A few weeks ago I announced here the discovery of a Cuban botanical book by Mary Wollstonecraft’s sister in law, Nancy, as well as an article by her in the Boston Monthly entitled ‘On the Natural Rights of Women’. A few days later, I found out through Wollstonecraft scholar Eileen Hunt Botting, that this ‘discovery’ had in fact been the research focus of Wayne Bodle. We contacted Prof. Bodle and he agreed to give us an account of his discovery of Nancy Wollstonecraft. The first installment is below. Enjoy!
In July of 1824 a ship from Cuba arrived in Portland, Maine. Its passenger manifest listed “Madame Mary Woolstencroft,” a “planter” from Matanzas, and a young boy, “Charles Woolstencroft,” (10), probably her son They may have traveled with the third listed passenger, Richard Keating, an American sea captain who was like Mary a recently-widowed single parent. Maybe they came to meet his mother, the Maine novelist, Sarah Sayward Barrell Keating Wood ( aka,“Madame Wood”), about any plans for remarriage? But “Mary,” whose actual name was Nancy Kingsbury Wollstonecraft, hurried to Boston on business that seemed more professional than personal. She just as likely brought sample paintings of Cuban plant life that have recently been described on this blog, or letters and essays that she hoped to have published in Boston.
Nancy toured Harvard’s campus and its botanical garden, whose gardener she had criticized in notes to the pictures. She attended the college’s commencement ceremony, where she saw the Marquis de Lafayette on his celebrated tour of America. She sparred with a friend, the writer Hannah Adams, over whether “this good republican” or any European “kings and emperors,” would be worthier figures to be introduced to. Spoiler alert: Nancy did not seem quite as radical on that issue as her late sister-in-law Mary Wollstonecraft would have been. Within two years her essay on the “The Natural Rights of Woman” under the pseudonym of “D’Anvers,” and anonymous “Letters from Cuba” appeared in the Boston Monthly Magazine. Her annotated botanical paintings vanished into American thin air for almost two centuries.
In 1828, a wintering Yankee “invalid” (a health tourist) the Reverend Abiel Abbot, visited adjacent cottages in Matanzas to see “two literary ladies”—“Mrs.W.” (Nancy Wollstonecraft), and “Mrs. B.” (Maria Gowen Brooks). Brooks was a struggling but already published poet who, like Wood, had married young to a much older man and was widowed with dependent children. She had also once, like (or maybe even with)Wood spent some complicated years in Portland. Intersections between these figures, and the spectacle of American expatriate culture in Cuba, are compelling topics without adding a volatile surname like Wollstonecraft. Brooks’s and Wood’s non-celebrity resonate with contemporary scholarly injunctions to recover obscure voices in literary studies or to write history “from the bottom up” in my own discipline.  But it was truly the Wollstonecraft brand that drew my attention to the subject. Some biographers of Mary Wollstonecraft have acknowledged an American branch of her family—a brother, Charles, sent over by Mary—who married the daughter of a “Judge Garrison” in New Orleans. Or an abducted niece, Jane, whose descendants, one scholar speculated (wrongly) in 1974, may “even now [be] making their contributions to Castro’s revolutionary society.” Such musings were fanciful sidebars to a lived life that very soon burst spectacularly into Revolutionary France. In 1848 Mary Shelley told a cousin in Australia that her “Uncle Charles” had “left no family” in America, and that she and her husband Percy were likely the “nearest relatives” still living.
I “discovered” Charles Wollstonecraft in a footnote to a traditional volume of military history in the late 1980s while prospecting for a study of America’s post-revolutionary army as a device to measure changing civilian gender dynamics on the Ohio Valley frontier. Envisioning at most an article on him, I made a folder for it and set it aside, where it remained inert for years! It took the dawn of the internet age, and some different interpretive priorities on my part, to bring the “Wollstonecrafts in America” back into view. I am very grateful to Professor Bergès for the invitation to offer a few notes about these interesting figures here, and in another post or two.
 Brooks has received scholarly analysis from Kirsten Silva Gruesz, and Wood has earned some attention from Karen A. Weyler, but neither of them as yet resonate on quite the scale of popular interest accorded to, for example, the Peabody Sisters—who “ignited American Romanticism.”
Wayne Bodle is a Senior Research Associate of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Before retiring two years ago, he taught at Penn, the University of Iowa, Rider University, and mostly, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is working on a book on the “Wollstonecrafts in America,” from 1792 until at least 1904.
The Wollstonecraft Society, founded by the Mary on the Green group is the political arm of global Wollstonecraftianism. They are, as of this week, on twitter. Follow them @TheWollSoc and watch out for their upcoming launch!
