . . . To-day I went down stairs for the first time in eight days. . . .

October 9th. — A pleasant day, Mr. Rush, in the afternoon drank Tea with us.

Sarah Eve’s journal ends in mid December. Her father did come home before the end of the year. If you have been paying attention you will have noticed that the name of Dr. Benjamin Rush (and his mother and sister) is mentioned often in the preceding excerpts. He had been courting Sarah Eve and they were to have been married at the end of 1774. However, Sarah died three weeks before their wedding. As Sarah wrote: “Happy mortals are we, that we cannot dive into futurity!” Rush, in his autobiography, does not mention her.

EXTRACTS FROM THE JOURNAL OF MISS SARAH EYE (concluded), The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 5, No. 2 (1881),, pages 194-96, 198-200. Image from the National Library of Medicine (pp 28, 29, 30, 36).

posted February 8th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Death, Eve, Sarah, Illness, Philadelphia, Rush, Dr. Benjamin, Weather

“only … rare occurences … make impressions on … memory”

SARAH EVE of Philadelphia continued in her journal to write about the weather comparing it to memory, in general, in which the unusual is remarked on and remembered while the usual, which is often fine, is either taken for granted or ignored. A philosophical young lady.

March 23rd. [1773] — A most fine day indeed, but as this is not uncommon at this season, I dare say, in a week it will be entirely forgotten, as in general it is only the rare occurences that make impressions on the memory. In this year we have had as yet but one day rendered memorable by its temperature, and that was the 21st of February, the extreme coldness of which made it so. . . .
It puts me in mind of those lines of our poet Godfrey*:
” The blazing meteor streaming thro’ the air,
” Commands our wonder, and admiring eyes
” With eager gaze we trace the lucent paths
” Till spent at last, it shrinks to native nothing,
” While the bright stars which ever steady glow
” Unheeded shine and bless the world below.”
The weather certainly may be said to be an emblem of mankind; there are few men in an age that are remembered after they are dead, and those few for being remarkable, like the days of the year, extreme in something, man for his goodness, wisdom, or ambition, for the service or disservice he has done a community, in common, with the weather only pleases or displeases for the present, all is forgotten when no more. It seems ingratitude so soon to forget those whose whole lives were made eminent by their social virtues, when perhaps another will be remembered and his name handed down to posterity for having been the best hair-dresser, or the best fiddle-maker of his time.

* Thomas Godfrey whose poems were published in 1765. Born in Philadelphia 1736, he died at the age of twenty-six. The lines quoted are from The Prince of Parthia, A Tragedy. Act I. Scene 2d.

In the next entry, however, Sarah is commenting again on the weather.

March 25th. — A most dreadful, rainy, windy day indeed. I am really afraid we shall hear of some damage done, as I think I never heard it blow harder. Alas! the poor Sailors, protect them, Heaven!

Source: Extracts from the Journals of Miss Sarah Eve, p 27-28.

posted January 16th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Eve, Sarah, Poetry, Weather

“One hates to be always kissed”

Visits to and from friends seems to have occupied the time of many young women like SARAH EVE in Philadelphia in 1773. In this entry she identifies one of the customs she dislikes.

February 26th. — As fine a day as in April. In the morning Dr. [William] Shippen came to see us. What a pity it is that the Doctor is so fond of kissing; he really would be much more agreeable if he were less fond. One hates to be always kissed, especially as it is attended with so many inconveniences; it decomposes the economy of one’s hankerchief [fabric worn to fit in the neckline] it disorders one’s high Roll [hair dress], and it ruffles the serenity of one’s countenance; in short the Doctor’s, or a sociable kiss is many times worse than a formal salute with bowing and curtseying, to ” this is Mr. Such-an-one, and this Miss What-do-you-call her.” ‘Tis true this confuses one no little, but one gets the better of that sooner than to readjust one’s dress. . . .

Dr. William Shippen, Jr. was a co-founder, with Dr. John Morgan, of America’s first medical school in 1765, the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) and a supporter of male midwifery.

