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



James B. Longacre and James Herring, eds. The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, vol. 1 (1836), plate opposite entry. Note that by the 1852-53 Peterson edition fewer portraits of women are included. This portrait is not included.


As a child in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Catharine Sedgwick took much of the responsibility for running her family's household, as her mother suffered from periods of insanity and invalidism. Religious and introspective, she railed against the Calvinist doctrine with which she was raised and joined the Unitarian church in 1821. An anti-Calvinist tract she began writing while living with her brothers in New York turned into her first novel, A New-England Tale, and critics lauded it for its originality amid the 1820s trend of imitative, sentimental writing. The critical and commercial success of her subsequent novels confirmed her status as one of her day's preeminent woman novelists.

Choosing to remain unmarried throughout her life, Catharine Sedgwick turned down half a dozen marriage proposals, and her final novel, Married or Single?, defends the status of "old maids." While her stories portray the dignity and needs of both single and married women, she eschewed involvement with the women's rights movement and maintained that women could secure social and political rights without organized agitation.

In 1846, Edgar Allan Poe described her in his “The Literati of New York City. No. V,” in Godey’s Lady’s Book, v. 33, p. 131-132:

She is about the medium height, perhaps a little below it. Her forehead is an unusually fine one; nose of a slightly Roman curve; eyes dark and piercing; mouth well-formed and remarkably pleasant in its expression. The portrait in Graham's Magazine” is by no means a likeness, and, although the hair is represented as curled, (Miss Sedgwick at present wears a cap—at least, most usually,) gives her the air of being much older than she is.

Other portraits appear in:

New-York Mirror 17 (1839), plate opposite p. 209.

“Our Contributors,” in Graham’s Magazine 22 (1843): 53-55, frontispiece showing five separate portraits.

John S. Hart, ed. Female Prose Writers of America (1852), plate opposite p. 17.

Sarah J. Hale, ed. Woman’s Record (1853), p. 777; also 1855 ed.

Evert A. and George L. Duyckinck, eds. Cyclopaedia of American Literature (1855), vol. 2, p. 292.

Abner D. Jones. The American Portrait Gallery (New York, 1855), p. [603].

Abner D. Jones, ed. The Illustrated American Biography, vol. 3 (1855), p. 495.



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