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Sewall, Harriet Winslow

SEWALL, Harriet Winslow

Born 30 June 1819, Portland, Maine; died February 1889, Wellesley, Massachusetts

Daughter of Nathan and Comfort Hussey Winslow; married Charles Liszt, 1848 (died); Samuel E. Sewall, 1857

Harriet Winslow Sewall was raised in a traditional Quaker family, and the discussion of personal, social, and political responsibilities in Quaker doctrine deeply concerned her throughout her life.

The serious illness of Sewall's husband's forced him to depend on her for financial support when she was a young wife. By the time Sewall was thirty-seven, her mother, brother, both her sisters, and her husband had died. She remarried her sister's widower. Despite these personal losses, Sewall engaged in philanthropic work and was involved in the abolition and women's rights movements and in the promotion of the interests of labor.

Sewall compiled the Letters of Lydia Maria Child (1882). The letters were an inspiration to Sewall, and this collection revealed Child's determination, compassion, and dedication to abolitionism through the frankness of her personal correspondence. Eschewing any recognition for this work, Sewall would not have her name appear in the volume.

It was only after Sewall's death that a book of her poetry was published (Poems, 1889). In her more serious poems, Sewall considered the constant fears and doubts of the human condition but reaffirmed faith in human goodness through an appreciation of family, friends, nature, and a moral consciousness. The world-weary were sustained by loved ones in "Pessimist," while the "Optimist" realized that joy would follow sorrow in nature's cycle. In "Why Thus Longing," Sewall teaches that one can find fulfillment and happiness in one's lot through a Romantic reverence for nature. Characterized as a religious verse writer, Sewall extolled the richness of "moral treasures," acceptance of God's will, and perservering effort toward moral progress. In "To S.E.S.," Sewall celebrated the felicitous combination of faith and love in her husband. She wrote to him: "My hopes of what mankind may be / To loftier soarings are encouraged, / Belovéd, when I think of thee."

Sewall was most successful in capturing the "impulse of her own feeling." The poems written out of her own personal relationships were more freshly felt than her versification on other subjects. Her gentle tribute to her husband achieved a subtle meter and imaginative quality.


Reference works:

Biographical Dictionary and Synopsis of Books Ancient and Modern (1902). CAL, A Dictionary of American Authors (1905). Famous Women of History (1895). NCAB.


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