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.

“other than pecuniary consolation”

With all of the publicity surrounding the Broadway musical Hamilton, I thought I would devote some space to two women with whom Alexander Hamilton is said to have had affairs. His liaison with MARIA REYNOLDS is known for certain because he himself admitted to their affair (1791-1792) in order to clear himself of charges of financial impropriety during his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury. In 1797 he published “Observations on Certain Documents” from a draft of which the following excerpt is taken. In it Hamilton describes how the affair began. Subsequently James Reynolds blackmailed Hamilton demanding money to keep the affair secret. Publishing the details must have been difficult for Hamilton but maintaining a spotless reputation during his public service was more important to him than the scandal resulting from a sexual escapade. In the end Hamilton is likely to have suspected that husband and wife had colluded to set him up.

Some time in the Summer of the year 1791 a woman called at my house in the City of Philadelphia and asked to speak with me, apart in private. She was shewn into the parlour and I where I quickly after went where I went to her. She introduced herself by telling With an seeming apparent air of distress she informed me that she was a daughter of a Mr. Lewis of the State of New York and a sister to a Mrs. G—— Livingston of the State of New York and wife to a Mr. Reynolds whose father was in the Commissary or Quarter Master department during the war with Great Britain—that he had lately lef that her husband had for a long time treated her very cruelly w had lately left her to live with another woman and so destitute that though desirous of returning to her friends she had not the means—that knowing I was a citizen of the same State of New York she had take the liberty to address herself to my humanity for relief. There was something odd in the application and the story yet there was a genuineness simplicity and modesty in the manner of relating it which gave an impression of its truth. I replied that her situation was an interesting one & that I was disposed to afford her as much aid as might be necessary sufficient to convey her to her friends—but, that at the instant it was not convenient to me, (which was truly the case) that if she would inform me where she was to be found I would send or bring it to her in the course of the day. She gave me the Street and the number of the house where she would be found lodged. In the Evening I put a thirty dollar bill in my Pocket and went to the house where I inquired for Mrs. Reynolds and was shewn up Stairs into at the head of which she met me and conducted me into a bed room. I took the bill out of my pocket and delivered it to him her. Some conversation ensued which made it quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would not be unacceptable. It required a harder heart than mine to refuse it to a pretty woman Beauty in distress.

After this, I had frequent meetings with her—most of them at my own house. Mrs. Hamilton being absent on a visit to her father with her Children. . . .

Next time some excerpts from letters Maria wrote to Hamilton.

“Draft of the “Reynolds Pamphlet”, [25 August 1797],” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-21-02-0138-0001 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 21, April 1797 – July 1798, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974, pp. 215–238.
The illustration of Hamilton is a photograph of a painting by John Trumbull; 1 negative: glass [between 1900 and 1912]. Prints & Photographs Division, Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-det-4a26168.

posted June 23rd, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Hamilton, Alexander, Reynolds, Maria

I have just finished reading the new biography of LOUISA JOHNSON ADAMS, the wife of John Quincy Adams, Louisa—the Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams by Louisa Thomas (New York: Penguin Press, 2016). Before this biography came out there were two blog posts on Louisa, here and here. I was fascinated by her when I wrote them and am more so now. Her life goes beyond the time frame I had set for this blog (1800) and so I did not write more about her. I urge you to read this book to follow her life to its end. During the latter part of her life Louisa wrote several memoirs: “The Adventures of a Nobody,” “Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France,” and “Record of A Life.” They are quite extraordinary.

John Quincy Adams met Louisa in London at the home of her father who was the American consul; her mother was English. They married after a peculiar courtship. Their relationship blew hot and cold throughout their marriage—John Quincy was a strange, difficult man. And, believe me, you wouldn’t have wanted Abigail Adams for a mother-in-law.) Louisa was torn between being a thinking, courageous, active woman and the subservient wife that a woman was expected to be at that time. She lived abroad as John Quincy cycled through various diplomatic assignments. In Washington she devoted herself to furthering her husband’s ambitions, first to become secretary of state and then president. Louisa was a small woman and her health was delicate; she endured numerous miscarriages and outlived all but one of her children.

