The First Woman in the Republic Essay - Critical Essays

Carolyn L. Karcher

The First Woman in the Republic

As a writer, publisher, journalist, and activist, Lydia Maria Child knew most of the prominent people of her time and all of the important controversies. She worked on issues of abolition, Indian rights, women’s rights, racism, old age, and poverty. Her corpus is voluminous: forty-seven books and a huge correspondence.

Karcher’s thesis is that Child has been wrongly erased from American literary history, even though her work pioneered in the development of the political novel, the short story, and children’s literature. Karcher hypothesizes that Child has been overlooked because she does not fit with the standard argument that nineteenth century American women writers were essentially domestic “scribblers,” writing insignificant money-makers. Nor does a feminist revisionist view that the domestic sphere was a source of inspiration for women apply to Child. All her life she chafed at the domestic drudgery that she performed daily (since she never had the income to hire servants regularly). She remained anti-aristocratic and was often uncomfortable in the fine houses of her upper-class friends. Her life, avers Karcher, illustrates many of the ambiguities with which intellectually ambitious nineteenth century women were faced: how to arrange a more egalitarian marriage (in the face of laws erasing a married woman’s legal existence); how to be a “good wife” and still have a career (she supported her husband); how to speak out on the great...

(The entire section is 432 words.)