Biography of Famous American Sarah Josepha Hale Part 3

About the famous anarchist Emma Goldman, history and biography of the woman blamed for the assassination of McKinley.


SARAH JOSEPHA HALE (1788-1879). Woman of letters.

Her magnum opus was Woman's Record; or, Sketches of All Distinguished Women from the Creation to A.D. 1854, Arranged in Four Eras, with Selections from Female Writers of Every Age. This astonishing work went through at least three editions. It is still delightful reading, proof that its author had a deliciously singular personality. No pussycat, she forgives her illustrious women the most heinous crimes, usually heaping blame on some nearby male. The Victorian need for delicacy in sexual matters was constantly vexing. On Sappho: "Her morals have been as much depreciated, as her genius has been extolled. "On Catherine the Great: "Whatever might be her own irregularities, she strictly discountenanced violations of decorum." S.J.H. tells the story of Abelard and Heloise without mentioning that Canon Fulbert had Abelard castrated, which might, after all, help explain why his later letters were "cold." The woman who comes off worst is Mrs. Trollope, who had been rash enough to mock American manners; she is called notorious in the first sentence and miserable in the last.

S.J.H.'s most famous poem is "Mary's Lamb," the nursery rhyme. She published it in 1830, and it was often pirated, even appearing as Lesson 47 in McGuffey's Second Reader in 1857. As the century wore on, many a Mary claimed authorship, a situation complicated after S.J.H.'s death when Henry Ford championed the claims of a Mary Sawyer Tyler in one of the crackpot crusades of his erratic Dearborn Independent. There is no reasonable doubt that Sarah Josepha Hale wrote this lovely, didactic verse.

Remembered best as the author of the poem we know as "Mary Had a Little Lamb," Sarah Josepha Hale was first and foremost an editor and deserves to be judged as such. One of the very first to appreciate Edgar Allan Poe, she became an important patron of that troubled genius. She published Emerson, Longfellow, Hawthorne, and most of the other important men of letters of her day. Moreover, no other editor was as important in encouraging women writers; she bestowed publication, patronage, and praise on Lucretia Mott, Emma Willard, Susan Anthony, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lucy Stone, Margaret Fuller, and Elizabeth Black-well--the pantheon of 19th-century radical feminism.

Some of the pussycat image that clings to Sarah Josepha Hale is richly deserved, based on her religious conviction of woman's moral mission in life. Much of it, though, was carefully cultivated by a clever woman who was too shrewd to tell the simple truth to a complex and hypocritical world. There's more than just a grain of Yankee anarchy in her most famous work:

He followed her to school one day--

That was against the rule.

It made the children laugh and play

To see a lamb at school.

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