Raising More Hell and Fewer Dahlias: The Public Life of Charlotte Smith, 1840-1917

Raising More Hell and Fewer Dahlias: The Public Life of Charlotte Smith, 1840-1917

Raising More Hell and Fewer Dahlias: The Public Life of Charlotte Smith, 1840-1917

Raising More Hell and Fewer Dahlias: The Public Life of Charlotte Smith, 1840-1917

Synopsis

This book is the first biography of nineteenth-century magazine editor and reformer Charlotte Smith. Based on years of research, and previously untapped sources, it shows both why she should be remembered and why she was forgotten. Her story is quintessentially American: this daughter of Irish immigrants, despite having only a grade-school education and supporting two children alone, became a force to be reckoned with, first in journalism and then in reform. Her first periodical, the Inland Monthly, was doubly rare: edited by a woman but not a women's magazine; and a profitable venture, bringing a large sum when sold.

Excerpt

Charlotte smith is by now an old friend. I met her early in my research on women inventors, and have been studying her as a minor project ever since. She is, however, a friend who has been extremely hard to get to know. She was an intensely private person who lived a public life and left only public records. Learning about her has always been more like trying to solve a cold case or find a long-missing person than like conventional research.

For years I didn’t know her maiden name, and thought her husband had died in the 1870s, leaving her a widow. After decades of sleuthing, I still cannot document her exact date and place of birth (though I have her baptismal record). and although her Protestant marriage to Edward Smith is documented in his divorce petition, the marriage Charlotte recognized—her Catholic marriage—has proven elusive. I have the date but not the place of her parents’ marriage. Her mother’s maiden name is still in dispute. I know both parents were born in Ireland, but have found records only for her father, and have no idea when or where either of them came into this country, except that they were here by 1840. Nor can I find any Canadian record of her father’s death from cholera in the 1850s.

All this is part of what it means to say that Charlotte Smith left no private papers. She was such an astonishingly prolific writer of speeches, memorials, articles, research reports, circulars, letters, books, and book ideas, and such a tireless collector of facts and statistics, that the loss of it all takes the breath away. Some idea of the magnitude of the loss can be gathered from a 1905 interview with Charlotte while she was working in Philadelphia. “A restless, white-haired, kindly-looking woman with a look of benevolent fanaticism in her eyes,” says the reporter, strode back and forth “in a tiny room over a carpenter shop in an out-of-theway section of the city. the room was so filled with papers, books, clippings, scrapbooks, pamphlets, and writing materials that . . .

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