Biography of Catharine Maria Sedgwick
A Biographical Sketch of Catharine Maria Sedgwick
An Essay by William Brooks
Catharine Maria Sedgwick was born on Dec. 28, 1798, to Theodore and Pamela Sedgwick; her family resided in Stockbridge, Massachusetts (Moulton 505). According to Edward Halsey, who wrote "The Berkshire Brahmins," her family moved to the Berkshires long before any other writer lived there, and the Sedgwick's were socially the most respected people in that region(20). Here, Halsey opens the door for the Sedgwick's high social status, due in part, by their political rapport.
Catherine's mother, Pamela, was raised in a very aristocratic family, where their influence stretched over the Connecticut River Valley. They were commonly known as the "River Gods" (Halsey 24-25). Theodore, Catharine's father was said to have lived his early years in poverty, and despite Pamela's parents disregard, they wed on April 17, 1774 (Halsey 25).Theodore eventually became head of the "Mountain Gods," but the group wasn't fully established until later.
During the Revolutionary War, Theodore Sedgwick, was "a member of the Provincial Congress" (Halsey 27). Also, Halsey notes, "He early made known his desire for a strong central government and was active in suppressing Shays' Rebellion" (27). Due to unjust economic conditions, political ramifications, and set laws, farmers began to rebel. Thus, leading to the Shays' Rebellion and eventually leading to a gold standard currency (Foner 986-87). Furthermore, theodore Sedgwick played a major role in the Anti-slavery issues arising in Massachusetts. The ground breaking case was that of Elizabeth Freedmen, whom Theodore Sedgwick represented in an attempt to gain her freedom. Her freedom was granted under the "recently established Massachusetts Declaration of Rights" (Halsey 29). Furthermore, Theodore established his personification with anti-slavery by "Greenwood vs. Curtis (1810) and in his membership in the Abolition Society of Pennsylvania" (Halsey 29-30).
From this, we gain an introspective of what Catharine's upbringing consisted of, and are able to better understand why she carried political, moral, and social undertones throughout her writings. Karcher states, "We can now recognize Sedgwick as the founder of a homegrown novel of manners tradition that American literature has long been erroneously supposed to lack; a pioneer in the development in realism"(5). Indeed, Sedgwick's short fiction contains realistic qualities that seem to revolve around her social and political ideologies. Sedgwick's unfinished text, titled, "Some pages of a Slave story I began and abandoned" transcends an actual incident that took place. Elizabeth Freedmen, a slave her father represented, is the lead character in the text. She is perceived as a heroine, and possesses strong moral values through her actions. In A New-England Tale Sedgwick positions the lead character in an aristocratic setting. As Karcher states, "Sedgwick situates her heroine Jane Elton in a village whose class structure consists of well-to-do merchants and landowners" but she also shows that in contrast to the old world's class structure"(6). Again, Sedgwick uses her outside environment as a foundation for her writings.
Catharine's father passed away in 1813, she then took over the management of a private school for young women (Moulton 505). During that time she published her first book A New England Tale after which, she continued her career as an author; her following book Redwood, was translated in five different languages (Moulton 505).
Numerous authors, and the like, praised her for her work; from Edgar Allen Poe to Katherine Lee Bates (Moulton 508). Not only did Sedgwick write novels, she also wrote short stories which depicted the social upheavals of her time. She wrote over a hundred short stories which were published in a variety of magazines and journals.
Catharine died in 1867 at the age of seventy-seven(Marsella). She is recognized as one of founders of American literature.