American Women Writers to 1800

By Sharon M. Harris | Go to book overview

Introduction

"And their words do follow them"--The Writings of Early American Women

In 1736 when Jonathan Edwards preached the funeral sermon for his grandmother, Esther Warham Mather Stoddard, he chose "And their words do follow them" as scriptural doctrine to commemorate Stoddard's extraordinary contributions to the community. Throughout her life, she led sanctioned prayer groups for women, used the meetings to comment on religious writings, concluded her sessions with prayers, and was "[r]umored to have been even more forceful and learned than her husband," the renowned minister Solomon Stoddard.1 This act of prayer leadership places Esther Warham Stoddard in a long history of Euro-American women religious activists in America, beginning in the Puritan community with Anne Hutchinson (whose leadership of prayer groups and outspokenness against the clergy's practices led not to a sermon in her honor but to humiliation and banishment) and including later activists in the eighteenth century such as Sarah Haggar Osborn (for whom responses to her actions blended the success of her predecessors and the disdain of most of the established clergy). Although no writings by Warham Stoddard are extant, her "words" and work in the community were recognized by her grandson as worthy of commemoration, and--as this anthology demonstrates--the words and works of many women, including Warham Stoddard's great-granddaughter, Esther Edwards Burr, warrant similar recognition. Leading prayer groups represents only one of the numerous literary and activist patterns2 that

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1
The Journal of Esther Edwards Burr, 1754-1757, eds. Carol F. Karlsen and Laurie Crumpacker ( New Haven: Yale UP, 1984), p. 6; see also Mary Sumner Benson, Women in Eighteenth-Century America ( New York: Columbia UP, 1935).
2
While "patterns" may be an insufficient term in many senses, I wish to avoid the term "traditions"-- first, because it is too easily essentialized; second, because much further study of the field of early women's writings will be necessary before we can begin to discern any such traditions, if they exist; and third, because to speak accurately of traditions we will need a compendium of preceding adjectives to distinguish exclusivity as well as inclusivity. That is, how can we speak of the "tradition" of early women's poetry without distinguishing Native and European differences; oral and written differences; class, regional, racial, and age differences?--the list is immense and far too important to be limited by the search for "traditions." Further, "patterns" also asserts a link between this section of the introduction and the third section that addresses questions about women writing as well as writings by women.

-3-

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American Women Writers to 1800
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments v
  • Contents vii
  • Note on the Text xii
  • Introduction 3
  • I- The Ages of Women 31
  • Youthful Reflections 41
  • On Women''s Education 63
  • Domestic Records 79
  • Businesswomen''s Writings 105
  • "Death-Bed" Declarations Skate''Ne (choctaw) 123
  • II- Emerging Feminist Voices 133
  • Feminist Visions 137
  • III- Origins, Revolutions, and Women in the Nations 161
  • First Women 173
  • Spiritual Narratives 197
  • Captivity Narratives and Travel Journals 217
  • Epistolary Exchanges 235
  • Petitions, Political Essays, and Organizational Tracts 251
  • Revolutionary War Writings 269
  • Poetry 303
  • Histories 349
  • Drama 373
  • Novels 393
  • Notably Early American Women 413
  • Selected Bibliography 421
  • Index 432
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