This collection presents the opportunity to explore crucial perspectives often omitted in the early literary culture of America—those of women. The Early American Women’s Literature Collection assembles prominent works by female writers from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, and it provides a rare look into the thoughts, lives, and imaginations of women carving new roles for themselves in a burgeoning America. Explore the work of luminous editor and writer Margaret Fuller—once known as the best-read person in New England and a strong advocate of expanding education for women—now recognized as an important early feminist figure. Dive into the wit of popular novelist and newspaper columnist Fanny Fern—at one time the highest paid columnist, male or female, in the United States. You can also peruse works by celebrated Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet, adventuring journaler and business woman Sarah Kemble Knight, and novelists Catherine Maria Sedgwick and Hannah Webster Foster.
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Sarah Kemble Knight has become known as an independent and courageous early American figure through her carefully-kept journal, published in 1825. Knight’s journal documents her long and arduous journey from Boston to New York in 1704, which she undertook alone, a very unusual act for a woman at the time. Committing to, as she put it, “enter my mind in my journal” every evening of her journey, Knight offers a fascinating look at the countryside and customs of Colonial America. Her journal preserves a highly atypical experience of the time, presenting her observations and musings in a lively and witty narrative.
Sarah Kemble Knight (1666–1727) was born in Boston to a successful merchant family. In 1689 she married Richard Knight, a sea captain. She undertook responsibilities of running a shop in Boston as well as working as a court scrivener, copying legal documents. Richard died in 1703, and she took her famously recorded journey to New York to help settle the estate of a cousin in 1704–1705. She opened a school in 1706, which became well-respected in the Boston area, with students such as the young Benjamin Franklin. Upon her death in 1727, she left her daughter a sizeable estate, a testament to her business skill.
This work, originally published in serial form in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendentalist journal, The Dial as “The Great Lawsuit,” looks at the role of women in American society and democracy. Fuller, a strong advocate for women’s education and their pursuit of careers, discusses her ideas for the improvement of women’s lives and for increasing their role in democracy. She believed that by beginning to push for better education, women would also be able to fight for equal political rights, Fuller is recognized as an important feminist figure, and her Woman in the Nineteenth Century is considered as one of the major documents in American feminism. It was expanded and re-published independently in 1845, after which Fuller wrote to a friend, “I had put a good deal of my true self in it, as if, I suppose I went away now, the measure of my footprint would be left on earth.”
Margaret Fuller (1810–1850) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her father, U. S. Representative Timothy Fuller, gave her an education as rigorous as any boy’s in her early life. She was formally educated at the Port School in Cambridgeport, the Boston Lyceum for Young Ladies, and the School for Young Ladies in Groton. At home she studied the classics and several modern languages. She gave private lessons, and began to publish her first literary reviews. In 1836, after the death of her father, she accepted a teaching position at Temple School in Boston, and then at the Greene School in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1839, Ralph Waldo Emerson, seeking an editor for his transcendentalist journal The Dial, offered the position to Fuller. She accepted, and became one of the most important figures of the transcendental movement, though she was never entirely comfortable being labeled a transcendentalist. After leaving The Dial in 1844, she joined The New York Tribune as a literary critic—becoming the first full-time book reviewer in American journalism—as well as a foreign correspondent. She lived in Italy for several years where she is believed to have married, and had a child. She died in 1850 as a result of a shipwreck on her way back to the United States.
Ruth Hall has become Fanny Fern’s most well-known novel, despite her refusal to call the work a novel, saying in the preface, “I present you with my first continuous story. I do not dignify it by the name of ‘A novel.’ I am aware that it is entirely at variance with all set rules for novel-writing.” First published in 1854, this novel is highly autobiographical, drawing from her experiences following the death of her first husband, including the lack of help received from male relatives, the challenges of ensuing poverty, and her journey to becoming a successful journalist. Some critics attacked the novel for Fern’s characterizations of some members of her family, but it received favorable attention from others, including Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Fanny Fern (1811–1872) was a successful American writer, producing newspaper columns, children’s stories, and highly popular novels. She was born as Sara Willis in Portland, Maine, and began using the pen name of “Fanny Fern” regularly by 1851 for articles and satirical pieces published in newspapers. Fern began to write at a young age, writing compositions and articles. However, upon finding herself with two young children to support, after the death of her first husband, and divorce from her second, Fern began writing a great deal. She eventually became the highest paid columnist—male or female—in the United States, writing for the New York Ledger for the rest of her life. She was also the author of several children’s books, novels, and works of collected columns.