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Wollapalooza II! Daughters, Dissenters, Democracies, Discontents - a mini conference at APSA 2018 Boston
Wollapalooza II! Daughters, Dissenters, Democracies, Discontents
Sat, September 1, 8:00am to 5:30pm, Sheraton, Republic Ballroom B
Session Submission Type: Mini-conference
Session Description: This mini-conference (hereafter, WOLLAPA-2-ZA!) to be held at APSA 2018 in Boston showcases further work in preparation for The Wollstonecraftian Mind, the first comprehensive philosophical compendium on Wollstonecraft and her legacies, and also directly engages the themes of the broader conference--democracy and its discontents--from various historical, feminist, republican, intersectional, and critical race perspectives. WOLLAPA-2-ZA! also celebrates two major bicentennials for feminist political theory in 2018: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (London, 1818) and Hannah Mather Crocker’s Observations on the Real Rights of Women (Boston, 1818) The work of these intellectual daughters of Wollstonecraft provide a frame for thinking about how Wollstonecraft’s work as a writer, mother, philosopher, and advocate of women’s and other human rights has shaped discourses and practices of dissent among discontented creatures of modern democracy, including women, slaves, racial, ethnic, gender, and religious minorities, the disabled, and children.
Sandrine Berges (Bilkent)
Eileen Hunt Botting (Notre Dame)
Alan Coffee (King’s College London)
FRANKENSTEIN’S CREATURE AT 200:
DEMOCRACY’S CHILDREN, & THEIR DISCONTENTS
Format: Presenters speak for 15 minutes each, followed by discussion with audience adjudicated by chair.
Eileen Hunt Botting (Notre Dame), Chair
Emily Dumler-Winckler (St. Louis University), “Science and Virtue in Frankenstein.”
Michael Lamb (Wake Forest), “Frankenstein on Trial.”
Emma Planinc (University of Chicago), “On ’the unnameable’: universals and particulars in Frankenstein.”
Eileen Hunt Botting (Notre Dame), “Hearing the Creature: Articulating the Child’s Right to be Genetically Modified.”
DISSENTING LIKE A GIRL:
FEMINIST MODES & DEMOCRATIC ORDERS
Format: Authors present papers (12 minutes) followed by comments from discussant (8 minutes). Chair adjudicates discussion with audience for remaining time.
Sandrine Bergès (Bilkent University), Chair
Spyridon Tegos (University of Crete), “Wollstonecraft's Appropriation of Adam Smith.”
Emily Dumler-Winckler (St. Louis University), “Wollstonecraft, Religious Dissent, and Democracy.”
Alea Henle (Miami University), “Hannah Mather Crocker’s Inclusion in the Archives.”
Helen McCabe (University of Nottingham), “Harriet Taylor Mill as a Dissenting--and Probably Discontented--Daughter of Wollstonecraft.”
Discussant: Ruth Abbey (Notre Dame)
NOON-2PM LUNCH BREAK IN BOSTON
COMPARATIVE FEMINIST REPUBLICANISMS
Format: This session format incorporates a handful of topic clusters engaging the comparative study of feminist republicanisms, past and present, each staffed with a scholar in the field who has successfully used new methods and epistemological frameworks to engage the justification and import of feminist approaches to republican politics. Attendees group together at tables to discuss research processes, methodologies, ask questions, and brainstorm together around issues in this growing field in the history of political thought, feminist theory, and political theory more broadly.
Chair: Alan Coffee (King’s College, London)
Wendy Gunther-Canada (University of Alabama-Birmingham) on Catherine Macaulay and Mary Wollstonecraft
Sandrine Bergès (Bilkent University) on Republican Women of the French Revolution
Lisa Pace Vetter (University of Maryland-Baltimore County) on Frances Wright’s civic republicanism and socialism
Alan Coffee (King’s College London) on Mary Wollstonecraft and Frederick Douglass
Helen McCabe (University of Nottingham) on Harriet Taylor (Mill) and John Stuart Mill
BROOKINGS FORMAT PANEL
SLAVERY, RACE, AND GENDER
Format: Each discussant presents analysis of paper (12 minutes) followed by response by author (8 minutes). In remaining time, the chair adjudicates discussion with the audience.
Chair: Wendy Gunther-Canada (University of Alabama-Birmingham)
Laura Brace (University of Leicester), “The 1792 Debates on Slavery.”
Discussant: Nancy Kendrick (Wheaton College, MA)
Alvin B. Tillery (Northwestern), “Black Readers of the Declaration of Independence.”
Discussant: Alan Coffee (King’s College London)
Jack Turner (University of Washington), "Empire and Equal Opportunity: Audre Lorde on the U.S. Invasion of Grenada."
Discussant: Madeline Cronin (Santa Clara University)
Garrett FitzGerald (Notre Dame), “A Wollstonecraftian Theory of Restorative Justice.”
Discussant: Penny Weiss (St. Louis University)