Among the playwrights in Nineteenth-Century American Drama there are scores of women. The genres of their plays are as varied as those of their male counterparts, although more of the works for children and classrooms are by women. Many of the temperance plays are by women which is not surprising given the prominent role of women in the temperance movement. Some of the women were prolific. Still, it is more difficult to find biographical information about many of the female playwrights.
Little seems to be recorded about the life of Clara Harriet Sherwood, author of three plays included in this digital collection. These three plays all signal an acute social awareness and a ready wit. As with many other women dramatists, Sherwood is concerned with the social nuances of courtship.
The most recent release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama includes most of the short plays, or comediettas in one act, by the prolific Frances Aymar Mathews. This understudied author was born in New York City in the middle of the 19th-century. She began publishing in the 1880s. In addition to plays, her written output included feature articles, short stories and such novels as My Lady Peggy Goes to Town and Allee Same.
Eighteen of Mathews’ shorter plays are included in this release. When reading her works, Edith Wharton comes to mind. They were contemporaries, shared a Manhattan upbringing during the Gilded Age, and were sensitive to class distinctions and social niceties. It may be something of a stretch to compare Mathews to Jane Austen, but both women are close observers of the foibles of the prosperous and employ a satirical view of them. There is one more comparison to make, to wit, William Dean Howells. Again, this may be a stretch, but the famous Howells and the obscure Mathews wrote short plays which, as previously noted here, featured wealthy people with ample time to expand upon largely trivial events.
The January 2016 release of new material includes many single-sheet imprints. These rare works cover a broad range of issues and purposes. The three examples below include an admonitory poem, a promotion for the Columbian Museum in Boston, and an abstract of the bill of mortality for Boston in 1814.
The Looking Glass, or a Description of Some Female Characters to be Avoided by Youths of Both Sexes. By a Young Man of P (1810)
Although this imprint has some damage which obscures a few words, the reader is yet able to enjoy the whole and intuit the obscured. While the poem is amusing and the descriptions acute, the reader may be left to wonder if any of the indictments of these hapless females might also apply to certain young men. The occasional use of “dose” for “does” is not a typo.
Although men constitute a preponderance of the authors of the more than 25,000 American pamphlets in the New-York Historical Society’s extraordinary collection, many works written and published by women are also included. From the most recent release of American Pamphlets, Series 1, 1822-1922, here are brief descriptions of three gripping personal narratives by American women:
The life and adventures of Ann Eliza Dow being a true narrative written by herself (1845)
Walt Whitman's poem "America" was first published in The New York Herald on February 11, 1888. This short but significant work appeared on page four in the middle of a column-long article headlined "Personal Intelligence,” almost as "filler."