Caroline Lee Hentz

Educator and Novelist in Antebellum America

Caroline Lee Hentz (1800–1856) was a nineteenth century novelist and one of the most popular women writers in antebellum America, most noted for her opposition to the abolitionist movement. Her best known novel, The Planter’s Northern Bride, was written in response to the enormously popular anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Early Life
Caroline Lee Whiting was born June 1, 1800 in Lancaster, Massachusetts, the youngest of John and Orpah Whiting’s eight children. She was very intelligent and had written a poem, a novel and a tragedy by the age of 12. At age 17, she began teaching at the Lancaster Common School.

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Eliza Leslie

19th century Author of Cooking and Etiquette Books

Writing under the name Miss Leslie, Eliza Leslie (1787–1858) was an American author of popular cookbooks. Her 1837 manual Directions for Cookery: Being a System of the Art, in Its Various Branches, was the most popular book of the 19th century, having gone through fifty printings. Her books on etiquette and domestic management brought her the greatest fame. She also wrote short stories and articles which were published in children’s books and women’s magazines.

Eliza Leslie was born November 15, 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Lydia Baker and Robert Leslie, a watchmaker who was a personal friend of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. She was the oldest of five children.

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Catharine Maria Sedgwick

Writer and Novelist in Antebellum America

Catharine Maria Sedgwick (1789-1867) was one of nineteenth-century America’s most prolific women writers. She published six novels, two biographies, eight works for children, novellas, over 100 pieces of short prose and other works. Literary critics and historians have recognized her as a primary founder of a distinctly American literature, along with Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper and Sedgwick’s close friend, William Cullen Bryant.

Image: Catharine Maria Sedgwick, c. 1850
Charcoal and chalk on paper by Seth Wells Cheney
Courtesy Lenox Library Association

Catharine Maria Sedgwick, ninth child of Judge Theodore Sedgwick and Pamela Dwight Sedgwick, was born December 28, 1789 at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the house which her father had built four years before. While Catharine loved and respected her mother, Pamela Sedgwick suffered repeated periods of mental illness and does not seem to have been close to her daughter.

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Frances Wright

Abolitionist, Writer and Social Reformer

Frances Wright (1795–1852) was a Scottish-born lecturer, writer, feminist, abolitionist and social reformer who became a U.S. citizen in 1825. That year she founded the Nashoba Commune in Tennessee as a Utopian community to prepare slaves for emancipation, but it lasted only three years. Her Views of Society and Manners in America (1821) brought her the most attention as a critique of the new nation.

Frances Wright was born September 6, 1795, one of three children born in Dundee, Scotland to Camilla Campbell and James Wright, a wealthy linen manufacturer and political radical. Both of her parents died young, and Fanny (as she was called as a child) was orphaned at the age of three, but left with a substantial inheritance.

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Hannah Foster

Novelist and Journalist in the New Nation

Hannah Foster (1758–1840) was an early American novelist. Her novel, The Coquette or, The History of Eliza Wharton, was published anonymously in 1797 – as written by A Lady of Massachusetts. Not only was it the first novel written by a native-born American woman, in its depiction of an intelligent and strong-willed heroine, the novel transcends many of the conventions of its time and place. It is an epistolary novel in which the plot is revealed in letters between friends and confidants.

Hannah Webster was born on September 10, 1758 in Salisbury, Massachusetts, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Her childhood and adolescence are largely undocumented. She was sent to boarding school for several years after her mother died in 1762. The literary allusions and historical facts contained in her work indicate an outstanding education.

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Judith Sargent Murray

Prominent Essayist and Advocate for Women’s Equality

Judith Sargent Murray was a poet and playwright, and the most prominent woman essayist of the eighteenth century. She was also among America’s earliest champions of financial independence and equal rights for women. She argued forcefully for improved female education and for women to be allowed a public voice.

Judith Sargent was born May 5, 1751 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, to the wealthy merchant family of Winthrop and Judith Saunders Sargent. Contrary to Sargent family legend, Judith did not study alongside her brother Winthrop while he was tutored to enter Harvard. Although she considered herself as capable as her brother, her parents provided a typical education for a merchant-class daughter – reading, writing and training in the domestic skills of sewing and household management to prepare her for married life.

Judith never forgot the discrepancies between male and female education she had experienced. She believed that with quality education women’s accomplishments would equal those of men’s if parents raised their daughters to “reverence themselves,” as she put it in one of her essays. The Sargent family library was vast, which allowed her to read history, philosophy, geography, and literature.

Like most children in Gloucester, Judith was raised in First Parish Church whose Congregational ministers ruled religious and civic life. She learned that only a few people were predestined for heaven, while most would spend eternity in hell.

In 1769, Judith fulfilled the one role expected of her and married John Stevens, a well-to-do ship’s captain from a prominent Gloucester family who spent most of his time at sea. The young couple resided with John’s parents until they could build a house of their own, allowing Judith to live within a short distance of the Sargent and Saunders homes. The couple had no children.

In 1770, Judith’s father Winthrop Sargent read James Relly’s book, Union. Relly’s Universalism was characterized by its doctrine of universal salvation – that all of humankind could be saved, not just the elect. It was a radical departure from traditional doctrine, and Judith was among those who embraced Relly’s hopeful view of this world and the hereafter.

In 1774, when Winthrop Sargent learned that one of Relly’s proteges British Universalist preacher John Murray was lecturing in Boston, he invited him to visit Gloucester. On November 3, John Murray visited the Sargent family home where Judith met him for the first time. She knew right away that in Murray she had found a mentor, spiritual teacher and intellectual companion.

