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105 essie Ann Benton Frémont was intelligent, educated, decisive , and bold. She was devoted to her family, especially her father and her husband. In fact, she was earnestly faithful, passionately loyal, and vehemently protective of her husband, John Charles Frémont, both during his life and after his death. All of these traits and characteristics led her to take actions that were not always believed suitable or correct for anyone, certainly not a woman. She started her life with an independent streak fostered by her father, Thomas Hart Benton. From almost the time she was born, she was his favorite. He gave her unusual guidance, paying special attention to her education and providing her with opportunities that most children never have—including spending time in the Library of Congress and meeting important and influential people, including the president of the United States. These experiences allowed Jessie to develop a strong personality and a sense of purpose that she would have all of her life. Those qualities often got her into trouble, yet they provided her with the strength to face the many challenges that came her way. Her adulthood began with the opposition of her parents to the man she married—not particularly significant by today’s standards, but not insignificant for a nineteenth-century bride. Jessie’s freethinking temperament caused the Bentons anxiety when she defied their wishes by eloping with a man of dubious parental and social background. For her, the choice of a husband was more than choosing a soul mate—she fell in love with a man AFTERWORD Making History m J who so charmed her that she believed he would accomplish much and that together they would have a life of prominence and ease, similar to that of her parents. She was wrong. At times, Jessie found herself in the middle of prickly situations that led her to act in an impetuous manner that was not consistent with the expected behavior of a woman in the nineteenth century. For example, when Frémont trekked west in 1843 and without proper authorization took a howitzer cannon with him, it was Jessie who managed to allow Frémont to continue his journey; it was Jessie’s calculating intervention that saved her husband’s expedition and possibly his career. In 1858, when it looked as if Frémont might lose a California gold mine to claim jumpers, it was Jessie who took charge and turned the situation in her husband’s favor. Perhaps the most significant example of Jessie’s protection of her husband came in 1861 with Frémont’s challenge to the president over the issue of emanci106 / JESSIE BENTON FRÉMONT 106 / JESSIE BENTON FRÉMONT At her Los Angeles home, a nurse attends to Jessie on her porch. After she broke her hip in 1900, Jessie needed a wicker “rolling chair,” as she called it, to get around. (Beale Memorial Library, Kern County Library, Bakersfield, California) pation of slaves in Missouri. Instead of confronting Lincoln himself , Frémont dispatched Jessie to Washington to do battle for him. This was an unusual act for any time, any age, any era—a military officer does not send his wife to his commander-in-chief to demand that his action be approved. But Frémont sent Jessie. He turned out not to be the achiever that she hoped he would be, but she always was his chief advocate nevertheless. Jessie showed her tenacity in other ways, too. When the Frémonts faced financial difficulties, it was she who came to the rescue. With her husband’s businesses taking a steep downward turn and the family income declining, Jessie began her literary career. She wrote about all the unique and extraordinary experiences she had had during her life. Her articles appeared in leading magazines; her books detailed the people, places, and events she had encountered; and she worked on Frémont’s memoirs. Jessie did this while Frémont liquidated family assets and launched potential moneymaking schemes. Once more, Jessie was the steady one, the one who dealt with reality. She was coming out, ever so slightly, from the long shadow cast by her father and husband. She would never completely emerge from the effect of their celebrity, but she did make a name for herself. The strength she learned as a child served her well. Nothing Jessie did was deemed proper for a woman of her era. Not many women or men of that time made...


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