Friday, January 6, 2017

New England Beginnings - Hopefully Will Bring Clarirty to our Past

I recently learned (from an editorial in Capecodtimesonline) of New England Beginnings, a new composite organization composed of historical groups, museums, etc.

The purpose of this group is to "Dispel persistent myths about the past by infusing actual historical research into the discussion." Hurrah!

I'm thrilled to hear this. As I talk to groups about my book, Female Adventurers: the women who helped colonize Massachusetts and Connecticut, I find there are many myths about Puritan women, their rights and lives that are far off the target. The biggest challenge to seeking the truth is that the first women (17th century Puritans) are lumped together with women of the 18th century under the heading colonial women. Life was extremely different in 1650 from that in 1750.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that 17th century women could not own property. Actually reading probate records and following a woman through her life, as I did in Female Adventurers, you see a clearer picture of life in the 17th century.

I look forward to hearing what this group is doing in the future.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

An Infamous Mistress

As we continue to learn about women in the French Revoluntion, the following is a guest post by authors Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. Please let them know in comments how much you enjoy their story. Might I even suggest you buy their book (of course, that is after you have purchased Female Adventurers: the women who helped colonized Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived through a fascinating era in history. She gained her infamy due to her reputation as a high-class eighteenth-century courtesan, and to this day enjoys continued notoriety through her Journal which recounts her adventures and bravery during the French Revolutionary years. But behind this almost larger-than-life persona lay the real woman, a daughter, mother, sister and friend.

Born c.1754, probably in Edinburgh, Grace grew up in a strongly matriarchal family after her parents separated when she was just a child. After her mother’s early death, Grace was sent to a convent school in Lille before returning to live with her father in London. It was here that she met the man she was to marry when only 17-years of age, John Eliot a society doctor who was much older than Grace and reputedly much shorter than her too (Grace was a tall, willowy beauty). One son was born to the couple, who died young, and the marriage crumbled. Eliot accused Grace of adultery; she had been followed to a London bagnio where she had entertained the reprobate – but young and handsome – Viscount Valentia. A Criminal Conversation case and divorce swiftly followed.

Cast adrift, Grace embarked upon her career as a courtesan, hoping to gain her security via this route as two of her aunts had done before her. For many years the athletic Earl of Cholmondeley was Grace’s protector before she left for France and the arms of the duc d’Orléans. But then the young Prince of Wales expressed a wish to meet Mrs Elliott and she returned to England to make her fortune as a royal mistress. The romance between Prinny and Grace only lasted a few short months, but it was long enough for Grace to secure her future by becoming pregnant with the prince’s child. The child proved to be a daughter, named Georgiana Augusta Frederica.
Grace left Georgiana in the care of Cholmondeley and returned to France and the duc d’Orléans. It was in this way that she was trapped in Paris during the Reign of Terror, her connection to the Bourbon dynasty placing her in grave danger. Arrested and questioned, she lived in fear of the guillotine but repeatedly risked her neck by acts of bravery to help her friends. She later committed her experiences to paper and they were published many years after Grace’s death in her Journal of My Life during the French Revolution. Undoubtedly heavily edited by Grace’s prim Victorian granddaughter, and embellished by an over-enthusiastic editor, the core of the Journal is Grace’s own words. It remains one of only a few first-hand accounts written by a woman.
Grace’s later years, when she returned to England at the dawn of the nineteenth-century, were spent on the fringes of high-society; her friends ranged from the equally celebrated and scandalous Lady Worsley to a woman who had once been a scullery maid but who became Grace’s closest confidante. Returning to France for her twilight years, Grace died at Ville d’Avray near Paris in 1823. 

N.B. Grace chose to spell her surname differently from her husband, perhaps to distance herself from him.

Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, genealogists and historians, are co-authors of An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Their second book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, details the second marriage and family of Grace’s son-in-law, ancestors of the British royal family.
They blog at All Things Georgian and can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Image credits:
Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough, 1778. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Portrait of George IV when Prince of Wales by Richard Cosway, c.1780-82. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c.1784. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, November 4, 2016

Women of the French Revolution - Suzanne Churchod Necker

As I continue to connect with my French heritage, I am studying the French Revolution in an effort to verify the participation of ancestors. Of course, as women in history are always of interest to me, I am thrilled to be learning about so many women who made a difference during that time. The following is the first in the series.

 Suzanne Churchod, born in Switzerland in May of 1737, was the daughter of Louis Antoine Curchod and Magdelaine d'Albert de Nasse. She received a classical education (including Latin, mathematics and science). This education enabled her to support herself as a teacher in her native Switzerland.
Portrait by Joseph Duplessis
With the loss of income resulting from the death of her father, Churchod and her mother found them in a desperate situation, which she coped with by giving lessons. After her mother died, Suzanne became a companion to a young French widow, Madame de Vermenoux, who took her to Paris around 1763 or 1764.  