The author Louisa Thomas has done a marvelous job of telling Louisa’s story, drawing on the memoirs and the voluminous correspondence with members of the family and others. (John Quincy’s father took to her early on and his mother Abigail warmed to her eventually.) The book of 458 pages reads like a novel; you won’t be able to put it down.

The painting is of Louisa as a young woman and was painted by Edward Savage. It is the property of the National Park Service.

posted June 20th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Louisa Catherine

“our Lady Presidentess”

After the death of her child in 1789, JUDITH SARGENT STEVENS MURRAY and her husband John embarked on a six-month journey, via horse-drawn carriage, from Gloucester to a Universalist convention in Philadelphia. She wrote letters to her parents describing her encounters along the way. In 1790 she wrote from New Rochelle, New York, describing a meeting with Martha Washington in New York City, which was then the capital of the United States. This is a repeat of a blog posted in 2011.

About Six O-clock we took a coach for the presence … Colonel Humphry’s, offering his hand, ushered us into the drawing room, a number of Ladies were with Mrs Washington, and her matronlike appearance, and Lady like condescension, soon dissipated every painful idea of distance—taking my hand she seated me by her side, and addressing herself particularly to me, as the only stranger present, she engaged me in the most familiar, and agreeable Chat—. … Mrs Washington’s face is an index of a good heart, and those Virtues which I am told she eminently possesseth, are impressed upon every feature—need I add, that her countenance is irresistibly prepossessing. … Thursday, very unexpectedly opened another scene—I was sitting in my little apartment, alone, and buried in thought—strange that I possessed not the smallest presentiment, of the distinction which awaited me—but so it was … Mrs Washington, and Mrs Lear [the wife of Tobias Lear George Washington's secretary and friend] were immediately ushered in. If any thing could exceed my surprise, it was the charming freedom with which Mrs Washington took her seat—The unmeaning fopperies of ceremony seem to make no part of this Lady’s Character, inborn benevolence, beams upon her countenance, points her address, and dictates the most pleasing expressions to her lips—one whole hour she condescendingly devoted to me, and so much friendship did her salutations connect, so interesting and animated was our conversation, that a bystander would not have entertained an idea of the distance between us, would hardly have supposed, that we met but for the second time, thus benignly good, and thus adorned with social virtues is our Lady Presidentess, and I confess that in a way perfectly correspondent with my feelings, I have been most highly gratified. …”

Note the use of the word condescension” above. It has a pejorative connotation today, but in the eighteenth century its use was intended to be flattering, connoting the virtue of “generosity.” Judith Murray continued to speak out and write on social and political issues. She wrote plays that were performed at the Boston Theatre on Federal Street and she was the first woman to self-publish a book, The Gleaner, in 1798. After John Murray died Judith went to live with her daughter and her husband Adam Lewis Bingaman in Natchez. She died in 1820 at the age of 69.

This excerpt is from From Gloucester to Philadelphia in 1790: Observations, Anecdotes, and Thoughts from the 18th-Century Letters of Judith Sargent Murray, Bonnie Hurd Smith, ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Judith Sargent Murray Society and Curious Traveller Press, 1998), pages 246, 248-250, 254. Portrait from Phebe A Hanaford, Daughters of America (Augusta: True and Company, 1882), page 109,

posted June 16th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Murray, John, Murray, Judith Sargent Stevens, New York, Washington, Martha

“in my arms a lifeless form I clasp’d”

As the daughter of a fairly well-to-do merchant family living in Gloucester, Massachusetts, JUDITH SARGENT STEVENS MURRAY received the typical education for a girl at the time while her brother had a tutor to prepare him for entrance to Harvard. To make up for her perceived educational deficiency she read widely on her own from books in her father’s library. At age eighteen she married John Stevens; it was considered a good match.
When her father became interested in the new theology of Universalism Judith met the English preacher John Murray who visited Gloucester in 1774. She struck up a correspondence with him that continued through the Revolutionary War. Eventually she and her family broke with the Congregational church and established a new religious society called the Independent Church of Christ choosing Murray as their pastor.
Finding himself so burdened by debt because of the war and trade embargoes John Stevens, Judith’s husband, was forced to leave the country for the West Indies in 1786. He died soon thereafter and John Murray asked Judith to marry him. At age thirty-nine she became pregnant; sadly, the child was stillborn and Judith herself nearly died. Here is the poem she composed expressing her sorrow. In 1791, at the age of forty-one, she became pregnant again and was delivered of a healthy girl, Julia Maria.