Judith was among the group of people of Gloucester, led by her father, who first embraced this liberal religious belief, and her father provided financial support for Murray’s work. While Murray moved to Gloucester shortly thereafter, he traveled frequently to other parts of New England. Judith asked Murray if he would like to correspond with her and he accepted.

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Hannah Adams

First American Female Professional Writer

Hannah Adams was born on October 2, 1755, in Medfield, Massachusetts, the second of five children born to Thomas Adams and Elizabeth Clark Adams. Her grandfather Thomas Mason built the house in which Hannah was born, which is still standing. Her mother died when Hannah was 12 years old.

Image: Hannah Adams
Portrait by Chester Harding

As a child, Hannah was frail and timid. Afflicted by chronic ill health, to accompany her sister to school was a hardship. Finally allowed to stay at home, Hannah was taught by her father. She enjoyed the lessons because her father did not confine her to just the Bible, as was the custom in school at that time, but instead let her choose at will from books in his small library.

When Hannah was 16, the family’s finances were so depleted that her father began boarding some of the young men who were preparing for Harvard. Touched by Hannah’s eagerness for knowledge, these students taught her Greek, Latin, geography and logic. Strange studies for a girl, thought the local Medfield villagers but this girl was unique. She had a tremendous memory and such a far-away look that people said she was not of this world.

Though her father had inherited a comfortable fortune, he failed both as a farmer and a bookseller. His business failed when Hannah was 17 years old, and she began writing to support herself. Before long she was helping to support the family by tutoring the young men of Medfield who aspired to the college education she could not obtain.

Hannah developed a small circle of female friends, who were drawn together from Medfield and the surrounding towns by similarity of views. Most of them wrote verse, which was read and admired by those in the circle. Their mutual love of literature, lack of finances and indifference to the society of those whose minds were uncultivated, served to cement a union between them that remained throughout their lives. This group has been called the First Woman’s Club.

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Ann Eliza Bleecker

American Author and Poet

Ann Eliza Schuyler was born in New York City in October 1752, the youngest child of Brandt Margareta Van Wyck Schuyler, successful merchants and members of the American Dutch aristocracy. After a long illness, Ann Schuyler’s father died just before she was born. Ann’s mother remarried in 1760 to Anthony TenEyck, also part of the Dutch elite. They had one daughter, Susanna TenEyck.

Raised among the aristocracy of New York City, Ann was passionately fond of books, and was known for her precocious writing ability. She wrote verses which were shown to none but her most intimate friends, and was often asked to recite her poems, which ranged from sentimental or humorous to sophisticated or satirical. She often composed impromptu poems at the request of friends.

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Annis Boudinot Stockton

Poet and Wife of Declaration Signer Richard Stockton

Annis Boudinot was born July 1, 1736, in Darby, Pennsylvania, to Catherine Williams and Elias Boudinot, merchant and silversmith, who later moved his family to Princeton, New Jersey. She was their eldest daughter and the second of ten children, though the first to be born in North America (her parents had just returned from Antigua where her father had run a plantation).

The Boudinot family settled in Princeton, New Jersey. There Annis was exposed to the intellectual and social circles of the area, and her parents gave her a good education. She became particularly interested in poetry, an unusual pastime for a woman of that time, and published her first poem at age 16: To the Honorable Colonel Peter Schuyler, in the New-York Mercury and New American Magazine.

Young Annis thrived in the town’s stimulating academic atmosphere, and became acquainted with Richard Stockton when her brother, Elias Boudinot, studied law in Richard’s office and married his sister, Hannah Stockton. Elias became a statesman from New Jersey, and was President of the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1783, and a signer of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War.

Richard Stockton, eldest son of John and Abigail (Phillips) Stockton, was born October 1, 1730. He was educated in the early years by Reverend Doctor Samuel Finley at Nottingham Academy in Maryland, and then attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), graduating in 1748. He studied law under the honorable David Ogden of Newark, at that time the most eminent lawyer in the colony.

Stockton was admitted to the bar in 1754, to the grade of counselor in 1758, and in 1763 he received the degree of Sergeant-at-Law the highest degree of law attainable. He opened his law practice in Princeton in 1754, and later another in Newark. He was Judge of the Supreme Court and a member of the King’s Council for New Jersey before the Revolution.

Sometime in the late 1750s, Annis Boudinot married Richard Stockton, one of the most eloquent lawyers in the colonies. She was a woman of high character and patriotic spirit, which made her a fitting companion for the man who would soon devote his life to the cause of independence.

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Phillis Wheatley

America’s First Black Poet

Phillis Wheatley was born circa 1753 in West Africa, and was very likely kidnapped into slavery. She was named for the slave ship, Phillis, that brought her to Boston on July 11, 1761. She was purchased as a personal slave to Susannah Wheatley, wife of tailor John Wheatley, a prominent Boston merchant with a wholesale business, real estate, warehouses, and the schooner London Packet. Phillis was evidently around 7 years old at the time, and took her new master’s surname.

A frail child, Phillis was chosen to be a domestic servant and companion to Susannah Wheatley, an ardent Christian, in her later years. Although she spoke no English upon her arrival in this country, Phillis soon proved to be a precocious learner, and was tutored by the Wheatley’s daughter Mary in English, Latin, history, geography, religion, and the Bible. Young Phillis quickly learned to speak English and to read the Bible with amazing fluency.

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