Karen L. Kilcup
One of nineteenth-century America's best-known and most popular poets was born in Norwich, Connecticut, into what were unlikely circumstances for a major writer: Her father, a Revolutionary War veteran, was the gardener for an influential family, the Lathrops. The precocious Sigourney, who could reputedly read at an early age, acquired a better education than many women of her period, enjoying the support and encouragement of her parents and of Mrs. Jerusha Lathrop, the wife of her father's employer. After the death of Mrs. Lathrop when Sigourney was thirteen, she continued her education independently and, through the assistance of Mrs. Lathrop's family, eventually opened a school for young ladies and published her successful first volume Moral Pieces, in Prose and Verse ( 1815). This volume was the prelude to a fifty-year publishing career that would finally include thousands of periodical publications and more than fifty separate books, many of which were reprinted more than once. Sigourney's writing encompassed poetry, autobiography, advice writing, children's literature, sketches, history, and travel ( Dictionary of Literary Biography264-266).
One important motivation for her writing was to earn a living and to support her parents. Looking back on her career, Sigourney willingly acknowledged the economic motivations for her writing; she observed, "[O]riginating in impulse, and [in] those habits of writing that were deepened by the solitary lot of an only child, it gradually assumed a financial feature which gave it both perseverance and permanence." She added, "This, which at first supplied only my indulgences, my journeyings, or my charities, became gradually a form of subsistence" ( Letters of Life378). In contrast, she claims, " [F]ame, as a ruling motive, has not stimulated me to literary effort" and in a sentence makes clear the force