Samantha Manchester Earley
Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe, who adopted the pseudonym Dame Shirley, was born to Moses and Lois (Lee) Smith in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1819. Her father, headmaster and teacher, moved the family from New Jersey to Amherst, Massachusetts, shortly before his death in 1832. Shirley was just thirteen years old when her father died; her mother died five years later, leaving the three brothers and four sisters under the guardianship of Amherst attorney Osmyn Baker. The care of seven orphans soon proved to be too much for one guardian, however, and the brothers and sisters scattered to boarding schools, relatives and friends, and apprenticeships around New England. Shirley and her younger sister Mary Jane (the Molly to whom the Shirley letters are addressed) remained together. In the years following her mother's death and before receiving her inheritance of $2,500, Shirley, along with Mary Jane, was enrolled in boarding school, first in Boston and later in Amherst. In school, the girls studied writing, read the standard authors, learned several foreign languages, and received music lessons.
Shirley's feeble health prompted her guardian to send her on occasional sojourns to the mountains. In a stagecoach in the hills of Vermont, she met Alexander Hill Everett, distinguished diplomat, author, and editor, and the two fell into lively conversation. After the coach trip ended, Everett, much intrigued by the beautiful, well-read young woman, struck up a correspondence with Shirley that lasted from 1839 to 1847. Everett's forty-six letters to Shirley are filled mainly with encouragement and advice from a mentor to his protégée on authors she should read and subjects about which she should write. Everett did not limit his letters to the discussion of literature, however, and when Shirley, who was