Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I was wrong about the First Woman Writer in America!

Pretty embarrassing for an English major! I mean, I even took an oral exam in Middle English in college while also reading a Shakespeare play every day.  But yesterday, as soon as I posted “America’s First Woman Author – Hannah Adams”, inspired by a portrait on a daguerreotype in my collection, I received a number of comments from people better informed than I, all asking “What about Anne Bradstreet?"

Anne Bradstreet was born in 1612 in England to an aristocratic family, married  Simon Bradstreet at the age of 16, and sailed to America with other Puritan emigrants in 1630.  Surviving the deadly travails of the voyage and the starvation of the first months, these Puritans soon founded the city of Boston (and Harvard University).  Eventually Anne had eight children and was sickly all her life.  She died at 50.

In 1650, a book of her poems was published in London as “The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America” composed by “A Gentlewoman from Those Parts.” This made Anne the first woman poet published –both in England and the New World.

So what about Hannah Adams, who was born in 1755 and published her first book in 1784-- 134 years after Anne’s book of poetry?

I went back to my research on Hannah Adams, and saw that each biographer had described her carefully as:

“… the first woman in the United States who made literature a profession.”

“… the first American woman to support herself by writing.”

“… the first American author to make a living solely from writing.”

So, although yesterday I wrongly ignored Anne Bradstreet, I was partly right in that Hannah was the first female professional writer who supported herself with her writing.  (She never married and her father went bankrupt.)

I’m delighted that my literary readers corrected me and pointed to Anne Bradstreet, whom I should have remembered from my English Major days.  It was a woman friend from my high school English class—where we were classmates over fifty years ago-- who first pointed out my slip yesterday.

But I’m also still thrilled to own a daguerreotype of Hannah Adams, the first female professional writer, who championed education for women and lobbied for the first copyright laws in our country.  Like Anne Bradstreet, she was one of our feminist godparents and a brave example to all women writers.


Liz said...

You shoudda asked yer daughter -- Eleni would know!!!

Love your blog, Joan!!!

House of Cards Radio said...

I appreciated your explanations about the first American female poet. I am the proud father of the most recently acclaimed American female poet -- also named Hannah Adams. She's the Hannah Adams who comes up on google if you type in "Hannah Adams" poet. And boy am I proud.