Rebecca R. Saulsbury
Catharine Maria Sedgwick was born on December 28, 1789, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where she spent most of her life. She was the third daughter and sixth child of Theodore Sedgwick and Pamela (Dwight) Sedgwick, who had seven children in all, including four sons. The Sedgwicks and Dwights were among the first settlers of New England. Indeed, the Dwight family was one of the most prestigious and aristocratic families in the Connecticut River Valley, and Theodore Sedgwick, Catharine's father, was one of the early Republic's staunchest and most influential Federalists.
But her father came from more humble beginnings. He was born in 1746 to a family of New England farmers and tavern keepers on a barren country farm in a small Connecticut hill town. Nevertheless, he attended Yale College, where he briefly studied theology before turning to law. Thereafter, he rapidly rose in social stature to that associated with the Dwight family. He was a member of the Continental Congress and the House of Representatives, becoming its Speaker. He also served as a senator from Massachusetts and eventually became chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
Catharine's mother stayed at home and did her best to fulfill the most important role accorded to women in the late eighteenth century: Republican motherhood. Pamela Sedgwick's bouts with depression, however, coupled with her husband's frequent and lengthy absences, made her role as manager of the domestic sphere particularly difficult for her and her children. Pamela's depression became increasingly severe; she spent her last years as an invalid.
Catharine's formal education was typical for New England's elite daughters. After a brief stay in Stockbridge's public schools, she enrolled at several private