American Literature


Female Playwrights in Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Works by Clara Harriet Sherwood, Nellie H. Bradley, and More Than 100 Other Women Dramatists

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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.

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Female Playwrights in Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Works by Clara Harriet Sherwood, Nellie H. Bradley, and More Than 100 Other Women Dramatists

The Short Plays of Neglected Female Author Frances Aymar Mathews, a Contemporary of William Dean Howells and Edith Wharton

51e3GlaHyjL__SX338_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe 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 Short Plays of Neglected Female Author Frances Aymar Mathews, a Contemporary of William Dean Howells and Edith Wharton

“The illigant position of a man-shaver”: A Look at Three 19th-Century American Farces

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The third release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama includes plays that are self-identified as farces or comedietta, a more abstruse variation.

 


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A Little More Cider: A Farce was published in 1870 by George M. Baker. Here are the characters of this work, which is also identified as a temperance play:

Erastus Applejack, the cider-maker.

Zeb Applejack, his son.

Deacon Peachblossom.

Isaac Peachblossom, his son.

Hans Drinker.

Miss Patience Applejack.

Polly Applejack.

Hetty Mason.

Like many such productions, this one is written in a dialect. Unlike many, it is not so easy to identify it. An excerpt:

Zeb. Gosh all hemlock! Polly, what air yeou a thinkin’ on? Thinkin’ ‘bout some feller, I bet.

Polly. Wa’n’t doin’ nothin’ of the sort. I was thinkin’ ‘bout my new Sunday bunnet.

Zeb. Well, fashion or fellers, they’re all alike. When a gal gits thinkin’ ‘bout either on ‘em, she ain’t good for nothin’.

Polly. Precious little you know ‘bout either on ‘em. I heerd Sally Higgins say that your go-to-meetin’ coat looked as though it had been made in the Revolution.

“The illigant position of a man-shaver”: A Look at Three 19th-Century American Farces

Early 19th-Century Children’s Literature: Scarce Works in American Antiquarian Society Collection

EAI II Supp 2 Jan 17 3_Page_7 intro.jpgThe January 2017 release of Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement 2 from the American Antiquarian Society includes more scarce editions of children’s literature similar to those which we highlighted last month. Most of these seem to be somewhat threatening and to treat death and injury as a natural result of childish impetuosity and naughtiness. As a respite from spiteful children, we also offer a rare imprint of beautifully illustrated birds meant to instruct juveniles.


 

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Short Conversations; or, An Easy Road to the Temple of Fame: Which All May Reach Who Endeavour To Be Good (1815)

For social Converse, you will find,

Can please and edify the Mind;

And those who heedful to attend,

May gain much Knowledge from a Friend.

Early 19th-Century Children’s Literature: Scarce Works in American Antiquarian Society Collection

Cramp, Croup and Convulsions: Highlights from the American Antiquarian Society supplement to the Shaw-Shoemaker collection

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)  

From Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement from the American Antiquarian Society, 1801-1819

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. 

AVOID the girl who takes delight

To make an outside show,

With ruffles round her neck so white,

And dirty clothes below.

Cramp, Croup and Convulsions: Highlights from the American Antiquarian Society supplement to the Shaw-Shoemaker collection

Women in Disguise, Distress and Even in Battle: Riveting Works by Women in American Pamphlets

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)

Women in Disguise, Distress and Even in Battle: Riveting Works by Women in American Pamphlets

Walt Whitman's "America": As First Published in The New York Herald

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."

From a surviving 19th-century wax-cylinder recording, you can listen today to a remarkable reading of "America," widely believed to be spoken by Whitman himself, as captured by Edison circa 1890.

Walt Whitman's "America": As First Published in The New York Herald

Ernest Hemingway: In His Time

Source: American Newspaper Archives / America's Historical Newspapers

Ernest Hemingway: In His Time

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