Born in western New York, Elizabeth Ellet attended the girls' school in Aurora, New York, where she studied French, German, and Italian, among other subjects. She began publishing translations of European literature as well as her own poetry in her teens and early twenties in the American Ladies' Magazine. A volume entitled Poems, Translated and Original appeared as her first printed collection in 1835.
She married chemistry professor William Henry Ellet in 1835 and continued to write prolifically, contributing to literary periodicals in both New York and Columbia, South Carolina, where Professor Ellet received teaching appointments. Resettling in New York City in 1845 while her husband remained in the South, Elizabeth Ellet began to compose flirtatious letters to Edgar Allan Poe, thus competing with poet Frances Osgood for his affections. She also spread rumors that Poe and Osgood, both of whom were married, were engaged in an illicit affair. Though her gossip-mongering came to an end when Osgood's husband threatened her with a libel suit and her own husband joined her in New York, she already had managed to incur permanent damage to Frances Osgood's reputation.
Interested in the roles and accomplishments of early American women, Elizabeth Ellet's most notable literary contributions were her popular historical accounts of women's participation in the American Revolution and in the settling of the western frontiers. Though these histories idealized a passive, politically unambitious image of Republican femininity, they were the very first to recognize the contributions of women to the formation of the United States.
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