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Seton, Grace Gallatin (1872–1959)

Seton, Grace Gallatin (1872–1959)

American feminist, suffragist, explorer, and writer who established the Biblioteca Femina. Name variations: Grace Seton-Thompson. Born on January 28, 1872, in Sacramento, California; died of a heart attack on March 19, 1959, in Palm Beach, Florida; daughter of Albert Gallatin and Clemenzie (Rhodes) Gallatin; graduated from Packer Collegiate Institute, Brooklyn, New York (1892); married Ernest Thompson Seton (the naturalist and writer), in 1896 (divorced 1935); children: Ann Seton, known as Anya Seton (a writer, 1904–1990).

Participated in the organization of the Camp Fire Girls (1912); served as president of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (1910–20); served as president of the National League of American Pen Women (1926–28 and 1930–32); established the Biblioteca Femina, a collection of books and pamphlets by women writers throughout the world (1930s).

Selected writings:

A Woman Tenderfoot (1900); Nimrod's Wife (1907); A Woman Tenderfoot in Egypt (1923); Chinese Lanterns (1924); Yes, Lady Saheb (1925); Magic Waters (1933); Poison Arrows (1938); (poetry) The Singing Traveler (1947).

In 1872, in Sacramento, California, Grace Gallatin Seton entered the world as "one of those people," she wrote, "who were born believing in suffrage." Her life of writing, adventure, and feminist pursuits would include travels around the world as well as the organization of her Biblioteca Femina, a collection of women's writing from around the world.

Grace was the daughter of Albert and Clemenzie Gallatin . After their divorce in 1881, nine-year-old Grace was the only one of the Gallatins' three children to remain with her mother. Clemenzie eventually remarried, and they relocated to New York where Grace was enrolled at Brooklyn's Packer Collegiate Institute. Her father and siblings were largely absent from her life until a close relationship developed with her sister in the years to come. Subsequent to her graduation (1892), she took instruction in printing and bookmaking. Grace was only 17 when she joined the campaign for women's suffrage, and in the years 1910 to 1920 she would go on to become first vice-president and then president of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1894, Grace encountered the writer and naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton while she was traveling in Europe, and they married two years later in Manhattan. To accommodate her enjoyment of city living and his desire for country life, the couple wintered in New York and summered in the country. She contributed to his efforts by providing editorial and design assistance on his books. Grace impressed her husband on their camping trips together, with Ernest calling her "a dead shot with the rifle" and noting that she "met all kinds of danger with unflinching nerve." So much did she appreciate the outdoors that Grace would later participate in the founding of the Camp Fire Girls.

Grace Seton's first book, A Woman Tenderfoot, appeared in 1900. In detailing her horseback journey in the Rockies, she made recommendations for women's clothing which would allow for freedom of movement while achieving a desired aesthetic. Four years later, following a miscarriage, she had her first and only child. With neither the skills nor the inclination for homemaking, she employed servants to run the house and governesses to rear young Ann (Anya Seton ), who was later to follow in her parents' footsteps as a writer.

In France during the First World War, Seton contributed to the war effort by putting together a motor unit of women who provided supplies to soldiers, work which earned her decoration by the French government. After war's end, her own career as a writer, lecturer, feminist, and suffragist took her in a different direction from her husband (after several years of separation, they would divorce in 1935). From 1926 to 1928, and again from 1930 to 1932, she served as president of the National League of American Pen Women. Seton's position with the National Council of Women as chair of letters (1933 to 1938) led her to organize an assembly of women writers over whom she presided at Chicago's International Congress of Women during 1933. This work gave rise to what is considered Seton's most significant contribution, her Biblioteca Femina, which included 2,000 volumes and 100 pamphlets written by women from all over the world. This collection, containing many works unavailable in libraries, increased recognition for women writers and was eventually donated to the library of Northwestern University.

Seton traveled extensively in the 1920s and 1930s, striking out for locations around the globe, including Egypt, Japan, China, and India. From donkey rides in the Libyan desert to a safari by elephant in Vietnam, Seton sought out adventure and wrote about it in a series of books which provided historical perspectives on the countries she traveled in, as well as assessments of women's status in these regions.

While Seton's writings tended to be apolitical, she participated as a Republican in political causes, including working for equality for women within the Republican National Committee and campaigning for Herbert Hoover and Thomas E. Dewey. She held office in numerous organizations and was a member of many social clubs, with her name often appearing in the society pages. As her later years brought increased interest in Eastern religions, the 1940s found her visiting the ashrams of the spiritual leader Yogananda; her poems in The Singing Traveler, published in 1947, reflect Eastern influences. Following a varied and productive career, she died in 1959 in Palm Beach, Florida.

sources:

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

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