Drinker, Elizabeth Sandwith

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DRINKER, Elizabeth Sandwith

Born 1734, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died 24 November 1807, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Daughter of William and Sarah Jervis Sandwith; married HenryDrinker, 1761

Born to a successful merchant family, Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker was educated by Anthony Benezet at a girls' school that offered a curriculum similar to that available to boys in other schools. Such an education was so unusual in colonial America that Drinker's obituary in 1807 made note of it.

In October 1758 Drinker began her diary, a record which she kept faithfully until shortly before her death. Never intended for publication, the diary filled 36 manuscript volumes with almost daily entries. Drinker chronicled births, deaths, visits, price lists, travels, illnesses, medical advice, character sketches, family matters, religious activities, military movements, and political developments. In fact, she recorded thousands of Philadelphia events, both trivial and momentous.

A series of entries made in 1777 and 1778, for example, detailed the British occupation of Philadelphia during the American Revolution. True to her Quaker pacifism, Drinker seems to have maintained a careful neutrality: her cryptic judgements spared neither side in the controversy. On May 18, 1778, she commented on the lavish celebration with which the British marked the departure of General Howe from Philadelphia: "This day may be remembered by many from the scenes of folly and vanity, promoted by the officers of the army under pretense of showing respect to Gen. Howe… .How insensible do these people appear, while our land is so greatly desolated, and death and sore destruction has overtaken and impends over so many."

Yet the Continental Army hardly merited Drinker's higher esteem either. On 2 September 1777, Henry Drinker and other Friends had been arrested and exiled to Virginia for refusing on religious grounds to swear allegiance to the new government and contribute to its support. Due to his prominence, Henry was released after eight months without ever coming to trial, but Drinker's diary entries for April 1778 document her trip to George Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge to secure his release.

After the Revolution, Drinker quite consciously directed her attention away from politics. In 1795, with one of the many verse entries in her diary, she characterized her interests as homebound: "I stay much at home, and my business I mind,/Take note of the weather, and how blows the wind." But although Drinker describes her interests as limited, the variety and detail of her 36-volume diary suggest wider concerns; her record has yet to be fully explored by scholars of early America. Elizabeth Drinker's diary (kept from 1758 to 1807) is in the possession of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Other Works:

Extracts from the Journal of Elizabeth Drinker (edited by H. D. Biddle, 1889).


Cowell, P., Women Poets in Pre-Revolutionary America, 1650-1775 (1981). Drinker, C. K., Not So Long Ago: A Chronicle of Medicine and Doctors in Colonial Philadelphia (1937).

Other reference:

PMHB (1889, 1891).