Rebecca R. Saulsbury
Maria Susanna Cummins was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on April 9, 1827, to a family of relatively high social status and affluence. She was a descendant of Isaac Cummings, a Scottish landowner who emigrated to Massachusetts in 1638. Maria was the first child of twice-widowed David Cummins and Mehitable Cave Cummins, and three more children would be born after her. Her father already had four children from his first two marriages. David Cummins was a Dartmouth graduate (class of 1806), lawyer, and judge; Maria's mother was the granddaughter of Dr. Thomas Kittredge, who came from a family of physicians in Andover, Massachusetts. Maria's early childhood was spent in Salem. When her father became the judge of the court of common pleas in Norfolk County, he moved the family to Dorchester, six miles from Boston's center, where Cummins spent the rest of her life.
Cummins was educated at home by her father, who recognized and encouraged her talent for writing. Such mentoring was not unusual in educated New England families. Like the fathers of Margaret Fuller and Catherine Sedgwick, David Cummins gave Maria a classical education. Later, she attended the school of Mrs. Charles Sedgwick, Catharine Maria Sedgwick's sister-in-law, at Lenox, Massachusetts. Since Sedgwick was often at the school, Cummins undoubtedly met her, and perhaps she derived inspiration from Sedgwick's intellectual ability and literary talent.
Cummins achieved early literary notice with the publication of several works in the Atlantic Monthly. She signed her first contract with John P. Jewett and Company, which guaranteed her ten percent royalties per copy, each to be sold for $1. In 1854, when she was twenty-seven years old, The Lamplighter was