Mayo, Sarah (Carter) Edgarton

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MAYO, Sarah (Carter) Edgarton

Born 17 March 1819, Shirley, Massachusetts; died 9 July 1848, Gloucester, Massachusetts

Wrote under: Miss Sarah C. Edgarton, Mrs. Sarah C.Edgarton Mayo

Daughter of Joseph and Mehitable Whitcomb Edgarton; married Amory Dwight Mayo, 1846; children: one daughter

Fortunate in her family, friends, and husband, Sarah Edgarton Mayo lived a brief but active life, tempering her serious, intellectual nature with a cheerful and loving outlook. Mayo was educated at her parents' home, a large mansion where, as the tenth of fifteen children, she was surrounded by a happy, busy, intelligent family who encouraged her interest in literature. At age sixteen Mayo began to write for publication, thereafter leading the life of the professional woman editor/writer. The only formal education Mayo had was 14 weeks at Westford Academy, but she could read several languages and wrote with ease. Her family belonged to the Universalist church, which Mayo joined at age seventeen, for that liberal, intellectually minded denomination was best suited to her. In 1846 she married a young man who was later to become a successful minister and a prolific author. They had one child, a daughter, during their short married life. Mayo's Selections from the Writings of Mrs. Sarah C. Edgarton Mayo; with a Memoir (1849) is the chief source of information about Mayo's life and work.

During Mayo's early years as a professional writer, when apparently she needed to earn money, she wrote quantities of stories and poems, finding a ready market. Many of Mayo's short pieces appeared in the Universalist and Ladies' Repository, a Boston publication where she served as associate editor from 1839 to 1842, and The Rose of Sharon, the Universalist gift annual which she edited from 1840 to 1848. Two children's books, The Palfreys (1838) and Ellen Clifford (1838), appeared during this time, and Mayo also published two collections of her short pieces, Spring Flowers (1840?) and The Poetry of Woman (1841). Her husband later said about this period of her life that "she wrote much more than her own judgment would dictate, and necessarily with great rapidity."

One of Mayo's personal interests was botany, and combining her love of flowers with poetry, she published three sentimental flower books. The Flower Vase (1843) is a traditional flower-language book, in which Mayo presents the symbolic meanings of flowers and some passages of poetry illustrating the sentiments. Books like this on flower language were published by most women editors of the day, including Sarah Josepha Hale. Usually presented as gift books, these volumes were displayed on "centre tables" in many homes where they functioned along with other symbolic possessions to provide that gloss of refinement so desired at that time. Mayo also published The Floral Fortune Teller (1846), an involved game using flower meanings and passages of poetry, and The Fables of Flora (1844), a collection of flower fables, some her own, some by Dr. Langhorne.

A good selection of Mayo's prose and poetry can be found in the book edited by her husband. A study of her poems shows that her admiration for Wordsworth and Burns did not stop short this side of imitation. Most of her poems, populated by figures such as "Young Rosabelle" and "Leila Gray," concern standard subjects such as nature, religion, family feelings, and death. Although Mayo occasionally gives an interesting background detail or an insightful character analysis, her short stories are mostly, sentimental, mawkish romances with happy, moral endings.

Certainly, Mayo had no illusions about the quality of her work. In the two years after her marriage, she wrote little and seemed dissatisfied with what she did write. Her husband tells us that she was trying to write "a work in the form of a novel, the spiritual autobiography of a woman from childhood to middle age," but Mayo left only a few fragments. Such a novel would have been worth reading. However, it is debatable whether Mayo, with her ready gifts but essentially imitative attitude, could ever have written it. One of her prides, said her husband, was the acceptability of her work to everyone. "If she ever wrote a controversial line she sincerely regretted it," he boasted.

Other Works:

Poems by Mrs. Julia H. Scott, Together with a Brief Memoir (1843).


Douglas, A., The Feminization of American Culture (1977). Mayo, A. D., Selections from the Writings of Mrs. Sarah C. Edgarton Mayo; with a Memoir, by Her Husband (1849).

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