My writings on women bring to light several fascinating figures whose names are little known today: Anne Hampton Brewster, Eliza Leslie, and Catharine Maria Sedgwick, for example. These three would have been labeled “career women” or professionals, had the terms been used during their lives. They deserve attention for what they demonstrate about literary labors, public tastes, and popular ideas. Their writings and those of others like them outsold works written by men in 19th-century America.
Popular Women Writers & their Concerns
Best known now among the era’s “literary ladies” is Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the famous Uncle Tom’s Cabin. However, works by Sedgwick and Leslie sold almost as well. Their names had a popular ring among readers before the mid-19th century, when Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin flourished. And these successful women motivated many others, such as Anne Hampton Brewster, to try their hands at writing.
What about these women’s words attracted readers? Not just marriage and motherhood—though these topics were important. They voiced concerned also with the days’ most important social issues. Slavery, poverty, Native American rights, alcohol and its impact, prison conditions and mental illness were among them. They paid attention to political debates, restrictive religious institutions, education of women, and the importance of artistic expression. In short, they wrote about topics that remain of interest today.
We learn from them, as my publications reveal, some lessons about wrestling with traditions, voicing opinions and sometimes living against the grain of those around us. My posts here describe what I have already published about women writers as well as updates on my current work. Check back to see those updates, or contact me for more information.
Linking “utopian” communal groups and American women writers in Italy, I spoke last weekend on Constance Fenimore Woolson and Zoar.
Woolson began her... More >
Think of Anne Hampton Brewster as a precursor to NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli. American, female, news correspondent in Rome, writing stories followed by many in the US. The similarities stop there. Brewster, a Philadelphian, left for Italy 150 years ago. She began her foreign correspondence later in life, in 1868, when... More >
Yesterday my son, just returned from grad school, told me he’s writing an essay on Vida Dutton Scudder. Before stating her name, he hesitated. Why the hesitation–in what was otherwise an enthusiastic report of his first term? Was it that Scudder, a Turn-of-the-Century and Progressive Era activist, is an... More >
I often teach works by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Catharine Maria Sedgwick and Margaret Fuller, three among several 19th-century American writers whose lives were changed by time abroad. My current book project focuses on three other American women who were their contemporaries–Anne Hampton Brewster, Emily Bliss Gould, and Caroline Crane Marsh.... More >
My most recent book, Selections from Eliza Leslie , collects stories, recipes and other works by the nineteenth-century cookbook author and humor writer from Philadelphia. In addition to providing a biographical sketch, my introduction to the volume describes Eliza Leslie’s early career and her prominence among American women writers at her... More >
“Science in Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie (1827)” zooms in on a novel about Puritan New England that contributed to Sedgwick’s position as a rival of James Fenimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans. The article (co-written with Shelley Block) discusses Native American rights and relationships with Anglo colonists, including... More >