LINES, Occasioned by the Death of an Infant.

Soft—tread with care, my darling baby sleeps,
And innocence its spotless vigils keeps.
Around my cradled boy the loves attend,
And, clad in smiles, the dimpling graces bend:
While his fair Angel’s talk, so late assign’d,
Assumes the charge of the immortal mind.

Hail guardian spirit! Watch with tender care,
And for each opening scene my child prepare;
Shield him from vice—to virtue stimulate,
Around his every step assiduous wait:
Not one weak moment thou thy post resign,
Implant the gen’rous wish—the glow divine;
Warn if thou canst—or, ‘gainst the bursting storm,
His little frame with growing firmness arm;
Teach him to suffer—teach him to enjoy,
And all thy heavenly influence employ.
Attendant spirits, hear my ardent prayer,
In paths of rectitude my infant rear;
Trust me, his mother shall her efforts join,
To shield, and guide, her utmost powers combine.

‘Twas thus I plann’d my future hours to spend,
With my soft hopes maternal joys to blend;
But agonized nature trembling sighs!
And my young sufferer in the struggle dies:
As the green bud though hid from outward view,
On its own stem invigorated grew,
Yet ere its opening leaves could look abroad,
The howling blast its latent life destroy’d:
So shrieking terrour all destructive rose,
Each moment fruitful of increasing woes,
And ere my tongue could mark his natal day,
(With eager haste great nature’s dues to pay)
Its native skies the gentle spirit sought,
And clos’d a life with early evil fraught.
For me, the clay cold tenement I press’d,
And sorrow’s keenest shafts tranfix’d my breast;
Dear pledge of love—all tremulous I cry’d—
Fair hope, full many a week thou hast supply’d;
To give thee life, I would endure again—
And every pang without regret sustain!
But icy death thy pretty features moulds,
And to no mortal gaze thy worth unfolds.
Thy funeral knell with melancholy sound,
Borne on the heavy gale—diffusing round
A dirgeful gloom—proclaims I must obey,
And bears thy beauteous image far away;
To the absorbing grave I must resign,
All of my first born child that e’er was mine!
And though no solemn train of mourners bend,
Or on thy hearse with tearful woe attend,
Too insignificant thy being view’d,
To be but by thy father’s steps pursu’d;
Yet thy pale corse the hand of beauty grac’d,
When on thy urn the new pluck’d flow’rs she plac’d,
The purple blow when her soft hand enwreath’d,
And o’er my dead the sigh of pity breath’d.

And still to shade and deck thy early tomb,
Fancy’s rich foliage shall forever bloom,
Embowering trees in stately order rise,
While fragrant sweets the damask rose supplies;
The drooping lily too shall lowly bend,
And none but genial showers shall e’er descend,
Say white rob’d Cherub—whither dost thou stray,
Mid what celestial walk pursue thy way;
To some sequester’d bower hast thou repair’d,
Where thy young hopes may be to knowledge rear’d;
Where the untutor’d, the infantile mind,
With sacred joy the path of truth may find;
Where guardian Angels wait the glad employ,
The latent seeds of evil to destroy;
Where wisdom blending, innocence entwines.
With infant sweetness; where improvement shines;
Where all thy little powers thou mayst expand;
Where unassuming, thou mayst understand[.]
Those laws, by which the Great First Cause directs,
And from eventual ruin man protects.
Go on my Son—thy radiant path pursue,
In paradise I trust thy face to view,
To mark thy progress my Celestial makes,
That virtue, which my soul to transport wakes;
And, my sweet boy, prepare the flowery wreath,
For yet a little, and thy air I breathe;
Misfortunes frequent, will reduce this clay,
Will bear the animating spark away:
And sure thy gentle spirit will descend,
With some blest choir my parting soul attend,
My dying requiem studious to compose,
To lead me where each sacred pleasure flows.
While here—alas—thou mock’d my ardent grasp,
For in my arms a lifeless form I clasp’d:
But there, I shall enjoy the dear embrace,
Amid the infant host my cherub trace.