Hope Leslie: Early Times in the Massachusetts, vol. 1
This volume contains the first portion of Hope Leslie, Catherine Maria Sedgwick’s third novel, originally published in 1827. This historical romance tells the story of a conflict between American colonists, the British, and Native Americans. It was successful in both the United States and Great Britain and earned Sedgwick a reputation as a novelist. Hope Leslie has garnered significant attention in recent years, as critics have noted the work for its feminist themes and attitudes of equality towards Native Americans.
Catharine Maria Sedgwick (1789–1867) was an American novelist of “domestic fiction.” She became a prominent nineteenth-century female novelist, writing works which brought together American settings with an emphasis on nature, patriotism, and spunky heroines who diverged from societal stereotypes of women.
Hope Leslie: Early Times in the Massachusetts, vol. 2
This volume contains the concluding portion of Hope Leslie, Catherine Maria Sedgwick’s third novel, originally published in 1827. This historical romance tells the story of a conflict between American colonists, the British, and Native Americans. It was successful in both the United States and Great Britain and earned Sedgwick a reputation as a novelist. Hope Leslie has garnered significant attention in recent years, as critics have noted the work for its feminist themes and attitudes of equality towards Native Americans.
The work that earned Hannah Webster Foster her biggest commercial success, The Coquette, is an epistolary novel first published anonymously in 1797. It was one of the best-selling novels of its time, reprinted eight times between 1824 and 1828. Loosely based on the widely publicized death of New Englander Elizabeth Whitman, this novel follows a vivacious woman through trials and travails of being courted by two lovers, an affair, and her eventual death in childbirth. Isolated from her friends and family, the novel reaches a sad conclusion as she is buried by strangers. Foster’s novel, unfolding in the form of letters written by characters, provides a commentary on the social conditions and gender relations of the time.
Hannah Webster Foster (1758–1840) was an American novelist. She was born in Salisbury, Massachusetts to a wealthy merchant, and likely attended a female boarding school. She began writing articles for Boston newspapers in the 1770s. After completing two novels, she returned to newspaper-writing. She moved to Montreal in 1829, after the death of her husband. She passed away in 1840.
The Boarding School; or, Lessons of a Preceptress to Her Pupils
Beginning this work with a dedication “to the young ladies of America,” Foster wrote The Boarding School being “convinced of the many advantages of good education, and the importance of improving those advantages; or of counterbalancing the want of them by exerting the mental powers which nature has bestowed.” This text consists of the musings of Foster’s main character, a headmistress of a female academy, and letters sent between students about their education. Throughout the pages of this work, Foster comments on the education of women in America, arguably advocating for its expansion.
The Works of Anne Bradstreet contains all the extant works of the celebrated Puritan poet, compiling pieces in both prose and verse. Valuing knowledge and intellect, and expressing a desire for the equality of women, Bradstreet is considered to be an early feminist and complementarian, as well as the first poet as well as the first woman to be published in the American colonies. A devout Christian, her writing explores her relationship with God, family, society, and mortality. Explore the breadth and beauty of her thoughtful poems, including five quaternions, divine and moral meditations, and more.
Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672) was both the first poet and the first female writer to be published in the American colonies. Born in Northampton, England, she was given an exceptional education for a seventeenth-century woman, studying history, literature, and several languages. In 1628 she married Simon Bradstreet. Two years later she and Simon, along with her parents, were among the Puritans of the Winthrop Fleet who immigrated to America. She published her first collection of poems, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, in 1650 to a good reception on both sides of the Atlantic, earning her a distinguished reputation.