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BOOKS BY GAMALIEL BRADFORD

LEE THE AMERICAN

CONFEDERATE PORTRAITS

UNION PORTRAITS

PORTRAITS OF WOMEN

PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN

A PROPHET OF JOY

AMERICAN PORTRAITS

DAMAGED SOULS

THE SOUL OF SAMUEL PEPYS

A NATURALIST OF SOULS

DARWIN

LIFE AND I

As GOD MADE THEM

DAUGHTERS OF EVE

THE QUICK AND THE DEAD

SAINTS AND SINNERS

BIOGRAPHY AND THE HUMAN HEART

THE JOURNALS OF GAMALIEL BRADFORD

(Edited by Van Wyck Brooks)

THE LETTERS OF GAMALIEL BRADFORD
(Edited by Van Wyck Brooks)



PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN



j > >* i j 1 > j J j




ABIGAIL SMITH ADAMS



PORTRAITS OF
AMERICAN WOMEN

By
GAMALIEL BRADFORD




BOSTON AND NEW YORK.

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
Rifeetfibe f&retf CambritJjje



COPYRIGHT, 1917, I9I8, 1919, BY THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY COMPANY

COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW CORPORATION

COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY GAMALIEL BRADFORD

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO REPRODUCE
THIS BOOK OR PARTS THEREOF IN ANY FORM



tt&e fciuersifct Drt BS

CAMBRIDGE . MASSACHUSE11S
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.



TO
H. F. B.



89G731



II y a trois choses quefai beaucoup aimees
et auxguelles je n ai jamais rien compris:
les femmes, la peinture, et la musique.

FONTENELLE

Rien ne vit gue par le detail.

SAINTE-BEUVE



PREFACE

THIS book might almost be called " Portraits of New
England Women," since, with the exception of Miss
Willard, all of the subjects studied in it were born in
New England. As I had devoted a good many years to
distinguished representatives of other parts of the
country, I felt at liberty to confine my researches for a
brief period to souls nearer home. In the study of women
it is especially difficult to obtain satisfactory material,
and material affecting the lives of New England women
was most readily accessible to me. At the same time,
of the seven New England characters here portrayed,
at least three, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Margaret Fuller
Ossoli, and Louisa May Alcott, are so thoroughly iden
tified with the country at large that one hardly thinks
of their birthplace. Abigail Adams, Mary Lyon, and
Emily Dickinson are known to a great number of their
countrywomen and Sarah Alden Ripley ought to be so.
I hope, moreover, to follow this series with another,
embracing prominent women of other sections.

I am under deep obligation to various persons for
assistance in my work. Mrs. Ripley s grandchildren
have kindly supplied me with numerous letters, without
which it would have been impossible to make an ade
quate study of her. Miss Charlotte A. Hedge has lent
me letters of Margaret Fuller to Dr. F. H. Hedge, and
the Boston Public Library has placed its valuable
Ossoli manuscripts at my disposal. Mount Holyoke
College has enabled me to make use of a most interest
ing collection of reminiscences of Mary Lyon. Mr.



x PREFACE

C. K. Bolton has allowed me to examine the corre
spondence of Frances Willard with his mother, Mrs.
Sarah Knowles Bolton. And Mr. McGregor Jenkins
has lent me letters and has more especially furnished
me with significant personal memories of Emily Dick
inson. To all these collaborators I am very grateful.

GAMALIEL BRADFORD

Wdlesley Hills, Massachusetts
September 30, 1919



CONTENTS

I. ABIGAIL ADAMS i

II. SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 33

III. MARY LYON 65

IV. HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 99
V. MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 131

VI. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 165

VII. FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 195

VIII. EMILY DICKINSON 227

NOTES 59

INDEX 21



ILLUSTRATIONS

ABIGAIL SMITH ADAMS Frontispiece

SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 34

MARY LYON 66

HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 100

MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI - v 132

LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 166

FRANCES WILLARD 196
EMILY DICKINSON



PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN

I

ABIGAIL ADAMS



, CHRONOLOGY

Abigail Smith.

Born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, November II, 1744.

Married John Adams, October 25, 1764.

In Europe 1784-1788.

Died at Quincy, Massachusetts, October 28, 1818.