Nor smile ye censurers that I thus lament,
A being scarce into existence sent;
What said the rock of ages—while he wore
This mortal coil—and all our sorrows bore:
“Regard those innocents—their worth reverse,
“Their Angels in the court of God appear;
“Immortal denizens of Heav’n they are,
“And in that kingdom radiant honours share.”
August decisions—and my heart believes,
With humble joy this truth receives;
Nor fears to err, when in the Just One’s path,
Howe’er mysterious may be its faith,
For God himself descends, with light divine,
And an eternal day shall yet be mine.


The poem can be found HERE. For more information about Judith Murray’s life check this SITE.

posted June 14th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Childbirth, Education, Murray, John, Murray, Judith Sargent Stevens, Religion

“let serious studies equally employ our minds”

In the second installment of the essay “On the Equality of the Sexes,” written by JUDITH SARGENT MURRAY, that appeared in the April 1790 issue of the Massachusetts Magazine, the author discusses the ways in which society and its conventions shape the minds and character of women to their disadvantage.

. . . [A]fter an education which limits and confines, and employments and recreations which naturally tend to enervate the body, and debilitate the mind; after we have from our early youth been adorned with ribbons, and other gewgaws, dressed out like the ancient victims previous to a sacrifice, being taught by the care of our parents in collecting the most showy materials that the ornamenting our exteriour ought to be the principal object of our attention; after, I say, fifteen years thus spent, we are introduced into the world, amid the united adulation of every beholder.

Praise is sweet to the soul; we are immediately intoxicated by large draughts of flattery, which being plentifully administered, is to the pride of our hearts the most acceptable incense. It is expected that with the other sex we should commence immediate war, and that we should triumph over the machinations of the most artful. We must be constantly upon our guard; prudence and discretion must be our characteristicks; and we must rise superiour to, and obtain a complete victory over those who have been long adding to the native strength of their minds, by an unremitted study of men and books, and who have, moreover, conceived from the loose characters which they have seen portrayed in the extensive variety of their reading, a most contemptible opinion of the sex.

. . . . [I]f we are allowed an equality of acquirement, let serious studies equally employ our minds, and we will bid our souls arise to equal strength. We will meet upon every ground, the despot man; we will rush with alacrity to the combat, and, crowned by success, we shall then answer the exalted expectations which are formed.

As strong as is her defense of the equality of women and their right to a broad education Murray does not really challenge the existence of separate spheres for men and women. “If we meet an equal, a sensible friend, we will reward him with the hand of amity, and through life we will be assiduous to promote his happiness.” Women have domestic responsibilities and for men “their provident care is at least as requisite as our exertions.” In some ways Murray regards women, especially those whose circumstances are affluent, as having more time for study and self improvement than do their husbands. Demands on their time are fewer and “much less laborious, and . . . by no means require that avidity of attention which is proper to the employments of the other sex. . . . “

But in one respect, O ye arbiters of our fate! we confess that the superiority is indubitably yours; you are by nature formed for our protectors; we pretend not to vie with you in bodily strength; upon this point we will never contend for victory. Shield us then, we beseech you, from external evils, and in return we will transact your domestick affairs. Yes, your, for are you not equally interested in those matters with ourselves? Is not the elegancy of neatness as agreeable to your sight as to ours; is not the well savoured viand equally delightful to your taste; and doth not your sense of hearing suffer as much, from the discordant sounds prevalent in an ill regulated family. . . ?

Despite the fact that Murray does not envision a role for women beyond that of the domestic sphere her insistence that women have a right to an education on a par with their male counterparts and the freedom to continue to develop their minds, married or not, constitutes an important advance toward the equality of the sexes. Her essay predates by two years Mary Wollstonecraft’s famous “Vindication of the Rights of Women.”

The essay can be read in its entirety HERE..

posted June 9th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education, Murray, Judith Sargent Stevens, Women's Rights

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