Monday, May 23, 2011

"What must it have been like to have been curious, intelligent, and a woman in 1815?"

The following excerpt from a letter written by Rosana Beecher (nee Foote, mother of Harriet Beecher Stowe & 12 other children) to her sister-in-law prompted biographer Joan Hedrick to ask the poignant question: "What must it have been like to have been curious, intelligent, and a woman in 1815? (And Rosana Foote was among the privileged⎯what of Zillah and Rachel in the kitchen)?":

Would now write you a long letter, if it were not for several vexing circumstances, such as the weather extremely cold, storm violent, and no wood cut; Mr. Beecher gone; and Sabbath day, with company⎯a clergyman, a stranger; Catharine sick; George almost so; Rachel's finger cut off, and she crying and groaning with the pain. Mr. Beecher is gone to preach at New Hartford, and did not provide us wood enough to last, seeing the weather has grown so exceedingly cold....As for reading, I average perhaps one page a week, besides what I do on Sundays. I expect to be obliged to be contented (if I can) with the stock of knowledge I already possess, except what I can glean from the conversation of others....Mary has, I suppose, told you of the discovery that the fixed alkalies are metallic oxyds. I first saw the notice in the "Christian Observer." I have since seen it in an "Edinburgh Review." The former mentioned that the metals have been obtained by means of the galvanic battery; the latter mentions another, and, they say, better mode. I think that is all the knowledge I have obtained in the whole circle of arts and sciences of late; if you have been more fortunate, pray let me reap the benefit.

Roxana died a year later of tuberculosis at the age of forty-one.

(From Joan D. Hedrick, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life (1994). The illustration that accompanies this post is of the Hartford Female Seminary, founded by Harriet's elder sister Catharine in 1823, an important institution in the history of women's education in the United States.)