Crocker, Hannah Mather
CROCKER, Hannah Mather>
Born 27 June 1752, Boston, Massachusetts; died 11 July 1829, Roxbury, Massachusetts
Wrote under: A Lady of Boston
Daughter of Samuel and Hannah Hutchinson Mather; married Joseph Crocker, 1779
With Cotton and Increase Mather, her great-grandfather and grandfather respectively, Hannah Mather Crocker has claims to a particular sort of American blue blood. Her husband was a captain in the revolutionary army and a Harvard graduate. It was not until after her children were grown that Crocker turned to writing and more public concerns. "When child-rearing duties are past," she said, "this is a fully ripe season" for older women to deliver their "well-digested thoughts for the improvement of the rising generation." Crocker's initial publication, A Series of Letters on Free Masonry (1815), was written to support her old friends, the Society of Free Masons, when they came under attack in 1810 for carousing in Boston lodges. In the year before her marriage, Crocker had organized a number of her friends into a female Mason society. Crocker not only defended the Masons in her treatise, but took the revolutionary position of encouraging women to "promote science and literature" in formal societies, as more suitable to their dignity than those frivolous activities ordinarily thought appropriate for female leisure.
The next year, in The School of Reform, or: The Seaman's Safe Pilot to the Cape of Good Hope (1816), Crocker extends an enthusiastic but occasionally graceless exhortation to seamen against drinking. Crocker's Observations on the Real Rights of Women, with Their Appropriate Duties, Agreeable to Scripture, Reason and Common Sense was published by subscription in 1818. Crocker is clearly familiar with the foremost feminist thinking of her day and she dedicates her Real Rights of Women to Hannah More, an eminent English evangelical writer. Crocker even praises Mary Wollstonecraft as "a woman of great energy and a very independent mind," although she does "not coincide with her opinion respecting the total independence of the female sex."
Using Christian justice as her basis, Crocker uncompromisingly insists men and women have equal powers and faculties. Women's minds are equal to the tasks of the statesman, lawyer, or minister, and only "local circumstances and domestic cares" have prevented them from being as productive as men. But Crocker does concede to what she takes to be social reality and political necessity: "For the interest of their country, or in the cause of humanity, we shall strictly adhere to the principle and the impropriety of females ever trespassing on masculine ground: as it is morally incorrect, and physically improper."
Women's roles, according to Crocker, lie in the training of men, and in the teaching of peace and virtue. They must be the psychological counselors who "convince by reason and persuasion," who are "calm and serene" under all crises, and who "soothe and alleviate the anxious cares of men." Additionally, "right" takes on the meaning of duty and obligation; "every female" has the "right" to cover the faults of those around her with the "mantle of meek charity." Women have "rights" to be virtuous, loving, religious, and sympathetic, and thus support and improve human society.
Harmonious relations between the sexes are the basis not only of family life, but the greatness of the nation as well. Crocker maintains it was the "mutual virtue, energy, and fortitude of the sexes" that accomplished the American Revolution, and insists their proper union will preserve it. The title Observations on the Real Rights of Women (1818) is a misnomer. It is, rather, a commonplace book generally imparting advice on the sensible and Christian conduct of life. As a consistent discussion of women's particular issues, it is certainly a failure.
Crocker was a natural patriot and reformer, and her sincere convictions of the efficacy of human will and energy in solving problems is in the best American tradition. It is her great energy and force of character that appears through the occasionally clumsy form of her writing to convince us of her essential genius as a person, if not as a writer.
The papers of Hannah Mather Crocker are at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, and the American Antiquarian Society in Worchester, Massachusetts.
Evans, S., Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America (1989). Flexner, E., Century of Struggle: The Women's Rights Movement in the United States (revised edition, 1975). Hill, B., ed., The Diary of Isaiah Thomas, 1805-1828 (1909). Riegel, R., American Feminists (1963).
DAB, NAW, 1607-1950 (1971). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
New York Historical Magazine (March 1965, May 1865).
—L. W. KOENGETER