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Reinventing the Peabody Sisters

Monika M. Elbert, Julie E. Hall, Katharine Rodier

Publication Year: 2006

Whether in the public realm as political activists, artists, teachers, biographers, editors, and writers or in the more traditional role of domestic, nurturing women, Elizabeth Peabody, Mary Peabody Mann, and Sophia Peabody Hawthorne subverted rigid nineteenth-century definitions of women’s limited realm of influence. Reinventing the Peabody Sisters seeks to redefine this dynamic trio’s relationship to the literary and political movements of the mid nineteenth century. Previous scholarship has romanticized, vilified, or altogether erased their influences and literary productions or viewed these individuals solely in light of their relationships to other nineteenth-century luminaries, particularly men---Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Horace Mann. This collection underscores that each woman was a creative force in her own right. Despite their differences and sibling conflicts, all three sisters thrived in the rarefied---if economically modest---atmosphere of a childhood household that glorified intellectual and artistic pursuits. This background allowed each woman to negotiate the nineteenth-century literary marketplace and in the process redefine its scope. Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia remained linked throughout their lives, encouraging, complementing, and sometimes challenging each other’s endeavors while also contributing to each other’s literary work. The essays in this collection examine the sisters’ confrontations with and involvement in the intellectual movements and social conflicts of the nineteenth century, including Transcendentalism, the Civil War, the role of women, international issues, slavery, Native American rights, and parenting. Among the most revealing writings that the sisters left behind, however, are those which explore the interlaced relationship that continued throughout their remarkable lives.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: Reinventing the Peabody Sisters

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pp. vii-xxi

Perhaps the most striking constellation of intellectual women in nineteenth- century New England would be the Peabody sisters of Salem, Massachusetts: Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (1804–1894), the “spinster” older sister, an author and educator with ties to the Transcendentalists and other...

1. Conversations, Dialectic Discourse, and Self-Representations

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pp. 1-58

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This Is His—This Is My Mystery: The Common Journal of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne, 1842–1843

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pp. 3-22

“When a person breaks in, unannounced, upon the morning hours of an artist, and finds him not in full dress, the intruder, and not the surprised artist, is doubtless at fault.”1 So ends the preface to Passages from the English Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and with it Sophia Hawthorne’s...

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Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and the “Art” of Conversation

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pp. 23-44

Early and late, readers have expected more of Elizabeth Peabody than they find in her texts, in part because her accomplishment as a talker led contemporaries to demand more of her writing.Testimony to her conversational talent abounds. Sallie Holley, Oberlin-trained educator and...

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Declaration and Deference: Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Mary Peabody Mann, and the Complex Rhetoric of Mediation

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pp. 45-58

Both Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and Mary Peabody Mann precariously balanced the needs and duties of the individual American woman against the cultural idea of community. Their self-positionings as intermediate authority figures—evident in Peabody’s various prefaces and Mann’s...

2. Politics on the Home Front

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pp. 59-125

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At the Crisis of Our Fate: Sophia Peabody Hawthorne’s Civil War Correspondence

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pp. 61-76

On 2 August 1861, twelve days after the First Battle of Bull Run, the first serious engagement of troops in the U.S. Civil War, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne wrote to her husband Nathaniel, who was at the seashore with the couple’s son, Julian...

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Elizabeth Peabody on the “Temperament of the Colored Classes”:African Americans, Progressive History, and Education in a Democratic System

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pp. 77-90

The prevailing critical notion of Elizabeth Peabody is that of kindergarten crusader, eccentric, and peripheral Transcendentalist. However, her letters and essays disclose a great deal about nineteenth-century culture and reveal that Peabody’s educational philosophy is significant. Perhaps...

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Like One Happy Family: Mary Peabody Mann’s Method for Influencing Reform

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pp. 91-107

Mary Tyler Peabody Mann was among the most influential women in America’s emerging educational system and in American women’s increasing self-determination. Her many causes included abolition and the elimination of racism, Transcendentalism, health care, reform of mental...

