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  • The Life Itself:Quaker Women's Diaries and the Secular Impulse
  • Jennifer Desiderio (bio)
The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker: The Life Cycle of an Eighteenth-Century Woman (abridged edition). Edited by Elaine Forman Crane. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. 366 pp.
The Diary of Hannah Callender Sansom: Sense and Sensibility in the Age of the American Revolution. Edited by Susan E. Klepp and Karin Wulf. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2009. 358 pp.

When reading life writing, one often feels uninvited. As Elaine Forman Crane asks of the "secrets" that scholars have "yielded" from Elizabeth Drinker's diary: "[w]ould she be pleased that we were eavesdropping on the past by peering into her private writing?" (vii, x). At the same time, Quaker life writing in particular possesses an undeniable public dimension, as what Sandra Stanley Holton calls the authors' "memorials for the dead, and as their gift to the living" (2). In the editions discussed in this essay, Crane and Susan E. Klepp and Karin Wulf demonstrate that the most private aspects of Hannah Callender Samson and Elizabeth Drinker's lives—their dedication to what Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has called the "dailiness" of female existence (9, 33)—are precisely what bring their work into the public record, transforming it in the process.

The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker: The Life Cycle of an Eighteenth-Century Woman and The Diary of Hannah Callender Sansom: Sense and Sensibility in the Age of the American Revolution expand our knowledge of Quaker life writing, women's place in Quaker society, and Philadelphia during [End Page 185] the years of the Revolutionary War and the yellow fever epidemic. These diaries, with their meticulous descriptions of marriage, childbirth, and illness, challenge traditional Quaker self-narrative. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most such narratives detailed the persecution that dissenters encountered in Europe and the Americas. Authors described a fulfilling relationship with the divine and served as a model for other Friends to endure the hardships of spiritual reward. In opposition, Drinker and Sansom record the more mundane domestic ordeals of the wife and mother. (In addition, the involvement of Drinker's unmarried sister Mary Sandwith throughout the diary reminds us that these roles did not frame every woman's life in the eighteenth century.) This attention to a particular sort of detail forces the reader to reconsider the role of Quaker women in a more secular, yet still traditionally defiant, light.

This abridged edition of The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, first published in 1994, appears with a new preface by Crane. In it, Crane thoroughly reviews scholarship on Drinker, particularly articles from a special issue of Pennsylvania History that marked the tenth anniversary of the diary's complete three-volume publication. While graciously praising the work written on Drinker in relation to the Revolution, medicine, class, and race, she ends by encouraging scholars to look more closely at Drinker the woman rather than the historical moment she occupied. Scholars have much to cull from the diary in this regard. Drinker begins her diary in 1758 as a single woman, and she does not cease writing until a week before her death in 1807; between these years, she marries, gives birth to nine children (five of whom survived to adulthood), and cares for countless grandchildren. The second edition also contains the original introduction, an extremely helpful family tree, and an exhaustive biographical directory, all of which aid the reader in distinguishing the many relationships integral to Drinker's life. In addition to these supplementary materials, Crane supplies the reader with silhouettes of Elizabeth and Henry Drinker and extraordinarily informative footnotes on Quaker rituals, eighteenth-century American family life, and scholarship on a variety of eighteenth-century topics.

Like Crane, Klepp and Wulf offer a reader-friendly edition of Hannah Callender Sansom's diary. Along with a preface, they pen an introduction covering a range of topics from Revolutionary War Philadelphia to a history of Quakers in America, as well as a welcome afterword describing Sansom's later years and her children's adulthoods. In place of the graphic [End Page 186] genealogy and biographical index in Crane's edition of Drinker's diary, Klepp and Wulf provide textual...


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