Archive for the ‘Murray, Judith Sargent’ Category

“Our souls are by nature equal to yours”

JUDITH SARGENT MURRAY (1751-1820) was born to a ship-owning family in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Although her younger brothers were tutored at home to prepare for college, Judith received no formal education. Self-taught, she read books from her father’s library and boldly pursued the intellectual life as essayist, poet and playwright, writing on topics like politics and religion.
In her essay On the Equality of the Sexes she argued that women should have the opportunity to receive an education equal to that of men. She was also one of the few women of her time to save her letter books; most women did not think their letters serious enough to be worth saving. In 1984, 20 volumes of 5,000 letters by Murray were discovered in Natchez, Miss. in a house near her daughter’s where she died.
While Murray did not—indeed could not—lead the charge for equality of the sexes in the male-dominated society of the time, she was an inspiration to the many who would follow in her footsteps.
To celebrate its one-hundredth anniversary the Sargent House Museum in Gloucester has joined with the Cape Ann Museum and the Terra Foundation of American Art to present a special exhibition Our Souls Are by Nature Equal to Yours (September 28, 2019 — March 31, 2020). The John Singleton Copley painting (pictured above) on loan from the Terra Foundation will be on view. On January 25, 2020, at 3pm, Judith Sargent Murray biographer Sheila Skemp of the University of Mississippi will give a talk titled First Lady of Letters: Judith Sargent Murray and the Struggle for Female Independence.

Bonnie Hurd Smith is an author and the founder of The Judith Sargent Murray Society. She describes the contributions of Judith Sargent Murray in this VIDEO. See other posts about Murray HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

posted December 10th, 2019 by Janet, Comments Off on “Our souls are by nature equal to yours”, CATEGORIES: Murray, Judith Sargent

Equality of the Sexes and the Education of Women

One can spend a long time with JUDITH SARGENT MURRAY, but for now let me fill in the gaps in her life, promising to return at a later date.

Judith and her first husband John Stevens had no children although they adopted his niece and a young cousin of hers. After the Revolution, when Stevens found himself in financial distress, Judith began to write for publication in the hope of earning some money. For “Desultory Thoughts upon the Utility of Encouraging a Degree of Self-Complacency, Especially in Female Bosoms,” which appeared in Gentleman and Lady’s Town and Country Magazine, she adopted the pseudonym “Constantia.” To avoid debtor’s prison John Stevens fled to the West Indies where he died in 1786. Two years later the young widow married Reverend John Murray. Their first child, a son, lived but a few hours. In 1791 she was delivered of a daughter named Julia.

Judith continued to publish essays focusing on equality of the sexes and the education of women. Assuming the identity of a man she wrote a column for the Massachusetts Magazine called “The Gleaner,” in which she explored political, religious and moral subjects; a collection of these essays appeared later as a book which she published herself. In addition she wrote poems and she authored two plays that were actually staged.

John Murray suffered a stroke in 1809 and Judith devoted herself to his care until his death in 1815. Their daughter married well and when she and her husband moved to Natchez, Mississippi, Judith went with them. She died there in 1820. As has been noted in an earlier post her letterbooks were discovered on a nearby plantation some 164 years later.

Judith Sargent Murray was a remarkable woman whose works have relevance today.

Additional information about Murray can be found HERE and HERE.

posted January 2nd, 2017 by Janet, Comments Off on Equality of the Sexes and the Education of Women, CATEGORIES: Education,Murray, John,Murray, Judith Sargent

“there is something, to me, singularly pleasing”

JUDITH SARGENT MURRAY was interested in burial customs as evidenced by her description of Moravian ceremonies in Bethlehem.

In the Moravian manner of interring their dead, as observed in Bethlehem, and the ceremonies attendant therein, there is something, to me, singularly pleasing—So soon as the spirit is departed from whatever chair or whatever part of the Town—the body is cloathed in white linen, and if a female, the Cap received the Ribbon which designates the order—and the corpse is borne to a small, neat chapel [designed] for this purpose, where it is deposited upon stands until the hour of interment—One of the brethren ascends the highest Edifice, which commands the whole Village, and proclaims the death, by means of a German Instrument of Musick, the name of which I could not learn, and he hath a method of conveying this intelligence, which ascertains the sex, age, and connexion of the deceased.

