Catalogue


First lady of letters : Judith Sargent Murray and the struggle for female independence /
Sheila L. Skemp.
imprint
Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, c2009.
description
xvi, 484 p.
ISBN
0812241401 (cloth : alk. paper), 9780812241402 (cloth : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
series title
imprint
Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, c2009.
isbn
0812241401 (cloth : alk. paper)
9780812241402 (cloth : alk. paper)
catalogue key
6778997
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2009-09-01:
Skemp (Univ. of Mississippi) transcends the genre of straightforward biography by offering insights into Murray's thoughts through her analysis of Murray's writing and motivations as expressed in her journals. This book should be seen as an intellectual biography aiming to show Murray as a leading literary figure of her time. Skemp's argument centers around the fact that Murray published her views on the need for women's independence, their ability to achieve goals equal to those of men, and the necessity for access to formal education for girls and women comparable to what was offered to men. The author does point out the limits of Murray's thought, her elitism, and her avoidance of the women's suffrage issue, but maintains that Murray was ahead of her contemporaries in her views on women's place in US society. This point is well argued but not necessarily convincingly made. Skemp falls somewhat short of persuading readers of Murray's significance. While she mentions Murray's limitations, she does not seem to see them as significant enough to take away from Murray's proposed position in the literary canon. Yet these limitations may call in question the place Skemp claims for Murray within the intellectual tradition of female writers in the US. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. C. Warren Empire State College
Reviews
Review Quotes
" First Lady of Letters is an admirable history of this all-but-forgotten Federalist-era women's rights advocate, who argued powerfully that girls could shine as brightly as boys if only they were given the benefits of a classical education and parents who encouraged them to 'reverence themselves.'"- Wall Street Journal
"I am deeply grateful to Skemp for providing us with such a comprehensive perspective on Murray and for helping bring her out of the shadows and into the limelight shared by contemporaries such as Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren. . . . What is most valuable about this book, however, is Skemp's wonderful depiction of the transition in the early Republic as old New England families were forced to share power and authority with the rising classes."- William and Mary Quarterly
"Sheila Skemp gives readers unprecedented access to Murray's private writing, shared almost exclusively with family members and close friends, at these and other momentous occasions in her exceptional new biography. Skemp takes us beyond Murray's more familiar published work to her richly descriptive thoughts on the terrors of childbirth; travels; visits with the likes of Washington and John Adams; and the travails of educating her daughter, two girls also under her stewardship, and the boisterous sons of her brother, who had been sent north from Natchez with Harvard in their sights."- Eighteenth-Century Studies
"Skemp's nimble selection of the details. . . reveal in stunning, sad, and human detail the mind and life of a brilliant woman who advocated for women's equality well before Mary Wollstonecraft."- Resources for American Literary Study
"Accessibly written, and with contextual material involving both Murray's times and up-to-date historical thinking about Enlightenment women and the early republic, the book will become the starting point for all future work about Murray and women writers before the Jacksonian period."- American Historical Review
"A very fine biography, one that is not only an excellent work of scholarship but also highly readable and engaging. In mining and analyzing new materials, Skemp has turned the historical spotlight on an author and critic worthy of ongoing consideration."- New England Quarterly
This item was reviewed in:
Choice, September 2009
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820), poet, essayist, playwright, and one of the most thoroughgoing advocates of women's rights in early America, was as well known in her own day as Abigail Adams or Martha Washington. Her name, though, has virtually disappeared from the public consciousness. Thanks to the recent discovery of Murray's papers-including some 2,500 personal letters-historian Sheila L. Skemp has documented the compelling story of this talented and most unusual eighteenth-century woman. Born in Gloucester, Massachussetts, Murray moved to Boston in 1793 with her second husband, Universalist minister John Murray. There she became part of the city's literary scene. Two of her plays were performed at Federal Street Theater, making her the first American woman to have a play produced in Boston. There, as well, she wrote and published her magnum opus, The Gleaner, a three-volume "miscellany" that included poems, essays, and the novel-like story "Margaretta." After 1800, Murray's output diminished and her hopes for literary renown faded. Suffering from the backlash against women's rights that had begun to permeate American society, struggling with economic difficulties, and concerned about providing the best possible education for her daughter, she devoted little time to writing. But while her efforts diminished, they never ceased. Murray was determined to transcend the boundaries that limited women of her era and worked tirelessly to have women granted the same right to the "pursuit of happiness" immortalized in the Declaration of Independence. She questioned the meaning of gender itself, emphasizing the human qualities men and women shared, arguing that the apparent distinctions were the consequence of nurture, not nature. Although she was disappointed in the results of her efforts, Murray nevertheless left a rich intellectual and literary legacy, in which she challenged the new nation to fulfill its promise of equality to all citizens.
Main Description
Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820), poet, essayist, playwright, and one of the most thoroughgoing advocates of women's rights in early America, was as well known in her own day as Abigail Adams or Martha Washington. Her name, though, has virtually disappeared from the public consciousness. Thanks to the recent discovery of Murray's papers--including some 2,500 personal letters--historian Sheila L. Skemp has documented the compelling story of this talented and most unusual eighteenth-century woman. Born in Gloucester, Massachussetts, Murray moved to Boston in 1793 with her second husband, Universalist minister John Murray. There she became part of the city's literary scene. Two of her plays were performed at Federal Street Theater, making her the first American woman to have a play produced in Boston. There, as well, she wrote and published her magnum opus,The Gleaner, a three-volume "miscellany" that included poems, essays, and the novel-like story "Margaretta." After 1800, Murray's output diminished and her hopes for literary renown faded. Suffering from the backlash against women's rights that had begun to permeate American society, struggling with economic difficulties, and concerned about providing the best possible education for her daughter, she devoted little time to writing. But while her efforts diminished, they never ceased. Murray was determined to transcend the boundaries that limited women of her era and worked tirelessly to have women granted the same right to the "pursuit of happiness" immortalized in the Declaration of Independence. She questioned the meaning of gender itself, emphasizing the human qualities men and women shared, arguing that the apparent distinctions were the consequence of nurture, not nature. Although she was disappointed in the results of her efforts, Murray nevertheless left a rich intellectual and literary legacy, in which she challenged the new nation to fulfill its promise of equality to all citizens.
Main Description
"In the 1990s, Unitarian-Universalist minister Reverend Gordon Gibson...discovered Judith's nine letter books-containing some 2,500 of Murray's personal letters as well as a significant number of unpublished poems and essays-and rescued them from oblivion. When Judith left Boston for Natchez in 1818, she brought few of her possessions with her. That she was determined to see that the letter books made the arduous journey halfway across the North American continent is a measure of the importance they held for her. They served as a diary, a record of good times and bad gone forever. Even more important, she saw them as her final bid for literary immortality. Depressed by her inability to achieve the literary celebrity she had once been convinced would be hers, she still held out hope that subsequent generations would see in her letters and her life something of value that her own contemporaries failed to observe. Those letter books, as well as the not insignificant corpus of her published work, have made this book possible." Book jacket.
Table of Contents
Prefacep. ix
Rebellions: 1769-1784p. 1
"This Remote Spot"p. 9
Universal Salvationp. 41
Independencep. 67
Creating a Genteel Nationp. 94
Republic of Letters: 1783-1798p. 123
"Sweet Peace"p. 129
A Belle Passionp. 159
A Wider Worldp. 187
A Career of Famep. 213
"A School of Virtue"p. 234
Federalist Musep. 267
Retreat: 1798-1820p. 299
"We Are Fallen on Evil Times"p. 309
Republican Daughters, Republican Sonsp. 334
Epiloguep. 369
Afterwordp. 381
List of Archival Sourcesp. 385
Notesp. 387
Indexp. 473
Acknowledgmentsp. 483
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

This information is provided by a service that aggregates data from review sources and other sources that are often consulted by libraries, and readers. The University does not edit this information and merely includes it as a convenience for users. It does not warrant that reviews are accurate. As with any review users should approach reviews critically and where deemed necessary should consult multiple review sources. Any concerns or questions about particular reviews should be directed to the reviewer and/or publisher.

  link to old catalogue

Report a problem