PORTRAITS OF
AMERICAN WOMEN

i

ABIGAIL ADAMS
I

THE wife of President John Adams and the mother of
President John Quincy Adams is sometimes accused of
being more man than woman in her temperament. This
is a mistake. She was a woman and a charming one,
even in an age when there was no offense in saying that
women differed from men in their hearts as well as in
their garments.

She had a large and varied life. Starting from a
peaceful New England parsonage, where she learned
the love of God and good breeding, she passed a quiet
girlhood, then plunged, in her early married days, into
the fierce tumult of the Revolution, managed her family
and estate during her husband s long periods of absence,
stood at his side in the presence of the sovereigns of
Europe, reigned as the president s wife over the society
of Washington, and shared the long post-presidential



4 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN

retirement in the Quincy home. She was always ade
quate to every situation and said the word and did the
deed thai dignity and high patriotism required of her.
But it is impossible to read her many letters and not feel
that through it all she was charmingly and delicately a
woman.

She herself understood and appreciated the softer
elements of the feminine character. In England she
complains somewhat of the lack of these qualities : " The
softness, peculiarly characteristic of our sex, and which
is so pleasing to the gentlemen, is wholly laid aside here
for the masculine attire and manners of the Amazo-
nians." 1 She herself is feminine in the deeper things
of life, in the tenderness of her affection and in the
bitterness of her mourning, when those she loves are
lost to her, as in her profound grief over her mother s
death. She is just as feminine in those lighter trifles
of fashion and dress which are supposed by men
to form the chief part of woman s conversation and
correspondence.

She was a thorough woman in her domestic interests^
in that busy, often trivial, care which sustains the un
conscious felicity of home. She looked after her hus
band s comfort as well as his greatness. In the midst of
shrewd advice as to his moral bearing among those



ABIGAIL ADAMS 5

who were making 1 the American nation, she murmurs a
housewife s anxiety about his personal appearance: "I
feel concerned lest your clothes should go to rags, hav
ing nobody to take any care of you in your long absence;
and then, you have not with you a proper change for
the seasons." 2 She feels, sometimes a little impatiently,
the hurry of nothing which makes up domestic life.
Her health? She believes she has little health. " Much
of an invalid," 3 she calls herself casually, and elsewhere
admits that her "health is infirm/ and that she is not
"built for duration." 4 But, bless me, she has no time
to think about health, or talk about it, or write about it.
The machine must go as long as it will.

How apt and vivid is her sketch of the interruptions
that puncture the whole course of her home existence !
She rises at six o clock and makes her own fire, "in
imitation of his Britannic Majesty." She calls her serv
ants repeatedly, and notes that in future she will hire
only those who will stir at one call. Breakfast gets on
the table. She would like to eat it. A man comes with
coal. A man comes with pigs. Another man comes for
something else, and another. Meanwhile, where is
breakfast? And what flavor has it? "Attended to all
these concerns. A little out of sorts that I could not
finish my breakfast. Note; never to be incommoded



6 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN

with trifles." 5 You think you are reading Madame de
Sevigne.

Yet she loves her home with all a woman s true, deep
affection. Men often claim a speciality of home loving
and decry a woman s restlessness. They do not realize
that they shake off the burden of life when they enter
their own doors. A woman takes it up. Yet few men s
love is really deeper than a woman s for the home she
has created and every day sustains. It was so with this
lady. There are cares, indeed. But what is life with
out cares ? "I have frequently said to my friends, when
they have thought me overburdened with care, I would
rather have too much than too little. Life stagnates
without action." 6 And though she saw and knew all
the diversions of society and all the heights and depths
of the great outer world, she clung steadfastly to the
simplest maxim of a woman s heart. "Well-ordered
home is my chief delight, and the affectionate, domestic
wife, with the relative duties which accompany that
character, my highest ambition." 7

And as she was a woman in her love of home, so she
was thoroughly a woman in her love of her children and
in her care for them. If they are ill, she watches at their
bedsides with the tenderest solicitude, delights in their
recovery, and mourns almost beyond consolation when



ABIGAIL ADAMS 7

one is untimely snatched away. She herself superin
tends their early studies, and most thoughtfully and
carefully. She does indeed regret her own lack of book
learning, because she has none to impart to her daugh
ters; but perhaps, even in this regard, she was less
deficient than might be thought. She keeps little Johnny
at her knee reading aloud Rollin s "Ancient History,"
and hopes that he will come to " entertain a fondness for
it." 8 She vastly prefers Dr. Watts s " Moral Songs for
Children" to modern frivolities of "Jack and Jill" and
" Little Jack Homer." 9 Would she have liked " Hollo,"
I wonder, or would she not?

