Jane Aitken

Businesswoman Who Printed First Bible in America

Jane Aitken (1764–1832) is a significant historical figure in the early nineteenth century. She was one of the first women printers in the early United States and the first woman in the US to print an English translation of the Bible. Aitken was also a publisher, bookbinder, bookseller and businesswoman, a time when the independence of women was actively discouraged. She published at least sixty works from 1802 to 1812.

Image: The Thomson Bible, printed by Jane Aitken

Early Years
Jane Aitken was born July 11, 1764 in Paisley, Scotland, the eldest of four children born to Robert and Janet Skeoch Aitken. Her father Robert Aitken was a stationery and book merchant in Scotland as well as a talented printer and bookbinder. The Aitken family emigrated to the American Colonies in 1771 (Jane would have been 7 years old), and settled in Philadelphia, where Robert set up a business selling stationery and books, as well as printing and binding books.

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First Women Newspaper Editors

History of American Women Editors

What Exactly is an Editor?
An editor’s job is to evaluate and select content for publication, which can include reviewing, rewriting and editing the work of writers; planning the content of books and magazines; and deciding what material will appeal to readers. Throughout American history, talented women have found opportunities – or made their own – in the newspaper business as editors and publishers.

Ann Franklin
America’s first woman newspaper editor, Ann Franklin (1696-1763) was the wife of the printer James Franklin and sister-in-law to Benjamin Franklin. It appears that Ann learned the newspaper business from her husband soon after her marriage in 1723.

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Elizabeth Cary Agassiz

Naturalist and Pioneer in Women’s Education

Elizabeth Cary Agassiz was a naturalist and educator who was co-founder and first president of Radcliffe, a women’s college in Cambridge, Massachusetts. By her tact and fund-raising abilities, she nurtured the college and insured its continued success.

Early Years
Elizabeth Cabot Cary was born December 5, 1822 to successful Boston businessman Thomas Graves Cary and Mary Ann Cushing Perkins Cary. Due to her delicate health Elizabeth was educated by a governess at home who taught her languages, drawing, music and reading. She additionally received informal history lessons from Elizabeth Peabody.

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Narcissa Whitman

Pioneer and Missionary in Oregon Country

Narcissa Whitman (1808-1847) traveled some 3,000 miles from her home in upstate New York to Oregon Country. She was the first white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains in 1836 on her way to found the Whitman Mission among the Cayuse Indians near modern day Walla Walla, Washington. She became one of the best known figures of the 19th century through her diaries and the many letters she wrote to family and friends in the east.

Childhood and Early Years
Narcissa Prentiss was born on March 14, 1808 in Prattsburgh, New York, the third of nine children of Stephen and Clarissa Prentiss and the oldest of their five daughters. Her father cleared land for a small farm there in 1805, and later took over the operation of a sawmill and gristmill. He was also a carpenter and used lumber from the mill to build a modest frame house, a story and a half high, for his growing family.

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Margaret Fuller

America’s First True Feminist

Author, editor, and journalist, Margaret Fuller (1810–1850) holds a distinctive place in the cultural life of the American Renaissance. Literary critic, editor, author, political activist and women’s rights advocate – she was also the first full-time American female book reviewer in journalism. Her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century is considered the first major feminist work in the United States. Her death at sea was a tragedy for her family and colleagues, and the loss of her many talents to womankind, then and now, is immeasurable.

Childhood and Early Years
On May 23, 1810, Sarah Margaret Fuller was the first-born child of Margarett Crane and Timothy Fuller, Jr. of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts. A lawyer and a Republican in Federalist New England, Timothy Fuller was elected to the Massachusetts Senate in 1813 and in 1818 began the first of four terms in the United States Congress, finally retiring to write. Eight daughters and sons were born to the couple, and six grew to adulthood.

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Anna Claypoole Peale

Women in Art: Early 19th Century Portrait Artist

Image: Anna Claypoole Peale, 1812
Painted by her father James Peale

Anna Claypoole Peale (1791–1878) was an American painter, specializing in portrait miniatures and still lifes. She was most famous for her strong characterizations of famous men. Peale was among the country’s first professional women artists, and pursued a career that propelled her into the public realm and beyond the typical domestic confines of women’s lives in the 19th century.

Early Years
Anna Claypoole Peale was born March 6, 1791 into an artistic family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was one of six children (all but one of them girls) of Mary Chambers Claypoole and painter James Peale, and the niece of Charles Willson Peale, a well-known portrait painter.

