Portraits of American Women Writers That Appeared in Print Before 1861 - Header and Menu

"A Reading Party," in Godey's Lady's Book 33 (1846): plate opposite p. 145.


Elizabeth J. Eames (1813-1856) began her poem “On the Picture of a Departed Poetess” with the following lines:

“This still, clear, radiant face! Doth it resemble
In each fair, faultless lineament thine own?
Methinks on that enchanting lip doth tremble
The soul that breathes thy lyre’s melodious tone.
The Soul of music, O! ethereal spirit,
Fills the dream-haunted sadness of thine eyes;
Sweet Poetess! Thou surely didst inherit
Thy gifts celestial from the upper skies.”

In 1848, when the poem appeared in Caroline May’s American Female Poets, many woman writers’ portraits only appeared posthumously, as the frontispieces in volumes paying homage to their lives and writings. Perhaps Elizabeth Eames’s poem refers to one such frontispiece.

For 19th-century women, writing for publication was intruding into the masculine world of letters. Many women writers remained outside or on the margins of the literary marketplace, especially during their lifetimes. Many wrote under pseudonyms or anonymously. But others became prominent writers in mid-19th-century America. Frequently, the portraits of living women writers that did appear were in anthologies or periodicals that featured them as celebrities. In general, these published portraits have received little scholarly attention, and the women – even the ones who were prominent in the 19th century – largely have been ignored in retrospective surveys. Therefore, we present a gallery of portraits of antebellum American women writers, plus short sketches of their lives, to encourage use by students of literature, as well as by cultural and art historians. All works cited are in the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Please note that the graphic images can only be reproduced with permission from the Library Company.

The project initially emerged as part of the “Picturing Women” exhibition, a multi-institution exhibition that was the culmination of many years work by art historian Dr. Susan Shifrin. Curator of Women’s History Cornelia S. King developed the original checklist of portraits. As an intern from Haverford College’s John B. Hurford ’60 Humanities Center, Emily Kline created this online resource. Special thanks go to Emily. As an intern from Drexel University’s College of Information Science and Technology, Cheryl Klimaszewski added to the file, and created records in the Library Company’s digital repository. Many others helped with aspects of the project, especially Chief Information Officer Nicole H. Scalessa, the staff of the Print Department, former Curator of Printed Books Wendy Woloson, and Peter Stallybrass, Max Cavitch, and Stuart Curran of the English Department of the University of Pennsylvania; the project is much better thanks to their assistance and encouragement.


The Library Company of Philadelphia 1314 Locust St., Phila. PA 19107 215-546-3181 FAX 215-546-5167 Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved. Nicole Scalessa, IT Manager, nscalessa@librarycompany.org

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