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Authorizing Sarah Winnemucca? Elizabeth Peabody and Mary Peabody Mann

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pp. 108-125

In an ongoing discussion, contemporary critics have debated how Sarah Winnemucca’s autobiographical Life among the Piutes (1883) mediates between Native American and white cultural tensions in the late-nineteenthcentury United States.1 While Winnemucca’s text may owe its shape in...

3. Perspectives from Abroad

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pp. 127-195

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Watery Angels: Sophia Peabody Hawthorne’s Artistic Argument in Notes in England and Italy

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pp. 129-145

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne’s journal entry for 12 January 1862 reads, “I copied Raphael’s angel all day” (Woodson, Rubino, and Kayes 287). Two years after her return from Italy, she still made time for art amidst domestic routines, and spirituality continued to figure as a significant component...

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Should Not These Things Be Known? Mary Mann’s Juanita and the Limits of Domesticity

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pp. 146-162

“She hoped she had seen the worst—it must be better she was sure, in the rural districts” (Mann 27). These are the thoughts of Mary Mann’s heroine, Helen Wentworth, on her way from Havana to the plantation of an old friend. Mann might have had similar hopes when she saw “a long line...

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Queen of All I Surveyed: Sophia Peabody Hawthorne’s “Cuba Journal”and the Imperial Gaze

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pp. 163-179

When Sophia Peabody traveled to Cuba in 1833 with her sister Mary for the restoration of her health, the island had not yet become the tourist sensation it would prove to be by midcentury. Several decades after Peabody’s “Cuba Journal” was written, famous travel writers such as Fredericka...

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Against the Cuba Guide: The “Cuba Journal,” Juanita, and Travel Writing

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pp. 180-195

Sophia Peabody’s “Cuba Journal” (1833–35) and Mary Peabody Mann’s Juanita: A Romance of Real Life in Cuba Fifty Years Ago (1887) have inspired contemporary scholars to surmise that if the sisters had published these writings in the antebellum period, readers would have responded...

4.Transcendental Reconfigurations

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Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s Problematic Feminism and the Feminization of Transcendentalism

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pp. 199-215

When I read Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s formal writings, I secretly wish that she had found more of a voice there: these written works are derivative, often based upon her adulation of male thinkers. In Record of a School, she pays homage to Bronson Alcott, with whom she taught for several years at...

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Transcendentalism for Children: Mary Peabody Mann’s The Flower People

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pp. 216-231

Mary Peabody Mann (1806–87) was a principal theorist and actor in nineteenth-century American reform movements in abolitionism, nutrition, religion, and especially education. Long regarded mostly as her husband Horace Mann’s ideal helpmate, or as the friend of such notables as...

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Elizabeth Peabody and the Fate of Transcendentalism

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pp. 232-247

After the publication of The Letters of Elizabeth Peabody in 1984, I swore I would never do a project like that again. A friend once remarked that he divided scholars into the “high flyers” and the “deep divers.” I had always thought of myself as belonging to the former, but the demanding...

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Epilogue: The Peabody Sisters as Sisters

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pp. 248-258

Who first invented “the Peabody sisters”? Was it Louise Hall Tharp, who gave us brainy Lizzie, moody Mary, and sickly Sophia in her 1950 Peabody Sisters of Salem? Was it Van Wyck Brooks, who in 1936 lampooned the sisters as possessing “a store of nervous energy . . . like youthful and...


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pp. 259-261


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pp. 263-271

E-ISBN-13: 9781587297175
E-ISBN-10: 1587297175
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587295041
Print-ISBN-10: 1587295040

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Hawthorne, Sophia Peabody, 1809-1871.
  • Massachusetts -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • Women intellectuals -- Massachusetts -- Salem -- Biography.
  • Women authors, American -- 19th century -- Biography.
  • Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Peabody, Elizabeth Palmer, 1804-1894.
  • Mann, Mary Tyler Peabody, 1806-1887.
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