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Mary Ann Wolcott Goodrich (1765-1805)

Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. (New York, 1856), plate opposite 345. First ed., 1855.


Born to Declaration of Independence signer and Connecticut Governor Oliver Wolcott and his wife Lauren Collins, Mary Ann Goodrich was described by Rufus Griswold as “one of the most distinguished beauties of her time.”[1] Growing up in Litchfield, Connecticut, in a revolutionary family, Mary Ann and her siblings once helped to make bullets out of a melted statue of King George III in 1776 to help the colonial cause.[2]

When Mary Ann was inoculated with smallpox at age twelve, her father wrote to his wife, saying:

But I hope the Small Pox will giver her no uneasiness, tho’ it may have a little hurt her Complexion, as there is no valuable or lasting Beauty but what exists in the Mind; and if she cultivates these Excellencies, she will not fail of being beloved and esteemed.[3]

Years later, after her marriage to Chauncey Goodrich (1759-1815) in 1789, a British minister announced at a dance that Mary Ann “would be admired even at St. James” for her charm, culture, intellect, and refinement, indicating that, in his opinion, she would be welcome among the British aristocracy.[4]

Early in their marriage, the couple lived in Connecticut, where Goodrich practiced law and served in the state’s house of representatives. Mary Ann first became known to New York society while visiting her brother Oliver, who was the comptroller of the United States Treasury prior to succeeding Alexander Hamilton as treasury secretary. By 1795, when her husband was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Mary Ann was already “the centre of an admiring crowd” in New York City, a crowd that admired her for “the vivacity of her wit.”[5]

Indeed, in letters to her brother Frederick, which are preserved in the Litchfield Historical Society, one can see that Mary Ann had quite a lot of wit (and one might even say sarcasm). In one instance, she writes to him, saying:

I wish to know whether it was crossness or indolence, or head ach [sic], that prevented your writing to me, so that I may know how to apply the remedy the first of these disorders, may be cured perhaps, by Olmstead's flute, or his more melodious voice “By Music minds are equal temper know/ Nor swell too high nor sink too low” If you are troubled with the malady of Laziness, I would advise a pitch plaister to be applied to your back. This I experience is a great stimulus to action. The head ach is not so easily cured but I imagine that a very pretty Wife, with six hens, & a rooster & half a score of Sheep & three children would be some help to you and I advise you to try it…[6]

Mary Ann Goodrich died at the age of forty, having established herself as a mainstay in social circles in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., as she had followed her husband to these cities while he represented Connecticut in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Congresses, and later in the Senate (1807-1813). The couple never had children, although several of Mary Ann’s many nieces and nephews were named, in some capacity, after her or her husband.

Written by Annie Turner.


[1] Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1867), 400.

[2] Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912), 150.

[3] Anne Hollingsworth Wharton, Salons Colonial and Republican (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1900), 62.

[4] Elizabeth Fries Ellet, The Queens of American Society (New York: Charles Scribner and Company, 1868), 35.

[5] Green and Green, The Pioneer Mothers of America, 112.

[6] Mary Ann Wolcott Goodrich to Frederick Wolcott, February 21, 1790. Alice Wolcott Collection, Ingraham Library, Litchfield Historical Society, http://www.litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org/researchlibrary/families/wolcott/
(accessed 3 July, 2008).


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