Lippincott, Martha Shepard

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LIPPINCOTT, Martha Shepard

Born Moorestown, New Jersey; died 10 August 1949, West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Daughter of Jesse and Elizabeth Homes Lippincott

Although born in New Jersey, Martha Shepard Lippincott lived most of her life in Pennsylvania. The Quaker experience was an important part of her life, and she was commonly known as the Quaker Poetess. She attended Friends's High School and later Swarthmore College. In 1886 she began writing poetry, and after 1895 she made writing her life's work. In all she wrote 4,444 poems and sacred songs and 836 book reviews, articles, and stories which appeared in religious and secular publications in the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Many of her songs appeared in hymnbooks.

Lippincott published only one book of verse, Visions of Life (1901). This anthology opens with a series of poems on the stages of female life and the distinct vision of reality which emerges in each stage. Infancy, childhood, maidenhood, womanhood, motherhood, widowhood, and death are examined. Basically, Lippincott's world view is optimistic; however, she sees that joy and sorrow become more firmly intertwined as one ages. The delights of childhood and the dreams of maidenhood are replaced by the sorrow and the possibly deeper joys that come with marriage and motherhood. Although Lippincott never married, the suffering of married women is a central theme of a number of her poems. Her view is that married life is difficult and that women suffer most in the marital relationship. She admonishes the young to marry only for love, for it is only true love which can sustain husband and wife and draw them closer together.

In a number of long poems, Lippincott explores the horrors of liquor and the suffering it causes both wives and children. She describes the drunken husband who, seeking his own pleasure, squanders his money and, enslaved to liquor, destroys both his marriage and his family. Lippincott hails prohibition as a holy crusade blessed by God to rid the world of alcohol and its pernicious consequences. She urges men to use the vote to support this holy work.

Although the dominant theme of this anthology is the problems and visions of female life, Lippincott also includes a substantial number of nature poems. Lippincott's other interests are manifest in diverse inclusions such as the autobiographical poem, "The Poet's Faith," and "Frances Willard," a poem dedicated to the female educator. Her concern for her own religious tradition is obvious in the poems "Friends' Ministry" and "Quaker Bonnet."

Although Lippincott's style is often didactic and saccharine, her poetry is distinctive on a number of counts. She reflects with great sympathy the full range of emotions and hopes experienced by women throughout their life cycle and points out the intimate connections between social problems and female suffering. Finally, as a member of the Society of Friends, a religious group which historically eschewed artistic expression, Lippincott offers prolific examples of poetry marked by a deep religious faith.