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CAROLINE M. KIRKLAND (1801 – 1864)

John S. Hart, ed. Female Prose Writers of America (1852), plate opposite p. 105.

CAROLINE M. KIRKLAND (1801 – 1864)

A childhood in New York City provided Caroline Kirkland with an urban counterpoint for her later experiences on the western frontier, and she showcased her qualities of East Coast wit and western tenacity in her narrative accounts of her life as a frontierswoman. Educated at her aunt's girls' schools in Mamaroneck and Manhattan, she studied literature and languages and helped to run the school until her marriage to classics scholar William Kirkland in 1828.

After administering a seminary for young ladies in Geneva, N.Y., for four years, Caroline and William Kirkland moved with their children to Michigan, where William had purchased 1300 acres of land on which he was determined to build a town. For his wife, life in Michigan was dreary; in addition to the physical drudgery of frontier life, she grew bored and lonely, and began to recount the anecdotes and gossip of daily life in long, funny letters to her friends to amuse herself. She stitched these correspondences into a series of novels, and her books earned her commercial success as well as the animosity of her neighbors who recognized themselves in her satire.

Eventually returning to New York after years of economic hardship, Caroline Kirkland ran a girls' school in her home and continued to publish stories about the West, assuming full financial responsibility for her family after her husband died in 1846. A highly energetic fixture in New York literary circles, she organized writers to raise money for medical supplies during the Civil War and contributed her time and writing to social reform.

In 1846, Edgar Allan Poe described her in his “The Literati of New York City. No. IV,” in Godey’s Lady’s Book v. 33 , p. 76:

She is rather above the medium height; eyes and hair dark; features somewhat small, with no marked characteristics, but the whole countenance beams with benevolence and intellect.

Another portrait appears in:

Evert A. and George L. Duyckinck, eds. Cyclopaedia of American Literature (1855), vol. 2, p. 563.



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