The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Hannah Mather Crocker’s “Reminiscences”: Lunch Talk Recap

On Wednesday, 20 January, Eileen Hunt Botting from the University of Notre Dame spoke about her current project: a scholarly edition of Hannah Mather Crocker’s Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston, written between 1826-1829 shortly before Crocker’s death. Botting describes Reminiscences as “tripartite” in structure: two versions of Crocker’s history of Boston and an appendix of primary source material, including more than one hundred poems, often political in nature, authored by Crocker, some of which were published during her lifetime. The first, and longer, version of Crocker’s history is organized geographically and thematically, focusing on the people and places Crocker knew from a lifetime living in Boston. The second version is a shorter, edited version that Botting theorizes may have been drafted with publication in mind – possibly in the MHS Collections

Botting opened her talk with a brief biographical sketch of Crocker herself, a descendent from both the Mather and Hutchinson families of Boston. What little is known of Crocker suggests that she strongly identified with the Mather side of her family and was also deeply affected by her experience as a young woman coming of age in the midst of the American Revolution. As a daughter of the new Republic she saw herself as the “female heir” of the Mather tradition of ministry, writing persuasive poetry and in 1818 the first American-authored book-length tract on women’s rights, “Observations of the real rights of women, with their appropriate duties, agreeable to Scripture, reason and common sense.” Crocker was, Botting argues, the American equivalent of Mary Wollstonecraft, although her work was derided by later nineteenth-century feminist leaders as too conservative in her political demands. 

Reminiscences is the largest repository of Crocker’s extant writing and drew upon the Mather family library as well as Crocker’s personal connections to the Massachusetts Historical Society and the American Antiquarian Society. Crocker also draws upon oral remembrances shared among her circle of family and friends, providing valuable first-hand accounts of Boston during the Early Republic.   

Conversation among attendees at the presentation centered around Crocker’s methodology as a writer of history, particularly in the context of other female historians of her day (such as Hannah Adams and Mercy Otis Warren). There was also discussion about her religious ties (Botting describes her as a “an open-minded Congregationalist”) and speculation about the financial pressures that may have led her to begin writing and publishing after her husband’s death in the 1790s when she was left with about three hundred dollars to her name and seven surviving children (out of ten pregnancies!) to support. 

We look forward to the forthcoming Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston as a valuable addition to Boston and American women’s history, and hope it will be of use to future generations of scholars in a variety of fields.

permalink | Published: Saturday, 23 January, 2010, 8:19 AM


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