Skip to main content

Sharp, Isabella Oliver

SHARP, Isabella Oliver

Born 1777, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania; died 1843

Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Oliver, Esq.; married (James?) Sharp

Biographical data about Isabella Oliver Sharp can be found in the note "To the Editor," from "R.D." which prefaces Poems, on Various Subjects (1805), as well as in several of the poems themselves. Sharp's parents owned a house and farmlands, and her father was highly regarded in the community. He was learned in mathematics and the sciences, and his lessons "improv'd many a youth," as Sharp remembers in her poem "Inscribed to My Brothers." He took pains to instruct his own sons and also the sons of his neighbors, but he virtually neglected the education of his daughters. Sharp's father died around 1791, and her mother was left with a number of small children to raise. Eventually, the house and lands "passed to another hand."

"R.D." states that Sharp never received anything more than a "common english [sic] education." That is, she was taught to read and—just barely!—to write. Still, Sharp became a voracious reader. From her earliest years, hard work was required of her, and while she worked, she composed verses. "Composed on the Banks of the Conodoguinet" actually describes the composition process as it is taking place: while Sharp's hands are laboring to cleanse soiled garments in the river, her mind is busy turning those same clothes into a metaphor for the human soul, and that same river into an analogue for Christ's redemptive sacrifice. The hauntingly beautiful lines of this poem were among the many hundreds Sharp composed and "treasur'd" in her memory over the years until she found someone who could write well enough to transcribe them for her.

As she records in "To the Public," Sharp took an active and empathetic interest in the joys and sorrows of her friends and neighbors. A birth, a death, an illness, a wedding—all were grist for her poetic mill. Deeply read in divinity, Sharp continually sought to explore, as in her speculations "At the Request of Bn," "What strange contact binds / Material things to immaterial minds?" While planted as firmly on the shores of this phenomenal world as the feet of the washerwoman "on the banks of the Conodoguinet," most of Sharp's poems merge into the noumenal world as well.

Sharp was a popular poet in Cumberland County. She worked with pleasantly musical phrases and ingenious images. It is unfortunate that Sharp's hardworking rural life deprived her of the educational opportunities that might have enabled her to do more.

—JEANETTE NYDA PASSTY

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Sharp, Isabella Oliver." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Sharp, Isabella Oliver." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 20, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sharp-isabella-oliver

"Sharp, Isabella Oliver." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. . Retrieved November 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sharp-isabella-oliver

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.