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



Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. The Last Leaf from Sunny Side ... with a Memorial of the Author (1853), frontispiece.


As a child, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps entertained her younger siblings in their Massachusetts home by reading aloud her stories, many of which featured especially morbid and tragic themes. She traveled to Boston to attend school under the supervision of Reverend Jacob Abbot, and there she began to publish stories in the religious magazine which he edited. Her work appeared under the pseudonym "H. Trusta," an anagram of her name which she used frequently throughout her career. An intensely spiritual young woman, she considered the arts to be frivolous and abandoned her literary career in order to pursue a life of Christian duty.

Suffering from a "cerebral disease" whose symptoms included periods of blindness, headaches, and paralysis, she returned to her family's home in Andover in 1834. Eventually softening her draconian attitude toward the arts, she resumed her writing and painting and her health gradually improved. In 1842 she married Reverend Austin Phelps of Boston, and, now a mother of three children, she continued to write and publish novels, many of which were semi-autobiographical accounts of the life of a clergyman's wife. In 1852 she experienced a relapse of her strange disease, and she died that autumn.

Some of her novels enjoyed tremendous success in their day, such as The Sunny Side; or, The Country Minister's Wife, which ran into multiple editions and appeared in publication on both sides of the Atlantic. The Angel over the Right Shoulder, or The Beginning of a New Year relates the frustrations of women's stifling domestic duties and has appeared in feminist anthologies. After her death in 1852, her daughter adopted the name "Elizabeth Stuart Phelps" in her mother's memory and also became a successful novelist.

Another portrait appears in:

The Ladies’ Repository (June, 1855), plate preceding p. 321.



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