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Judith Sargent Murray (1751–1820)

Author of Selected writings of Judith Sargent Murray

Includes the names: Judith Sargeant Murray

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Judith Sargent was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts to a wealthy, cultured, politically and civically active family. In 1769, at age 18, she married John Stevens, a ship captain and merchant, and, as they had no children, adopted two young orphaned relatives. In 1784, Judith published her first essay, written under the pen name Constantia (in accordance with 18th-century standards for ladies), "Desultory Thoughts Upon the Utility of Encouraging a Degree of Self-Complacency, especially in Female Bosoms." It appeared in the Gentleman and Lady's Town and Country Magazine. She wrote, "I would, from the early dawn of reason address [my daughter] as a rational being" and "by all means guard [my daughters] against a low estimation of self." Judith began copying her letters written over the years 1774 to 1818 into blank books that were discovered in 1984. By 1786, the American War of Independence had devastated her husband's business. To avoid debtor's prison, he escaped the country aboard a ship bound for the West Indies and died soon after. In 1788, Judith married John Murray, a Universalist clergyman who had loved her from their first meeting years before but never admitted it. In 1791, at age 40, Judith gave birth to their daughter. Judith Murray continued to write articles championing her radical ideas about the rights of women to education and to support themselves and their families by respectable employment. She became one of only two women whose works appeared in the earliest known American literary anthology, published in 1794. Three volumes of her collected works were published under the title The Gleaner in 1798. Her plays included The Medium or, A Happy Tea-Party, produced in 1795, and The Traveller Returned, produced in 1796. At the end of John Murray's life, Judith helped him publish his book Letters and Sketches of Sermons. She also edited, completed, and published his autobiography after his death. Universalist historians consider Judith Murray's work among the reasons why women have always held leadership roles in the Universalist church, including as ministers.
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