Logan, Deborah Norris
LOGAN, Deborah Norris
Born 19 October 1761, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died 2 February 1839, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Daughter of Charles and Mary Parker Norris; married George Logan, 1781
Many of the figures who influenced Pennsylvania's early history were members of Deborah Norris Logan's family. Distinguished guests were frequently entertained in the Norrises' Quaker household. At the age of fourteen, Logan heard the first reading of the Declaration of Independence while standing behind a fence in her own yard. Years later she recalled the scene: "The crowd that assembled at the State House was not great and those among them who joined in the acclamation were not the most sober or reflecting."
Logan did not take full advantage of her days at Anthony Benezet's Friends Girls' School; however, she soon developed an extensive self-imposed reading course which formed the foundation of her literary pursuits. She did not abandon her interest after 1781, the year she married an active Republican politician and, later, U.S. senator.
At Stenton, her husband's ancestral home, Logan enjoyed an exceedingly happy marriage and a lifestyle resembling that of an early American Gertrude Stein. Politicians, artists, and historians who were attracted by Philadelphia's position as a chief American city also habitually sought the company of Stenton's charming hostess. Robert Walsh, the accomplished editor of The National Gazette and a member of Logan's circle, described her character: "To the expression of our satisfaction with her muse we add the tribute of admiration due to a strength of intellect, a copiousness of knowledge, an habitual dignity of thought and manner, and a natural justness and refinement of sentiment."
In addition to her own work, Logan provided John T. Watson with invaluable information while he was writing his Annals of Philadelphia (1830). Logan was also the first female member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Stenton literally supplied Logan with the material which formed her great service to history. In the attic, she found the correspondence, in worn and delicate condition, of two of Pennsylvania's greatest early leaders, William Penn and her husband's grandfather James Logan. Like the efficient management of her household, she saw the preservation of these letters as her duty. With her usual humbleness she said, "Not that I consider myself as qualified for such work, but that it has small chance of being performed unless I undertake it." A reluctance to neglect her family responsibilities motivated Logan to rise before dawn to accomplish the time-consuming task of deciphering, copying, and editing. The eleven quarto manuscripts which resulted from her meticulous labor were eventually published in two volumes by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (1870-72).
In addition to a zeal for historical preservation, Logan also possessed poetic talent. Although Logan's poetry was comparable to some of the verse admired in her time, it would not excite a modern reader.
Rather, we must look toward her diary as the generator of present-day interest. She described this 4000-page, 17-volume work, started in 1815 and concluded shortly before her death, as a record of "whatever I shall hear of fact or anecdote that shall appear worthy of preservation. And many things for my own satisfaction likewise that may be irrelevant to others." The text's "worthy" portions include lively anecdotes about such figures as John Adams, Joseph Bonaparte, John C. Calhoun, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Thomson, and George Washington. Happily, the descriptions of these predictably male luminaries do not overshadow the diarist's feminine perspectives. It is the "irrelevant" material which dominates the diary, showing glimpses of Logan's daily thoughts and actions.
Logan expresses her awareness of "the prayers and wishes of thousands of the amiable and excellent women of these states whose voices are never heard but in the domestic privacy of their happy homes." She successfully excluded herself from this group since her voice has survived for over a century in the dual guise of professional chronicler and private individual.
Contemporary readers who consult the information she saved must hold her in esteem; those who read the diary will find it difficult to avoid becoming closely attached to her. In these days when we confront new feminine roles, we can derive much from looking back at a woman who adroitly juxtaposed intellect and emotion—a woman who can touch our hearts and heads.
The Norris House (1867). Correspondence of William Penn and James Logan (2 vols., 1870-1872). Memoir of Dr. George Logan of Stenton (1899). Diary 1815-1839 (edited by M. S. Barr, forthcoming). Many of Deborah Norris Logan's published and unpublished works are located in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Myers, A. C., Sally Wister's Journal (1902). Norris, I., Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Vol. 9 (1870). Tolles, F. B., George Logan of Philadelphia (1953). Wister, S. B., and A. Irwin, Worthy Women of Our First Century (1877).
DAB. NAW (1971). NCAB.
Journal of the Friends' Historical Society (Jan. 1905). Poulson's American Daily Advertiser (4 Feb. 1839).
—MARLEEN S. BARR