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Sarah Josepha Hale

Author, Editor and Champion of Women’s Education

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) was America’s first woman editor and the author of many novels and poems, publishing nearly fifty volumes of work in her lifetime. President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1864 after Hale had spent 40 years campaigning for a national day of thanks. An early activist for women’s education and property rights and editor of the 19th century’s most successful woman’s magazine (Godey’s) – these are only a few of the many accomplishments of the extraordinary woman who is now unknown to most Americans.

Childhood and Early Years
Sarah Josepha Buell was born October 24, 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire to Gordon and Martha Whittlesay Buell. A voracious reader of whatever books were available, Sarah noticed that “of all the books I saw, few were written by Americans, and none by women,” and she was inspired at an early age, to “promote the reputation of my own sex, and do something for my own country.”

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Emma Willard

Writer and Educator of Young Women

Emma Hart Willard (1787-1870) was an educator and writer who dedicated her life to women’s education. She worked in several schools and founded the first school for women’s higher education, the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York. With the success of her school, she was able to travel across the country and abroad, to promote education for women. Willard pioneered the teaching of science, mathematics and social studies to young women.

Childhood and Early Years
Emma Hart was born on February 23, 1787 in rural Berlin, Connecticut. She was the sixteenth of seventeen children from her father, Samuel Hart, and his second wife Lydia Hinsdale Hart. Her father was a farmer who encouraged his children to read and think for themselves. At a young age, Willard’s father recognized her passion for learning.

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Sophia Smith

Women in Education: Founder of Smith College

Sophia Smith (1796-1870) founded Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1870 with the substantial estate she inherited from her father and siblings. The first woman in America to endow a college for women, Sophia Smith was not a social crusader, but she did believe that women’s power for good would “be incalculably enlarged” by higher education.

Born on August 27, 1796 in Hatfield, Massachusetts, Sophia Smith was the fourth of seven children – and the first daughter – of prosperous farmers Joseph Smith and Lois White Smith. Of the seven Smith offspring, three died young and only Joseph Jr. married, producing no heirs. Sophia lived with her sister Harriet and brother Austin at the family homestead, which still stands at 22 Main Street in Hatfield.

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Mary Lyon

Women’s History Month Biography

Women in Education: Founder of Mount Holyoke College

Mary Lyon (1797-1849) taught and managed schools in Massachusetts and New Hampshire before establishing Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) in 1837, the first college for women in the United States. Within two years, she raised $15,000 to establish the school that became the model for institutions of higher education for women. Lyon firmly believed that women must be well educated to contribute significantly to society’s greater good, and endeavored to make her school affordable for students of modest means.

Childhood and Early Years
Mary Lyon was born February 28, 1797 on a farm near Buckland, Massachusetts. Her father Aaron Lyon, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, died when Mary was five, leaving her mother Jemina to raise seven children and manage a 100-acre farm on her own. At her mother’s side Mary learned the skills and crafts necessary for a New England farm girl.

In the early 19th century, most people felt that girls did not need to be educated to become wives, mothers and caretakers of the house. Mary began her education at the village school, about a mile from her home. When the school was moved farther away three years later, she left her family and lived for the school term with relatives and local families. She did chores to pay for her room and board.

Mary was thirteen when her mother remarried and moved into her new husband’s home, leaving Mary behind. Mary left school to keep the house for her brother Aaron, who took over the family farm. He paid his sister a weekly wage of one silver dollar. Mary had already received more schooling than most girls of her time.

In 1814, townspeople offered seventeen-year-old Mary Lyon her first teaching job at a summer school in nearby Shelburne Falls. At the time teachers needed no formal training, and her reputation as an excellent student years earlier was enough of a qualification. Female teachers were especially in demand because many men were moving west. The job paid 75 cents a week, far less than the $10 to $12 a month a male teacher received.

Mary’s modest beginnings fostered her life-long commitment to establishing educational opportunities for girls from middling and poor backgrounds. Although private female academies, often called seminaries, were springing up in New England, women of modest means could not afford the tuition. Moreover, they often taught only drawing and needlework, while male students studied geometry, science and Latin.

Despite the financial burden and a busy teaching schedule, Mary Lyon was determined to further her own education. She alternated time in the classroom and at lectures, sometimes traveling three days by carriage to enroll at a school. Against the advice of her family, Lyon paid for her education by cashing in a small inheritance from her father.

At age 20 Lyon began studying in earnest at Sanderson Academy in Ashfield, Massachusetts. There she studied mathematics, logic, speech, grammar and geography. She learned etiquette in the home of attorney Thomas White where she boarded. White’s daughter Amanda became Lyon’s lifelong friend, and in 1821 they went off to the Byfield Massachusetts Female Seminary together. By this time, having alternated between teaching and attending school at both Sanderson and Amherst Academy, Lyon was ready to devote herself to full-time study.

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