Ames, Mary E. Clemmer

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AMES, Mary E. Clemmer

Born 6 May 1831, Utica, New York; died 18 August 1884, Washington, D.C.

Wrote under: M.C.A., Mary Clemmer, Mary Clemmer Ames

Daughter of Abraham and Margaret Kneale Clemmer; married Daniel Ames, 1851; Edmund Hudson, 1883

The oldest of seven children, Mary E. Clemmer Ames moved with her family to Westfield, Massachusetts, where she attended the Westfield Academy. Her career began in 1859, when she sent letters from New York City, where she was living temporarily with the poets Alice and Phoebe Cary, to the Utica Morning Herald and the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican.

After her marriage to a minister ended, Ames began a "Woman's Letter from Washington," for the New York Independent. The column continued from 1866 until her death. She also wrote for the Brooklyn Daily Union and for the Cincinnati Commercial. Her literary output from 1870 on included two novels, A Memorial to Alice and Phoebe Cary (1873), two volumes based on her columns, and a book of poetry. A year before she died, she married Edmund Hudson, a Washington journalist.

Ames' literary significance stems mainly from her column in the influential weekly, the Independent. It made her one of the best known of a group of post-Civil War women Washington correspondents, known as "literary ladies." Avoiding social news, she concentrated on political issues, defending the freed Black and civil rights, and sharply criticizing the excesses of Gilded-Age politics. She moved in the same social circles as leading politicians and used them as news sources.

In spite of her participation in the masculine worlds of both politics and journalism, Ames repeatedly told her readers that she modestly shrank from public notice and preferred the domestic scene to the political arena. Asserting her career had been the product of financial necessity, she justified it morally on the grounds that women journalists had a spiritual duty to purify politics, even if their efforts brought them unwelcome personal attention. She did not appear publicly to support woman suffrage, although she did advocate it. Considering suffrage less important than economic gains, she wrote: "Women can live nobly without voting; but they cannot live without bread."

Ames' weekly columns bore the hallmark of popular Victorian literature—excessive sentiment, self-conscious moralizing, and verbosity. Still, they provided an intriguing picture of a woman standing apart from the seamy side of politics and pinpointing politicians guilty of drunkenness and corruption. The books based on her columns—Outlines of Men, Women and Things (1873) and Ten Years in Washington (1873)—emphasized people and places rather than politics. Part guidebook to the capital, Ten Years in Washington, a subscription book reprinted three times, was crammed with historical lore. Outlines included descriptions of scenic spots, biographical sketches of literary and theatrical figures, and, more importantly, several essays dealing with relations between the sexes. Ames urged men to subscribe to the "pure" moral standards of women and exhorted women to educate themselves. Her most successful work of nonfiction, A Memorial to Alice and Phoebe Cary, a gushing tribute to the women who had befriended her, drew critical acclaim in a sentimental era.

Making a virtue of what was obviously a handicap to a Washington correspondent—her sex—she contended that her womanhood gave her the right to comment on political issues to promote reform. Trading on the Victorian mystique that women possessed a higher moral sense than men, she showed that a facile woman writer could make a place for herself by pointing a finger of righteous scorn and indignation at the men who ran the country.

Other Works:

Victoire (1864). Eirene, or, A Woman's Right (1871). His Two Wives (1875). Memorial Sketch of Elizabeth Emerson Atwater (1879). Poems of Life and Nature (1883).


Beasley, M. H., The First Women Washington Correspondents (George Washington University Studies No. 4, 1976). Beasley, M. H., and S. Silver, Women in Media: A Documentary Source Book (1977). Hudson, E., An American Woman's Life and Work: A Memorial of Mary Clemmer (1886). Whiting, L., "Mary Clemmer," in Our Famous Women (1884).

Other reference:

Arthur's Home Magazine (Dec. 1884). The Cottage Hearth (Feb. 1875). The Independent (28 Aug. 1884).