GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Lifestyle

March 12, 2009

Rediscovering a revolutionary woman

Sargent House Museum launches symposium

When Paul Revere made his famous ride in 1775, and American patriots hatched a revolution in the days that followed, Gloucester's Judith Sargent Murray was a young woman in her 20s, on a road to becoming a prolific essayist.

A leading intellect and published writer, Murray (1751-1820) used her writings to deliberate on the issues sweeping the young nation, from equal opportunity for women to the changing face of world politics as embodied in the American Revolution.

To celebrate the city's historic native daughter, Gloucester's Sargent House Museum has organized a symposium and weekend of activities, including the launch of the first biography about Murray by Mississippi professor Sheila Skemp. Sharon Harris, a University of Connecticut English professor, and Therese Dykeman, an adjunct philosophy professor at Union Institute, will attend.

"We are delighted to welcome scholars from around the country, to help us explore the impact Judith's feminist perspective and writings have had on the Gloucester community and women everywhere," said Barbara Silberman, board president with The Sargent House Museum.

Historians knew little about Murray until 1984. That's when her letters were discovered in Natchez, Miss., where she spent her last days living with her daughter. As the transcripts of her letters have become available, scholars have been able to bring her into contemporary discussion.

During her lifetime, Murray published her essays in a book "The Gleaner," a book said to be purchased by distinguished figures as George Washington and John Adams. Her letters have also appeared in present-day publications, including David McCullough in his John Adams biography, and journalist Cokie Roberts, in her book titled "Founding Mothers."

One of the nation's earliest feminists, she was also a playwright, poet and among the first Universalists in America. She was born into a prominent seafaring family. She married twice, first to John Stevens, a merchant sea captain who built the house, and then to Reverend John Murray, first minister of an organized Universalist congregation in America.

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