My writings on women bring to light several fascinating figures whose names are little known today: Anne Hampton Brewster, Eliza Leslie,  and Catharine Maria Sedgwick, for example. These three would have been labeled “career women” or professionals, had the terms been used during their lives. They deserve attention for what they demonstrate about literary labors, public tastes, and popular ideas. Their writings and those of others like them outsold works written by men in 19th-century America.

Popular Women Writers & their Concerns

Best known now among the era’s “literary ladies” is Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the famous Uncle Tom’s Cabin. However, works by Sedgwick and Leslie sold almost as well. Their names had a popular ring among readers before the mid-19th century, when Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin flourished. And these successful women motivated many others, such as Anne Hampton Brewster, to try their hands at writing.

What about these women’s words attracted readers? Not just marriage and motherhood—though these topics were important. They voiced concerned also with the days’ most important social issues. Slavery, poverty, Native American rights, alcohol and its impact, prison conditions and mental illness were among them. They paid attention to political debates, restrictive religious institutions, education of women, and the importance of artistic expression. In short, they wrote about topics that remain of interest today.

We learn from them, as my publications reveal, some lessons about wrestling with traditions, voicing opinions and sometimes living against the grain of those around us. My posts here describe what I have already published about women writers as well as updates on my current work.  Check back to see those updates, or contact me for more information.

Utopian and Dystopian Visions: Sicily and Engaging Italy

Monte Argentario, off the coast of southern Tuscany

Emeralds in a sea of sapphire—gems among gemstones—to a romantic dreamer. To those who have removed the rose-colored glasses, perhaps they emerge more like mounds of painted paper More >

A Sicilian Memoir: Simeti's On Persephone’s Island

Mandarins and pears at an open market in Sicily. Photo: Andrew Malone , Wikimedia Commons via Flickr

Mary Taylor Simeti’s memoir of Sicily as an American expat will not be for everyone. But if you like poetic prose,... More >

The Past Hauntingly Repeats Itself? National Elections of 1844

George Perkins Marsh portrait engraving by H. B. Hall, reprinted in Life & Letters (1888) 







As presidential election news... More >

A Valentine's and Presidents' Day Book: Precious and Adored

Cover of book Precious and Adored

Cover of Laskey and Ehrenhalt’s book, Precious and Adored

Here’s a book suited for both Valentine’s and Presidents’ Day. No, it’s not about Abigail and John Adams. Nor is it yet another account of Honest Abe and Mary Todd. But it is about... More >

First Lady Rose Cleveland and Bishop's Wife Evangeline Whipple: Later Vocations in Italy

Who knew that former US First Lady Rose Cleveland moved to the Tuscan town of Bagni di Lucca, Italy? Or that she lived there with Evangeline Whipple, the widow of an Episcopal Bishop?


Historians Tilly Laskey and Lizzie Ehrenhalt’s new book, “Precious and Adored,” tells the story through the women’s letters.... More >

Cultural Crossings in Denver: Union Station, Ume Tsuda & Others

A few photos on Denver’s Union Station in October prompted a friend to ask for more. My initial post focused on the warm and inviting lights on a cold night, when the winds blasting by the tracks outside drove me inside. I was waiting for a train to the... More >

Anne Hampton Brewster: Nineteenth-Century News from Rome

Think of Anne Hampton Brewster as a precursor to NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli. American, female, news correspondent in Rome,  writing stories followed by many in the US.  The similarities stop there. Brewster, a Philadelphian, left for Italy 150 years ago. She began her news correspondence later in life,  in 1868, when... More >

Let There Be Light: Leaning in to Change

We finally have a “new” antique light in our dining room. After 18-plus years of wanting to gaze upon something other than a 1970s Victorian reproduction chandelier, we have made a change. Some of my friends who are architectural historians and preservationists may not like that this ornate pendant... More >

Constance Fenimore Woolson and Zoar

Constance Fenimore Woolson

Linking “utopian” communal groups and American women writers in Italy, I spoke last weekend on Constance Fenimore Woolson and Zoar.

Zoar Separatist Community, Ohio. Woolson loved to visit from her home in Cleveland.

Woolson... More >

Vida Dutton Scudder, Christian Socialist for Several Generations

Yesterday my son, just returned from grad school,  told me he’s writing an essay on Vida Dutton Scudder.  Before stating her name, he hesitated.  Why the hesitation–in what was otherwise an enthusiastic report of his first term? Was it that Scudder, a Turn-of-the-Century and Progressive Era activist, is an... More >

American Women Abroad

I often teach works by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Catharine Maria Sedgwick and Margaret Fuller, three among several 19th-century American writers whose lives were changed by time abroad.  My current book project focuses on three other American women who were their contemporaries–Anne Hampton Brewster, Emily Bliss Gould, and Caroline Crane Marsh.... More >

Eliza Leslie: Fun & Food

Selections from Eliza Leslie collects stories, recipes and other works by the nineteenth-century cookbook author and humor writer from Philadelphia. In addition to providing a biographical sketch, my introduction to the volume describes Eliza Leslie’s early career and her prominence among American women writers at her death in 1858.

Leslie established... More >

Catharine Maria Sedgwick: Native Tales

“Science in Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie (1827)” zooms in on a novel about Puritan New England that contributed to Sedgwick’s position as a rival of James Fenimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans. The article (co-written with Shelley Block) discusses Native American rights and relationships with Anglo colonists, including... More >