The Letters of Jessie Benton Fremont

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE LETTERS OF JESSIE BENTON FREMONT brings to life the personality of one of America’s most captivating and controversial women. Jessie Benton Fremont, daughter of powerful Senator Thomas Hart Benton and wife of explorer John Charles Fremont, deserves attention as a woman who exercised power and influence within the constraints imposed on women in nineteenth century America. As her husband’s secretary and adviser, Fremont participated in the opening of the West, the abolitionist movement, and the Civil War.

This collection, edited by Fremont scholars Pamela Herr and Mary Lee Spence, contains 271 letters written by Fremont, an introductory overview, and seven essays detailing each major period of her life. Each letter is carefully annotated by the editors, who identify references and explain nuances of the complicated life of their subject. Fremont’s correspondents included presidents, senators, suffrage leaders, and journalists as well as family and friends. These letters reveal a determined and intelligent woman who worked behind the scenes to advance her husband’s career, smooth over family discord, and rescue her family from destitution in the wake of financial debacles. Her frustration at not being allowed to vote or speak openly in public attests the common experience of women of her day; her courage in challenging accepted norms for women underscores her importance as a pioneer for women’s rights.