Monika M. Elbert
One of the most prolific American writers of the nineteenth century, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward was born on August 31, 1844. She was the first of three children born to Austin Phelps, a Boston minister and later a professor at Andover Theological Seminary, and to Elizabeth Wooster Stuart, a well-known and best-selling author. Though she was christened "Mary Gray Phelps" after a close friend of her mother, she changed her name to her mother's some time after her mother's death. In 1848, when Mary was four, the family moved to Andover, Massachusetts, and when Mary was only eight, her mother died of "brain fever." Probably the name change occurred shortly after her mother's death, though the date has been disputed by her biographers. The legacy left by her mother and by her maternal grandmother, Abigail Clark Stuart, was a haunting vision of women authors sacrificing their own development and careers for the sake of husbands and children. Both mother and grandmother shared the similar fates of marriage to overbearing, self-centered ministers. Both women suffered ill health in their attempts to juggle their writing careers with household demands and familial obligations. In her autobiography, Chapters from a Life ( 1896), Phelps asserted, "Her [mother's] last book and her last baby came together and killed her" (12). Elizabeth Jr. would be spared the burdens of child- bearing and child raising and would not get married until late in life ( 1888) to a journalist and aspiring (but second-rate) writer, Herbert Dickinson Ward, who was seventeen years her junior. However, the lives of her frustrated maternal forebears seemed to foreshadow her own unhappy marriage to a rather parasitic and insensitive young man.
As a child and adolescent, Elizabeth received her formal education at Mrs.
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Publication information: Book title: Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers:A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Contributors: Denise D. Knight - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1997. Page number: 438.