When the hour of burial approaches, the brethren, the sisterhood, and the children of every description, are by a number of french horns, summoned to attend divine service, in the great chapel, where an exhortation is delivered, and the singing, and instrumental musick, produces a proper, and solemnizing effect—The Body is then borne from the chapel, and placed upon a stand on a beautiful green—the males ranging themselves on one side, and the females on the other—The Body is covered with a snow white Pall, which is ornamented with red, blue, or white ribbon, according to the station of the defunct—upon this Green, a divine anthem is performed, when the deceased is borne to the sepulchrs, instruments of music, resounding, the whole Village, ranging themselves in decent, and beautiful Order, join in the procession—at one of these funerals we attended and we entered the burial ground with a raised, chastized, and solemn kind of satisfaction—Religious exercises were performed at the grave, which being in German, we could not understand, when a sacred concert of vocal and instrumental music again resounding was continued during the interment, and until the Assembly had quitted the Grave yard.

There is a regularity peculiarly pleasing, even in the burial ground at Bethlehem—It is a spacious level plain, decently walled in, exactly divided, and, on one side, are placed the Males, and on the other the females—The Graves are laid out upon a straight line, and we can walk between every one, with as much ease, as we could pursue our way along the gravel Walks of a parterre—The Gray stone is not raised, as with us, but from a modest tablet, which is generally shaded by the verdant grass, and which bears a concise inscription, we receive the necessary information. Thus, these Denizens of tranquility live—and thus their passage out of time is marked. . . .

Addressing her cousin’s wife Dorcas Sargent to whom she has written the above letter Murray says:

“Bless me,” exclaims your husband — “What an Eternal scribbler is this Cousin of ours! Will the Woman never have done? Heavens shield us from her lognacity” . . . . I will leave you to conjecture, and I will intrude no longer, than to assure my dear Mrs Sargent, that I am very sincerely and affectionately her admiring Friend

A Moravian graveyard is referred to as “God’s Acre.” It is said that the name comes from the belief that the bodies of the dead are “sown as seed” in God’s Acre, as in a field, so that they can rise again when Jesus Christ returns to the world. Simple flat gravestones, all alike, identify the dead who are buried with their “choir,” that is, their particular church community, rather than their family, and chronologically, according to the date on which they died. The approach is a testament to the Moravian belief in the “democracy of death.” Music was and is very important to Moravians as is clear from Murray’s description. The instrument whose name Murray did not know was probably the trombone. Favored by the Moravians, its first recorded use in America was in 1754 in Bethlehem.

Bonnie Hurd Smith, the founder of The Judith Sargent Murray Society, has transcribed and published Murray’s letterbooks. See the complete letter HERE. For additional information on Moravian graveyards see HERE. See also an ARTICLE and photograph of the Chapel in The Washington Post by Sue Kovach Shuman.

posted December 29th, 2016 by Janet, Comments Off on “there is something, to me, singularly pleasing”, CATEGORIES: Death,Moravians,Murray, Judith Sargent

“The Cap . . . is . . . an insignia of their order”

JUDITH MURRAY SARGENT has more interesting remarks to make about the Bethlehem Seminary in her Letterbook. She describes the dress, particularly the caps, of the students and also the sisters who teach them as well as the inhabitants of the town.

It is amazing what eronious conceptions are formed of this Seminary—Even at New York, I heard the Gentleman, and the Man of letters, exclaim—“What, immure your Girl with in the Cloistered walls of Bethlehem? Surely then you do not intend her for society[”]—yet, it is true, that there is no undue confinement, nor restraint—Even the sisterhood make frequent excursions to the adjacent Villages—I have heard much of the awkwardness, and the [immature] heart of the Bethlehem scholar, but I could not trace it in a single instance, and there absolutely is, in their manners an elegant care, and simplicity, which is enchantingly prepossessing—Indeed, dwelling there together, they are constantly accustomed to society, and, it is a fact, that Bethlehem is the resort of the genteelest strangers—It is true dancing is not taught in Bethlehem—but if it be taught proper dancing may be a subsequent acquirement, and a young Lady, designed for the great World, may be very soon initiated into its customs—Mean time, at Bethlehem, she [acquires in her] early days, a good foundation —she will imbibe the chastest system of morals, with a fund of benevolence[,] her mind will be stored, and she will receive almost every embellishment.

An exact uniformity in dress is not required—It is a request made to parents, and guardians, that all excess may be avoided, and they are fond of seeing the children in white—The Cap, however, is, if I may be allowed the expression, an insignia of their order— ll the young Ladies put it on — it is made of Cambrick, received a narrow border of Lawn, sets close to the head, and is fastened under the chin, with a pink ribbon—It is of pure white, indeed all the Bethlehem linen is uncommonly white, and although, upon a cursory view, we are induced to think, this same cap could only suit a handsome face —yet, however they manage it, I protest there was not one of the Girls, to whom it did not seem to add a charm—The fashion of the cap worn by the inhabitants, and which, for more than a Century, the Moravian Women have not changed, sets also close to the head but it is a different pattern, and not near so becoming—It is however assumed by every female, of every description—Maids, Wives, and Widows, and, by way of distinction it is fastened by the Maidens, with a red, or pink ribbon by Wives with a blue, and by widows with a white, and this knot of ribbon, is the only ornament worn by a Bethlamite female . . . .