Whatever the value of her literary teaching, her
moral lessons were as homely, as sturdy, and as lofty
as those of a matron of Plutarch. On this point she was
fully supported by the resonant precepts of her husband :
"Root out every little thing. Weed out every mean
ness. Make them great and manly. Teach them to
scorn injustice, ingratitude, cowardice, and falsehood." 10
But she needed no precepts from any one. Out of her own
heart she taught these things, and her apostrophe to her
son, when he left her for the great world, is simply the
flower of lessons and influences established many years
before: "Dear as you are to me, I would much rather
you should have found your grave in the ocean you have



8 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN

crossed, or that any untimely death should crop you in
your infant years, than see you an immoral, profligate,
or graceless child." n

If one wants evidence of this maternal loftiness and
maternal tenderness combined, one has only to open the
Diary of John Quincy Adams and to see how reverent,
how affectionate, and how obviously sincere are the
numerous references to his mother s care and devotion.
" My mother was an angel upon earth. She was a min
ister of blessing to all human beings within her sphere
of action. . . She has been to me more than a mother.
She has been a spirit from above watching over me for
good, and contributing by my mere consciousness of her
existence to the comfort of my life." 12 " There is not a
virtue that can abide in the female heart but it was the
ornament of hers." 13 Yet the younger Adams was not
one inclined to overestimate human nature, even in those
most nearly bound to him. His devotion to his mother s
memory was as persistent as it was profound. When he
himself had reached his seventy-sixth year, the mere
reading of some of her letters threw him into a state of
singular excitement. "I actually sobbed as he read,
utterly unable to suppress my emotion. Oh, my mother !
Is there anything on earth so affecting to me as thy
name? so precious as thy instructions to my childhood,
so dear as the memory of thy life? " 14



ABIGAIL ADAMS 9

We may safely say, then, that this was a true woman
in her home and with her children. She was a woman
likewise in the freshness and vivacity of her social re
lations. When she writes to her granddaughter, "Culti
vate, my dear, those lively spirits and that sweet inno
cence and contentedness, which will rob the desert of its
gloom, and cause the wilderness to bloom around you," 15
we know that she herself had cultivated these things
with assiduity and success. She was in no way depend
ent upon society and there were times when she dis
tinctly shrank from it, when its duties were a burden and
its forms and ceremonials a wearisome embarrassment.
Her happiest, sunniest hours were no doubt passed with
her husband and children in the busy retirement of her
Quincy home. But at different periods of her life she
was called upon to mingle in all sorts of social circles,
the loftiest as well as the most brilliant, and everywhere
she bore herself with the grace and ease and dignity
of a refined and accomplished lady.

She had those most essential ingredients of the social
spirit, a woman s quick sense of the varied interest of
human character and a woman s sympathetic insight
into the workings of the human heart. And she had,
also, a rare power of expression, so that her account of
Striking scenes and distinguished people has often some-



io PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN

thing of the snap and sparkle of Lady Mary Montagu
or Madame de Sevigne. How admirable, for instance,
is her picture of Madame Helvetius, the friend of Frank
lin, ending, "I hope, however, to find amongst the French
ladies manners more consistent with my ideas of de
cency, or I shall be a mere recluse." 16 Or, for a briefer
sketch, take that of Mrs. Cranch, who is "a little, smart,
sprightly, active woman and is wilted just enough to last
to perpetuity." 17

And Mrs. Adams s thorough womanliness showed not
only in her personal relations, in her daily interests, in
her social glitter and vivacity, but in deeper and more
subtle sensibilities, which many true women are without.
She had an excellent control over her nerves, was quite
capable of stoical heroism, as we shall see later, but the
nerves were there and show, through all her mastery.
She would have readily admitted, with the lady of
Shakespeare,

I am a woman, therefore full of fears.

