Tyler, Mary (Hunt) Palmer
TYLER, Mary (Hunt) Palmer
Born 1 March 1775; died 7 July 1866
Also wrote under: An American Matron
Daughter of Joseph P. and Elizabeth Hunt Palmer; married Royall Tyler, 1794 (died 1826); children: 11
Mary Palmer Tyler was born of a respected family in Boston on the eve of the American Revolution. At the age of nineteen she married her father's close friend and contemporary, Royall Tyler, a lawyer who was already celebrated for writing the first native comedy to be produced in America. The couple moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, where Tyler bore and raised her 11 children (all surviving childhood and most prospering as adults), nursed her husband through his final illness (1821-6), and then survived him by 40 years. In her later years, she was supported by her children and revered in her community where she was known affectionately as "Madam Tyler." Tyler's obituary describes her as "imparting a tone of elevation and refinement, and an ambition for literary pursuits, to the new and unformed society around her."
In 1810 Tyler, already the mother of eight children, wrote a child-care manual, The Maternal Physician. This book was reprinted in 1972 as part of a series on medicine and society in America because it is the first book of its genre to have been written in the new world. In correspondence with his publisher, Royall Tyler notes that his wife insisted on remaining anonymous, even though she was offered more money for the book if she would sign it.
Tyler's intent in The Maternal Physician was to give medical advice to families based on her own successful experience. In an age when infant death was a common and accepted occurrence, she criticizes the tendency to be passive in the face of illness. She asserts that the mother is the child's best guardian and must be ever vigilant, vigorous in the treatment of the slightest ailment, and willing to call a doctor if the complaint is serious.
The book includes advice on bathing, sleeping, teething, weaning, obedience, exercise, diet, and disease. If Tyler didn't have firsthand experience with an illness, she quoted from British medical authorities of the day. Her remedies, including a wide variety of herbal treatments, sound totally unfamiliar now, but her basic philosophy of childrearing remains remarkably fresh and sound: she advocates gentle, firm, consistent guidance.
Grandmother Tyler's Book was undertaken by Tyler in her eighty-third year at the request of her children and grandchildren. It is a series of vivid reminiscences of her girlhood and marriage. Through the efforts of her descendants, it was finally published in 1925. The earliest stories, dealing with the events of the Revolution in and around Boston, are interspersed with quotations from her mother's memoirs. Although too young to remember it, Tyler had been told of her father's participation in the Boston Tea Party. Her mother actually describes her fright when he came home in his Native American costume.
From the age of nine, Tyler had admired her father's friend, Royall Tyler. She discloses the story of his disastrous love affair with Abby Adams (daughter of John Adams), which ended as a consequence of his having "lived too gay a life." When they did marry, the marriage was kept a secret for a while, owing apparently to the opposition of Tyler's mother.
During the time Tyler was secretly married, pregnant, and waiting at home for her husband to establish a law practice in the wilds of Vermont, she suffered a great sense of sinfulness and a crisis of faith. This was resolved after many months by a dream in which she was chased by wolves to the edge of a precipice only to be rescued at the last minute by the figure of Christ. He encircled her waist with his arm and said, "Lean on me and I will save you." From this time on, Tyler's profound faith sustained her through many trials, including the lingering and painful cancer which killed her husband, and the consequent poverty and reliance on friends and neighbors to sustain the family. She accepted good and bad fortune alike with the comment that all was God's will.
Tyler's observations of family life are as unsentimental and spirited as her advice on childrearing. Her faith and her maternal orientation gave meaning to her life and to the books she wrote as an expression of gratitude for and pleasure in that life.
Mary Palmer Tyler's letters and a journal (1821-40) are preserved by the Vermont Historical Society at Montpelier, Vermont, in the Royall Tyler Collection.
Tanselle, G. T., Royall Tyler (1867).
Boston Transcript (16 Dec. 1925). New York Tribune (10 May 1925). SR (28 March 1925). Vermont Quarterly 20 (1952). Vermonter (1924).
—CHRISTINA TISCHLER GIBBONS