In the next post Judith Sargent Murray describes the funeral customs of the Moravians.

Bonnie Hurd Smith, the founder of The Judith Sargent Murray Society, has transcribed and published Murray’s letterbooks. See the complete letter HERE. The portrait is of a Young Moravian Girl (1755) by John Valentine Haidt (1700 – 1780). The lacing of the bodice is typical and the cap is as described by Murray.

posted December 26th, 2016 by Janet, Comments Off on “The Cap . . . is . . . an insignia of their order”, CATEGORIES: Bethlehem Seminary,Clothes,Education,Murray, Judith Sargent

“Peace on earth, good will to Men”

Before continuing with the description of the Bethlehem Seminary by JUDITH SARGENT MURRAY, let me include a few words about the Seminary’s origins. It was Henrietta Benigna Justine Zinzendorf von Watteville (1725-1789), born in Berthelsdorf, Saxony, the daughter of the founder of the Renewed Moravian Church, who when she came to America with him at age sixteen was encouraged to open a girls’ school. This she did in 1742 in Germantown, Pennsylvania; the school moved to Bethlehem, the center of the Moravian Church in America, in 1749. The first boarding school for girls in America, it welcomed Indians, and in 1785 opened its doors to those not of the Moravian faith. It quickly acquired such a reputation that George Washington personally requested admission for his great nieces. The Countess visited frequently and remained involved with the Seminary throughout her life. The Seminary evolved through the years and in 1953 became part of the coeducational Moravian College at Bethlehem.
Judith Sargent Murray continued her observations on the Seminary.

A Lady belonging to New York, had placed her only daughter in this Seminary, for her education—after an absence of twelve months she visited her—Stopping at the Inn, she sent for her child [—] But impatient to embrace her, she set out to shorten the return of her Messenger—The child appeared, but the growth she had obtained, and the alteration of her head dress, prevented her Mother from distinguishing her, until the pretty creature taking her hand, pressed it with soft, and duteous affection to her lips—The Lady, bursting into tears, would then with impassioned emotion, have clasped her to her bosom—but so exactly regulated were the feelings of the sweet Cherub, that with direct and correct affection she requested—“Be composed my Mother, consider we are in the street, and let me attend you to the Inn, which is just in view[”]—Upon reaching the house, the Lady observed—My Dear there are schools in York—In consenting to this separation, great is the sacrifice made by your Father, and myself—Consider, you are our only child, and if your improvements be not far beyond those which you can make in your nature City, we enjoin it upon you to return [—] O! My Mamma, replied the young sentamentalist, excuse your daughter—do not, I pray you, think of such a step, but let us rather be grateful to that providence, which hath appointed for your Helena an Asylum, where she can receive every information, and at the same time be shielded from every Vice—
Coercive manners are unknown in the school, and hence it is articled, that if a child prove of an uncommonly refractory disposition, she shall be returned to her Parents—I asked a student if they had any punishments, and of what Nature?—and she informed me, that advice, and gentle remonstrance, generally answered every purpose, and if these should prove ineffectual, the name of the incorrigible, with the Nature of her offence, would be recorded—but that in the annals of the Bethlehem school, only one solitary instance of such an event, had hitherto occurred.—Recommended by the superior, and introduced by the above mentioned ladies, we had an opportunity of making many observations—We passed through the several divisions of the school, we examined the tambour, and embroidery, executed by the children [—] never did I see any thing in that line to equal it—We attended to their painting and composition—upon these subjects it would be arrogant of me to decid —but I was beyond expression charmed—We listened with solemn pleasure, as they played and sang in Concert —
“Peace on earth, good will to Men,
Now with us our God is seen,
Glory be to God above
Who is infinite in love.”
Do you not think the tears gushed in the eyes of our Murray—Do you not believe that my heart swelled with transport? . . .

Bonnie Hurd Smith, the founder of The Judith Sargent Murray Society, has transcribed and published Murray’s letterbooks. See the complete letter HERE. Information on the Seminary’s founder can be found HERE. The portrait is of the Countess with a cittern and was found HERE..

posted December 22nd, 2016 by Janet, Comments Off on “Peace on earth, good will to Men”, CATEGORIES: Bethlehem Seminary,Education,Murray, Judith Sargent,Zinzendorf von Watteville, Henrietta Benigna Justine

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