Or, as she herself puts it, " I never trust myself long with
the terrors which sometimes intrude themselves upon
me." 18 The nerves responded to all sorts of other sug
gestions also. To art perhaps not so much. The early
training of Puritan New England did not altogether fit
nerves for aesthetic sensibility. Yet her enthusiasm over



ABIGAIL ADAMS n

the opera in Paris is far more than a mere conventional
ecstasy, and the possibilities of music for her are richly
indicated in a casual sentence: "I cannot describe to
you how much I was affected the other day with a Scotch
song, which was sung to me by a young lady in order to
divert a melancholy hour." 19

Nature touched her even more than music. The poets
she knew were those of the eighteenth century and her
formal description has rather too much of eighteenth-
century zephyrs and vernal airs. But it is easy to get
through this to her real, deep love of bare New England
pastures and wide meadows and the homely country
side that had woven itself into her life. And as the
nerves thrilled to old Scotch airs, so they quivered and
melted under the coming of May days. "The approach
of spring unstrings my nerves, and the south winds
have the same effect upon me which Brydone says the
Sirocco winds have upon the inhabitants of Sicily." 20

In short, she was a shifting, varying, mercurial
creature, as perhaps we all are, but she certainly more
than many of us. "Oh, why," she exclaims, "was I
born with so much sensibility, and why, possessing it,
have I so often been called to struggle with it ? " 21 One
moment she is "lost and absorbed in a flood of tender
ness." 22 The next " my heart is as light as a feather and



12 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN

my spirits are dancing/ 23 To-day she writes: "I am
a mortal enemy to anything but a cheerful counte
nance and a merry heart." 24 And then to-morrow: "I
have many melancholy hours, when the best company
is tiresome to me and solitude the greatest happiness
I can enjoy." 25

So it can hardly be claimed that she was too stoical
and too philosophical and too stern-hearted to be a
woman.

II

BUT Mrs. Adams lived in a tremendous time. In her
early married years her husband s political duties left
her alone to do both her work and his in the midst of
difficulty and danger. Later she was called upon to
stand by his side through great crises of statesmanship
and to give him counsel in triumph and comfort in de
feat. She performed all these functions nobly, and to do
it required something more than the usual feminine con
tributions to domestic felicity. She had a woman s
heart, a woman s nerves, a woman s tenderness; but
little indeed of what a man recfuires to make his way in
life was lacking to her.

She had a high and fine intelligence. Elaborate edu
cation she had not, nor any woman in that day. She



ABIGAIL ADAMS 13

herself complains that she was not sent to school, that
ill health prevented any systematic mental training, that
reading and writing and the simplest arithmetic, with
a few accomplishments, were all that was thought neces
sary for her or any of her sex. In later life she be
wailed this state of things and urged that a wide and
rational spiritual culture was as necessary and as suit
able for women as for men.

But we all know that education does not make intel
ligence and that natural intelligence can supply almost
everything that education gives to either man or woman.
After all, schooling is but an inadequate and apologetic
substitute for brains. Brains Mrs. Adams had, and
needed no substitute. From her childhood her keen
and active wit was working, observing, acquiring, re
jecting, laying by for future use. She was always a
wide reader, read and quoted Shakespeare and Pope
and the eighteenth-century poets and essayists. Her
acuteness and independence of judgment are well shown
in this comment on the Drama of Moliere: "I send
with this the first volume of Moliere and should be glad
of your opinion of them. I cannot be brought to like
them. It seems to me to be a general want of spirit,
at the close of every one I have felt disappointed. There
are no characters but what appear unfinished and he



i 4 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN

seems to have ridiculed vice without engaging us to
virtue; and though he sometimes makes us laugh, yet
t is a smile of indignation. . . . Moliere is said to have
been an honest man, but sure he has not copied from
his own heart. Though he has drawn many pictures
of real life, yet all pictures of life are not to be exhib
ited upon the stage." 26 Above all, she read the classics,
of course in translation; even writers minor or less
known, like Polybius. Plutarch she nourished her heart
on, and when she signed her letters to her husband,
"Portia," it was partly an eighteenth-century affecta
tion, but much more that the iron of old Roman virtue
had entered into the very substance of her soul.

Also, her intelligence reached far beyond books. She
had that penetrating, analytical instinct which plucks
wisdom from the actions and motives of men and which
especially lays the foundation of such wisdom in a close,
dispassionate study of the observer s own heart " You
know I make some pretensions to physiognomy," 27 she
writes. The pretensions were justified. She saw many
faces in her life and read them attentively, curiously,
and always with profit.

