Robert E. Kanter
Mary Abigail Dodge, better known to her readers as Gail Hamilton, was born on March 31, 1833, in Hamilton, Massachusetts, the youngest of seven children born to James Brown Dodge, a prosperous farmer, and Hannah (Stanwood) Dodge, who had been a teacher before she was married. Both parents were members of the Congregational Church, which was a central point of family life. Hamilton's childhood was by all accounts a happy one; her longtime friend Harriet Prescott Spofford wrote: "She loved her immediate family with an intensity that sought in every way to promote their happiness, and in return they adored her" (93). Hamilton was particularly close to her sister, Hannah Augusta, who collected and edited volumes of Hamilton's correspondence and poetry after her death.
Hamilton's education was strong for a girl of her time. As a young child, she attended the West District School in Hamilton, and she was sent to boarding school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when she was twelve. At thirteen she began a three-year course of study at Ipswich Female Seminary, where her training included French, Latin, German, algebra, history, chemistry, and philosophy ( Coultrap- McQuin, Introductionxiv). She graduated from the seminary in 1850 and began work as a teacher there soon after. Hamilton was an excellent teacher, well liked by her colleagues and pupils, but by the spring of 1853 she was anxious to broaden her horizons. "I am so tired of Ipswich," she wrote to her brother at this time, "not of teaching, for I like it, not of Mr. and Mrs. Cowles, for I love them, but of the same white houses and the same black barns, the dreary, monotonous intolerable sameness" ( Life in Letters 1, 46). She left Ipswich to begin teaching at the Hartford Female Seminary in February 1854, then