The excerpt can be found on pages 222-223 of In the Words of Women, edited by Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011). Original source: Extracts from the Journals of Miss Sarah Eve, p 25. Portrait is from Wikipedia.

posted January 13th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Eve, Sarah, Medicine, Midwives, Philadelphia, Shippen, Dr. William Jr., Social customs

“it is very extremely excessive cold”

According to Mrs. Eva Eve Jones of Augusta, Georgia, who published “Extracts of Sarah Eve’s Journal” in 1881, a member of the family wrote of SARAH EVE: “Her hair, though red, was always fashionably dressed, and her appearance very stately.” Stately she may have been but she certainly had a sense of humor. As noted in the previous post Sarah began her journal in part, to record and comment on the weather. In February 1773, herewith these entries.

February 15th. — A delightful day. . . . This evening Isabel planted peas, concluding like the Young
Man in the Fable, from the exceeding fineness of the day, that summer was come; and as the death of the swallow and coldness of the weather which was so pleasant but the other day, convinced him of his mistake in prematurely selling his cloathes, so I fancy will the rottenness of the peas satisfy her that had they been planted six weeks later, it had been much better. However, as this haste only proceeds from an anxiety of having them before our neighbors, it may be termed an innocent, if not a laudable emulation.

Sarah is referring to the Aesop Fable titled “The Spendthrift and the Swallow.” The gist of it is that a young spendthrift, needing money, upon seeing a swallow, thought that spring had come, and so sold all of his clothes. A mistake. The weather turned cold, the swallow died, and the foolish man almost froze. The moral: “don’t draw a conclusion based on a single observation.”

February 21st. — The weather to day — but what shall I say of the weather? we have had ” very cold,” ” extremely cold,” ” excessive cold,” and ” exceeding cold,” as says this Book now, none of these separately is sufficient to convey the idea of the temperature of this day — it needs more than the superlative degree, it would take a super-superlative degree if there is such an one, for it is very extremely excessive cold, in short, they say that it has not been so cold since that winter the ox was frozen on the river. . . .

The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 5, No. 2 (1881), pp. 191-205. From the Internet Archive, pp 20, 25. See details on the fable HERE.

posted January 10th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Eve, Sarah, Weather

“a thought came over me to write a few lines every night”

Like many other young women of her time, SARAH EVE (1749/50-1774) decided to keep a journal. She was one of thirteen children born to Oswell Eve and Anne Moore, seven of whom died in infancy. Her father, a sea captain, suffered a series of financial setbacks and in 1768 took two of Sarah’s brothers with him to set up a business abroad, it is thought in the West Indies. During his absence of five years, Sarah and her mother lived in a house near Philadelphia in fairly comfortable circumstances. The red-headed Sarah, always fashionably dressed, spent a good deal of time visiting friends. In the excerpt below she gives her reasons for beginning a journal. She has the charming habit of writing as if she were speaking to herself.

December 13th, 1772. — Sitting before the fire this evening, a thought came over me to write a few lines every night, of what sort of weather we have, whether we go out or not, who comes to see us, and how we spend our time summer and winter. I flatter myself that this will be the last winter that we shall spend here; and I think that from this Journal, altho’ unentertaining as it will be, my dear Father may form a pretty just idea of the melancholy winters that we have had since he went away. I wish I had thought of this sooner, or at least on the first of this month, but as that was not the case, think it would be ingratitude not to remark the extreme pleasant weather we have had since the month began. Not a cloudy day, every morning a fine white frost, so that one might say . . . it is so warm that if the calendar did not call it winter, one would be ready to swear it was the opening of spring. This morning I went to the opening of the New Meeting House, heard Mr. Sprout preach, the house much crowded — Query, the motive? — Novelty or Religion?

On December 23 Sarah wrote “The weather still fine.” After spending the day with friends, “Returned in the evening, and wrote a letter to my father by Capt. Gilbert. Read the ‘Fashionable Lover,’ a prodigious fine comedy wrote by Cumberland.”

The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 5.

posted January 5th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Eve, Sarah, Philadelphia

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