But the finest testimony to Mrs. Adams s intelligence
is the letters addressed to her by her husband and her
son. Both were men of wide and deep reflection. Both



ABIGAIL ADAMS 15

touched perpetually the gravest problems of statesman
ship and of human conduct generally. Both discussed
these problems with wife and mother as they would

>

have discussed them together, or with the wisest men
of their time. Would this have been possible with
any but a mind of the broadest grasp and keenest
power of comprehension?

And the intelligence was progressive as well as vigor
ous. Mrs. Adams s energetic protest to her husband
against the legal and political subjection of women in
that day has been often quoted and justly praised, it
is as dignified as it is energetic: "That your sex are
naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established
as to admit of no dispute," 28 and she urges such an
adjustment of law as may check that tyranny. In re
ligious matters there is the same broad, sober common-
sense. Mrs. Adams had been brought up in the strictest
New England Calvinism, and always retained the in
tense earnestness of that creed and its disposition to
try all things by the standard of conscience. But big
otry and intellectual cowardice were alike abhorrent to
her, and she had no inclination to judge others harshly.
" True, genuine religion is calm in its inquiries, deliber
ate in its resolves, and steady in its conduct." 29 And
besides common-sense she infused into her piety some-



1 6 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN

thing of that sunshine which was the sorest need of
Calvinism and for want of which it perished: "I am
one of those who are willing to rejoice always. My
disposition and habits are not of the gloomy kind. I
believe that to enjoy is to obey/ " 80

But vigorous and clear as Mrs. Adams s mind was
in the abstract, its energy showed still more in practical
matters, as was natural and necessary with the life she
lived. We have seen that she could be perfectly con
tented with simple home surroundings and regular
pursuits. But she wanted neither sloth nor lethargy.
"Confinement does not suit me or my family," 31 she
wrote to her granddaughter. And again: "Man was
made for action, and for bustle, too, I believe. I am
quite out of conceit with calms." 82 She had her share
of furious housewifery, and no sooner gets on shipboard
than she sets to work with "scrapers, mops, brushes,
infusions of vinegar, etc.," 83 to produce the neatness
and order which she maintained daily at home without
such appeal to violent measures.

And her domestic economy went far beyond mops and
brushes. During her husband s long and necessary ab
sences, she undertook not only the ordinary duties of
wife and mother, but the general management of farms
and property, and performed these functions most effi-



ABIGAIL ADAMS 17

ciently, as is shown by the commendation which she
receives from her loving partner quite as frequently as
advice. She makes purchases and sales, she hires help,
she garners crops. Through it all she carries her own
burden and avoids, so far as possible, filling her letters
with complaints. "I know the weight of public cares
lie so heavy upon you that I have been loath to mention
your own private ones." 84

In dealing with that greatest and ever-present and
insoluble problem of married and all other life, money,
Mrs. Adams herself asserts that she was thrifty and
prudent. So do all the rest of us, all man and woman
kind. But in this case I think we may believe the state
ment. There was certainly no niggardliness. The
husband was too large for petty cheese-paring. "You
know I never get or save anything by cozening or
classmating," 35 he writes, and his wife was like him.
She maintained a sober decency and propriety in her
own expenditure, and through all the cramped revolu
tionary time, when dollars were even rarer than hope,
she always kept and used the means of relieving those
whose straits were worse than her own. But she under
stood thoroughly both the theory of economy and its
practice. Few professional students would have an
alyzed financial conditions more keenly than she does in



i8 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN

the long letter written to her husband at an early stage
of the war. 36 And the practical strain shows in her
simple statement : " I have studied, and do study, every
method of economy in my power; otherwise a mint of
money would not support a family." 37

Certainly, without any intention of boasting, she her
self, in her later years, sums up her usefulness to hus
band and children when she is explaining to her sister
the multiplicity of care that seems to hang around her
as thickly in age as it did in youth: "You know, my
dear sister, if there be bread enough, and to spare, un
less a prudent attention manage that sufficiency, the
fruits of diligence will be scattered by the hand of dis
sipation. No man ever prospered in the world without
the consent and cooperation of his wife." 88

As she had patience to endure want and privation,
so she had courage to meet danger. When those she
loves are in peril, her heart feels "like a heart of
lead/ 39 But for herself, sensitive as her nerves may
be, there is a strain of heroism which swells and hardens


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