“an usefull member of society”

The eighteenth century businesswoman Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith, while on a visit to London, wrote to her brother John on February 26, 1770, expressing the opinion that his daughter was ready to work in a shop and learn how to run a business. She recommended that her niece go to New York to gain experience there rather than stay in London. She arranged introductions to women shopkeepers who could be of assistance to Polly and even provided her with a supply of goods to take with her.

Polly has been at Boarding school since she was ten years old, she has now finished her education & is a very capable girl understands writing & arithmitc very well, I advise to her going with Jacky [Polly’s brother] & carrieing a venture of two hundred pounds worth of goods selling them to Mr Clark, Miss Cummings, or any body that will let her have the money for them in three or six months. Return it & have it in goods again untill she is aquainted with the place & people. She might Board with Miss Cummings where she might gain experiance by attending to thier selling things & with a very little of your asistance she might keep thier books as to making up things she can do that very well, therefore I think her time & fifty or a hundred pound woud be intirely thrown away by staying a year or six months with a millener in London Mr Bridgen [a London shopkeeper] I have wrote to, He says shopkeeping in London & Boston are so diffrent that she wou’d have it all to learn over again, the most he says that is required is an exactness in arithmitic an acquaintance with the people & the money, which he thinks cannot be learnt in London I should not be anxious about her going into business so early if she was not so forward in her education if she stays here any longer she must enter the gay scenes of life & become a fine Lady, in my opinion that will enervet her so much that business will every be irksome to her. . . . usefull members of sosiety are certainly preferable to all the delicate creatures of the age. . . . Please give my love & compliments where due
I am Dr Sir yours most sincerly Eliz: Smith

In the following letter (April 1770) to her Boston friend Mrs. Deblois, Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith alerts her to Polly’s arrival. She expresses her belief that the education of young women should be practical, equipping them with the skills to run a business and aspire to independence.

[T]he friendship and civility I have met with in Boston gives me reason to hope thes very young adventurers [Jacky and Polly] will be kindly received. You & I have often talk’d on the education of youth I am acting now according to my own opinion. it is to give a young Lady an usefull education so soon as she has finished that to put her upon some scheme to improve her mind time & fortune I prefer an usefull member of society to all the fine delicate creatures of the age. I shall be much obliged to you if you’ll take a little notice of her I have told her when she is at a loss how to act to apply to you & Mr. Deblois young folks are apt to be self sufficient I beg what ever you hear or see amiss in her you will corect as you think proper. . . .

When Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith moved back to Boston she mentored other young women who sought to go into business. She even boarded them and helped them set up shop.

The first letter appears on The Elizabeth Murray Project website.The portrait (on the same site) is by John Singleton Copley, 1769, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The excerpt from the second letter is also from the Murray Project.

posted September 2nd, 2013 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Education, Employment, Smith, Elizabeth Murray Campbell

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