Archive for the ‘Women Writers’ Category

“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.

CONSTANTIA

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

“the needle and the kitchen”

In Part I of her essay in the Massachusetts Magazine of March 1790, JUDITH SARGENT MURRAY explores the ways that the minds of females are supposedly “notoriously deficient, or unequal.” She suggests that although women have been ceded superiority with regard to the “creative faculty” this is not a complement for their pursuits unfortunately have been a preoccupation with fashion and a talent for slander, “the needle and the kitchen” not being sufficient to employ this “activity of mind.” Perceived by men and society as being deficient in reason she says “we can only reason from what we know, and if opportunity of acquiring knowledge hath been denied us, the inferiority of our sex cannot fairly be deduced from thence.”

Will it be said that the judgment of a male of two years old, is more sage than that of a female’s of the same age? I believe the reverse is generally observed to be true. But from that period what partiality! how is the one exalted and the other depressed, by the contrary modes of education which are adopted! the one is taught to aspire, and the other is early confined and limited. As their years increase, the sister must be wholly domesticated, while the brother is led by the hand through all the flowery paths of science. Grant that their minds are by nature equal, yet who shall wonder at the apparent superiority, if indeed custom becomes second nature; nay if it taketh place of nature, and that it doth the experience of each day will evince.

At length arrived at womanhood, the uncultivated fair one feels a void, which the employments allotted her are by no means capable of filling. What can she do? to books she may not apply; or if she doth, to those only of the novel kind, lest she merit the appellation of a learned lady; and what ideas have been affixed to this term, the observation of many can testify. Fashion, scandal, and sometimes what is still more reprehensible, are then called in to her relief; and who can say to what lengths the liberties she takes may proceed. Meantime she herself is most unhappy; she feels the want of a cultivated mind. Is she single, she in vain seeks to fill up time from sexual employments or amusements. Is she united to a person whose soul nature made equal to her own, education hath set him so far above her, that in those entertainments which are productive of such rational felicity, she is not qualified to accompany him. She experiences a mortifying consciousness of inferiority, which embitters every enjoyment. Doth the person to whom her adverse fate hath consigned her, possess a mind incapable of improvement, she is equally wretched, in being so closely connected with an individual whom she cannot but despise.

Now, was she permitted the same instructors as her brother, (with an eye however to their particular departments) for the employment of a rational mind an ample field would be opened. . . . astronomy. . . . geography. . . . natural philosophy. A mind, thus filled, would have little room for the trifles with which our sex are, with too much justice, accused of amusing themselves, and they would thus be rendered fit companions for those, who should one day wear them as their crown. Fashions, in their variety, would then give place to conjectures, which might perhaps conduce to the improvement of the literary world; and there would be no leisure for slander or detraction. Reputation would not then be blasted, but serious speculations would occupy the lively imaginations of the sex. Unnecessary visits would be precluded, and that custom would only be indulged by way of relaxation, or to answer the demands of consanguinity and friendship. Females would become discreet, their judgments would be invigorated, and their partners for life being circumspectly chosen, an unhappy Hymen would then be as rare, as is now the reverse.

Will it be urged that those acquirements would supersede our domestick duties. I answer that every requisite in female economy is easily attained; and, with truth I can add, that when once attained, they require no further mental attention. Nay, while we are pursuing the needle, or the superintendency of the family, I repeat, that our minds are at full liberty for reflection; that imagination may exert itself in full vigour; and that if a just foundation is early laid, our ideas will then be worthy of rational beings. If we were industrious we might easily find time to arrange them upon paper, or should avocations press too hard for such an indulgence, the hours allotted for conversation would at least become more refined and rational. Should it still be vociferated, “Your domestick employments are sufficient”—I would calmly ask, is it reasonable, that a candidate for immortality, for the joys of heaven, an intelligent being . . . should at present be so degraded, as to be allowed no other ideas, than those which are suggested by the mechanism of a pudding, or the sewing [of] the seams of a garment?

More to come from Judith Sargent Murray’s essay.

The essay can be read in its entirety HERE..

posted June 6th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Murray, Judith Sargent Stevens,Women's Rights

“The soul unfetter’d, to no sex confin’d”

JUDITH SARGENT MURRAY (1751-1820) was one of the first American advocates of equal rights for women. In 1790, The Massachusetts Magazine published, in two installments, an essay titled “On the Equality of the Sexes” by Murray who was using the pen name Constantia. It began with this poem.

That minds are not alike, full well I know,
This truth each day’s experience will show;
To heights surprising some great spirits soar,
With inborn strength mysterious depths explore;
Their eager gaze surveys the path of light,
Confest it stood to Newton’s piercing sight.
Deep science, like a bashful maid retires,
And but the ardent breast her worth inspires;
By perseverance the coy fair is won.
And Genius, led by Study, wears the crown.
But some there are who wish not to improve,
Who never can the path of knowledge love,
Whose souls almost with the dull body one,
With anxious care each mental pleasure shun;
Weak is the level’d, enervated mind,
And but while here to vegetate design’d.
The torpid spirit mingling with its clod,
Can scarcely boast its origin from God;
Stupidly dull—they move progressing on—
They eat, and drink, and all their work is done.
While others, emulous of sweet applause,
Industrious seek for each event a cause,
Tracing the hidden springs whence knowledge flows,
Which nature all in beateous order shows.
Yet cannot I their sentiments imbibe,
Who this distinction to the sex ascribe,
As if a woman’s form must needs enrol,
A weak, a servile, an inferiour soul;
And that the guise of man must still proclaim,
Greatness of mind, and him, to be the same:
Yet as the hours revolve fair proofs arise,
Which the bright wreath of growing fame supplies;
And in past times some men have sunk so low,
That female records nothing less can show.
But imbecility is still confin’d,
And by the lordly sex to us consign’d;
They rob us of the power t’improve,
And then declare we only trifles love;
Yet haste the era, when the world shall know,
That such distinctions only dwell below;
The soul unfetter’d, to no sex confin’d,
Was for the abodes of cloudless day design’d.
Mean time we emulate their manly fires,
Though erudition all their thoughts inspires,
Yet nature with equality imparts,
And noble passions, swell e’en female hearts.

More about Murray and the Essay in the next post.

The essay in its entirety can be found HERE.

posted May 30th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Murray, Judith Sargent Stevens,Women's Rights

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