Her employer, Madame de Vermenoux, was being courted by the ambitious Swiss financier Jacques Necker but she didn’t want to marry. Next Necker turned his attention to Suzanne, and in 1764 the two were married. They had one child, a daughter named Anne Louise Germaine, the future writer and philosopher now better known as Madame de Stael.

Suzanne opened a literary salon where all the top literary individuals of the era gathered, including such luminaries as Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, a French naturalist, mathematician, and cosmologist Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm, German-born French-language journalist, art critic, and diplomat; as well as many Swiss expatriates like Marie Anne de Vichy-Chamrond, marquise du Deffand (whom I will write about later in this series on women in the French Revolution).

As the revolution approached, the opinions of her daughter, Germaine de Stael (whom I will talk about in my next blog) turned the salon discussions more political.

Suzanne, on the other hand, turned her influence and energies toward hospital and prison reform and in 1778 established a model hospital. In 1790, after her husband’s fall from power and the revolution getting more violent, the Neckers left Paris for Switzerland. Suzanne died at Beaulieu Castle in 1794. In Lausanne, a city on Lake Geneva, in the French-speaking region of Vaud, Switzerland.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Ellen Hardin Walworth - Author, Historian, Activist

In my last blog, I highlighted the struggles in Ellen’s personal life but like all great people, she did not let the difficulties be her legacy.

As a passionate advocate for the importance of studying history and historic preservation, Walworth was one of the founders of the The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and was the organization's first secretary general and the first editor of The American Monthly Magazine, the DAR's official magazine.

Walworth had a strong interest in the restoration and preservation of historical sites. She was on the forefront of the movement to raise public funds to purchase and restore historical properties. In 1876, Walworth advocated for funds to renovate George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon.

Walworth was interested in science and presented a paper, Field Work By Amateurs, to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at the August 1880 Conference in Boston and published in Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In the paper, Walworth passionately advocated for more participation by women.

On July 12, 1893 at the World's Columbian Exposition, Walworth presented her paper, The Value of National Archives to a Nation’s Life and Progress to the American Historical Association, arguing for the creation of a national archives in the United States. The National Archives grew out of this advocacy.

Ellen Hardin Walworth died on June 23, 1915, and was laid to rest in the family lot at Green Ridge, near Saratoga, New York.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Ellen Hardin Walworth Believed in Learning from History

Ellen Hardin, author, lawyer and activist, was born on October 20, 1832. Not a time when empowering women was prevalent. She is a woman I admire because she believed in the importance of studying history and in historic preservation.

At the age of 20, Ellen married Mansfield Tracy Walworth, her stepfather’s youngest son. She had eight children with Mansfield but he was a violent man who physically abused her. The last assault was when she was pregnant with her youngest child, Sarah, and at that point, she obtained a “Limited divorce,” giving her the right to live separately but not remarry.

Unfortunately, Mansfield continued to threaten Ellen and, in 1873, her eldest son, Frank, shot his father to death and was sent to prison. Ellen studied law to find a way to get her son’s conviction overturned and was successful in 1877, on the grounds he was insane.

Needing a stable income for her family, Ellen opened the family homestead in Saratage, New York, as a boarding school for females and then later as a summer hotel.

Now, one would think this difficult, busy life would have been enough for Ellen, but like most great women, she strove to make the world a better place in many, many ways, which I will talk about in my next blog.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Puritans and Puritans

After a recent conversation, I find it necessary to once again explain that there were other Puritans than those that arrived on the Mayflower.

In 2020 we will celebrate the 1620 arrival of the Mayflower to this land. Of course, as a researcher and supporter of women, I applaud the Puritan women who made this treacherous journey, settled down in Plymouth and had many children so there are lots of descendants who will celebrate their Mayflower heritage. They were first and that is something to celebrate.

I hasten to say though, these are not the puritan women I researched and profiled in Female Adventurers. No, my women came a little later, in the 1630s, as part of the Great Migration orchestrated by John Winthrop. Many of them did not settle down. They saw as their mission spreading their puritanism across the land. Time after time, they uprooted their families and moved to start another town. I hope there will come a time when we can celebrate their sacrifices.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Life Gets in the Way

As the title says, life often gets in the way of good intentions. I cannot believe that it has been so  long since I have published a post on this blog. Shame on me.

With new energy, I intend to once again move forward in promoting women's history. Although most of my research, published works and lectures/workshops are on the women of the Great Migration, I will be adding presentations aout women from other times. 

Presently, I am using an article I did for the Cape Cod Genealogical Society on women in the Civil War as a basis for a workshop, entitled "From Where Comes Courage."

When I set out to research two women on opposing sides of the Civil War, I chose Sarah Edmonds and Loreta Velasquez because there were many researchers who totally debunked their accounts as untrue. I have found that where there is a story, there is usually at least a grain of truth to be found.

I will be presenting this workshop as part of the Osterville Library's summer historical series on the Civil War. Please check "Upcoming Presentations Page" for details.

Any questions, please email me at