Beyond Domesticity: U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915


Introduction l True Womanhood l New Women l Growing Up Female l Political Women l Suffrage l Abolition l Women and War l Work Outside the Home l Cookery and Fancy-Work l Work Inside the Home l Mothering l Marriage l Marriage and Divorce l Regionalism l Travel l Bestsellers l Highlights l English 437: Students Research Rare Books




poems on various subjects
Poems on Various Subjects

No exhibit would be complete without showcasing some of the library’s most significant and treasured items. Shown here are rare books and manuscripts of some of this period’s most prominent women writers, from Phillis Wheatley through Margaret Fuller and Emily Dickinson to Edith Wharton and Willa Cather.

“Remember, Christians, negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.”

Phillis Wheatley, 1753-1784.

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. By Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant to Mr. John Wheatley, of Boston, in New-England.
London: Printed for A. Bell, bookseller, Aldgate; and sold by Messrs. Cox and Berry, King-street, Boston., 1773.poems of various subjects religious and moral

Wheatley was the first African American, the first slave, and the third woman in the country to publish a book of poems. Enslaved at eight, she arrived in Boston in 1761, where the Wheatleys soon recognized her abilities and encouraged her to study theology and the classics. Her first poem appeared in 1767; this volume is a rare first edition of her first book of poems, published the year she was emancipated.

“By Man I mean both man and woman: these are the two halves of one thought. . . . the development of one cannot be effected without that of the other.”

Margaret Fuller, 1810-1850.

Woman in the Nineteenth Century.
New York: Greeley & McElrath, 1845.
Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth Century American Literature.
woman in the nineteenth century
A rare copy in wrappers of a work now recognized as the first major feminist statement by an American woman.





Margaret Fuller, 1810-1850.

Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli.
Edited by William Henry Channing, James Freeman Clark and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
London: Richard Bentley, 1852. First English edition.
Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth Century American Literature.memoirs of margaret fuller ossoli
margaret fuller
The first biography of Fuller, published posthumously, attempted to sanitize her for public consumption by making her conform to what the editors considered to be the model of a woman writer; thus transforming a passionate and questioning individual into a somewhat prim and proper lady.




Margaret Fuller, 1810-1850.

Life Without and Life Within; or, Reviews, Narratives, Essays, and Poems.
Boston: Brown, Taggard, and Chase, 1860.
Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth Century American without a life within or reviews narratives essays and poems

Another collection of Fuller’s life and work, including poems, reviews, and miscellaneous items, this one affectionately prefaced and edited by her brother Arthur.

“that phase in human progress which subordinates the individual to the general, that he may re-appear on a higher plane of individuality.”

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, 1804-1894, ed.

Aesthetic Papers.
New York: G.P. Putnam, 1849. Volume I.
Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth Century American Literature.aesthetic papers

Peabody, a renowned Boston reformer and associate of the Transcendentalists, describes her purpose as editor of these papers in an opening “Prospectus,” where she writes that she hoped to assemble works by “writers of different schools,” chosen solely on the basis of their aesthetic merit, in order to bring together different factions of the Church as well as the communities of letters and science so that “a white radiance of love and wisdom be evolved from the union of the many-colored rays, that shall cultivate an harmonious intellectual and moral life in our country.” The papers also contain the first printing of Thoreau’s essay “Resistance to Civil Government.”

“Learn to be wise by others harm,
And you shall do full well.”

Tabitha Tenney, 1762-1837.

Female Quixotism: Exhibited in the Romantic Opinions and Extravagant Adventures of Dorcasina Sheldon.
Boston: J.P. Peaslee, 1829.
female quixotism
Originally published in 1801, the two-volume novel Female Quixotism is part romance, part satire. It imagines what would have happened had Don Quixote instead been a Donna. Dorcas is the name Tenney gives to this character, but Dorcas romantically styles herself “Dorcasina” as she embarks on a quixotic quest to find true love just like in the novels. After a series of misadventures she winds up a lonely and disillusioned old maid. One critic writes that the novel’s “woman’s-eye view of the life and literature of the age provides a tragicomic parody of the limited choices available to women in a society dedicated to the principle that all men are created equal.”

“This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me – ”

Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886.

Poems by Emily Dickinson. Edited by two of her Friends, Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson.
Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1890.
Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth Century American Literature.
Only 500 copies of the first edition of one of the most famous books of American poetry were printed. The editors cleaned up Dickinson’s signature dashes, standardized punctuation throughout, gave many poems titles, and organized the poems according to four themes: Life, Love, Nature, and Time and Eternity. In the process, they took away much of what made Dickinson’s poetry unique in her day and treasured in ours. Included in this copy is a 2-page letter from Emily Dickinson to Emily Ellsworth Fowler Ford, circa 1880, alluding to shared childhood memories. Also mounted on its rear endpapers are contemporary newspaper reviews of the book and reprinted poems of Dickinson’s from the Springfield (MA) Republican.

“much that is confused and extravagant, will give way before the application of principles based on common sense and regulated by the laws of harmony and proportion.”

Edith Wharton, 1862-1937, and Ogden Codman, Jr.

The Decoration of Houses.
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1897.
the decoration of houses
Wharton’s first book, co-authored with her friend, the architect Ogden Codman. Through fifty illustrations and unstinting prose, the authors denounce Victorian overstuffed decorative practices and “the vulgarity” of the architectural and decorative taste displayed by, among others, the nouveau riche. They argue for a return to classic styles and methods with an emphasis on symmetry, proportion and balance.

Edith Wharton, 1862-1937.

The Touchstone.
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900.
Author of more than 40 volumes – novels, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction – Wharton is considered one of the major authors of the twentieth century. Her upbringing offered her insights into the upper class she often depicted in her intricately crafted and popular novels. The Touchstone, one of her earliest works, was first serialized in Scribner’s Magazine in the spring of 1898 and published in book form shortly thereafter.

“I was just a screw or cog in the great machine I called life, and when I dropped out of it I found I was of no use anywhere else.”

Edith Wharton, 1862-1937.

The House of Mirth. With Illustrations by A. S. Wenzell.
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1905.the house of mirth
she lingered on the broad stairway
The House of Mirth was serialized for eleven months in Scribner’s Magazine in 1905. Readers following the serial anxiously waited its outcome, which was tragic. Published in book form in October, The House of Mirth became a bestseller and stayed on the bestseller list into 1906.

Edith Wharton, 1862-1937.

Old New York. A Boxed Set of Four Works: False Dawn, The Old Maid, The Spark, New Year’s Day.
New York: Scribner’s, 1964.
old new york
This lovely boxed set attempts to sell not only Wharton’s works but also her vivid and complex representations of an “Old New York” that had long since faded into the past. The set correlates each book with a different decade during the 1800s: False Dawn depicts “The ‘Forties,” The Old Maid depicts “The ‘Fifties”; The Spark depicts “The ‘Sixties,” and New Year’s Day depicts “The ‘Seventies.”

Willa Sibert Cather, 1873-1947.

The Song of the Lark.
Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1915.
song of the lark
This first edition of one of Cather’s more moving novels is still in its original dust jacket. The front jacket reproduces a painting by Jules Breton whose title Cather borrowed for her novel. The text on the inside of the jacket reads in part:
“The story of a great American singer, – her childhood in the Colorado desert, her early struggles in Chicago, her romantic adventures among the ruins of the Cliff Dwellers in Arizona, her splendid triumphs on the operatic stage. It is a story of aspiration and conflict, of the magnificent courage of young ambition, and of the influence of four men upon the singer’s career.”   

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