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.

“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

“we past Christmas day very agreeably”

HENRIETTA MARCHANT LISTON arrived in the United States in 1796 with her husband Robert who had been appointed British ambassador to the new nation. They took up residence in Philadelphia, the capital. Genuinely curious about the New World, they began an extended trip from Philadelphia to Charleston, South Carolina in the fall of 1797. (See previous posts about their journeys here and here.) Henrietta documented their trip in her journal, noting facts that she found interesting, the foods they ate, and their astonishment at the natural beauties, particularly the flora, of the countryside. Traveling on the east coast of North America was a challenge but one that the 45-year-old Mrs. Liston and her 55-year-old husband met with aplomb, courage, and even laughter.

The first night after leaving Mr. Jones’s Hospitable roof, we were obliged to take up our quarters, in what was called an Inn, Consisting of one room containing two Beds, one for the family, the other for Strangers; there were two young Men travelling on Horseback, besides several Inferior Guests, & I found that all the Party, except our Servants who were in a ruinous outKitchen, must lodge in this Chamber. the doors being all open warming oneself was out of the question … although there was a roaring fire….

One of the Group around the fire appearing intoxicated, & seemingly disposed to amuse himself with a Pistol, I took the Daughter of the House aside, & declared our readiness to be contented with any place, in order to Sleep in a separate apartment from these Men. She regretted that there was nothing but an empty Garrat, used for keeping Corn, without fire or door, & an open window. it was frost & snow, but we had taken our resolution, & we repaired to an old flat Bed, that happened to be in this miserable Place &, indeed, we were within a very little of being frozen to Death, notwithstanding an Eddadown [Eiderdown] Green silk Bedcover with which we travelled, & it was with some difficulty the Girl, next morning, could prevail on the Savages to let me approach the fire so as to thaw my fingers.

On Christmas eve, the Listons reached Fayetteville, named after the Marquis de Lafayette who had fought on the side of the Americans in the Revolutionary War.

[I]t is a flourishing Town, upon a Branch of the Capefear River & nearly at the head of the navigation—before the [Revolutionary] War it was called Cross Creek. We were visited by a Scotch Gentleman, named [Robert] Donaldson, with whose family we passed Christmas day very agreeably.

No doubt they were happy to spend the day with a fellow Scot, but Mrs. Liston does not give any details of the festivities. However, she does describe a particular meal she and her husband enjoyed en route.

[O]ur most frequent food, & infinitely the best of its kind, was Pork & Corn bread, it happened to be the Season for killing Pork, it was fresh & most excellent meat, . . . always broiled upon the Coals, & when we happened to get a few fryed Eggs to it, it was the best food possible & with Corn bread—no other is known—baked upon a hoe, in general, & call[ed] hoe cake.

On New Year’s Eve, Henrietta and her husband arrived in Charleston, South Carolina where they spent a week before returning to Philadelphia, receiving “very marked attentions” from the “polished Society” that characterized the city. There was no specific mention of how they spent New Year’s day.

Excerpts are taken from “1797. Tour to the Southern States—Virginia, North & South Carolina” in The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800, Louise V. North, pp 26, 27, 28, 30.


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