Tappan, Caroline Sturgis (1819–1888)

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Tappan, Caroline Sturgis (1819–1888)

American transcendentalist poet. Name variations: Carrie Tappan; Caroline Sturgis. Born Caroline Sturgis in August 1819 in Boston, Massachusetts; died onOctober 20, 1888, in Lenox, Massachusetts; daughter of William Sturgis (a sea captain and merchant) and Elizabeth Marston (Davis) Sturgis (daughter of Judge John Davis); sister of Ellen Sturgis Hooper (1812–1848); aunt of Clover Adams (1843–1885); educated at home with her sisters; married William Aspinwall Tappan, on December 12, 1847; children: Ellen Sturgis Tappan (b. 1849); Mary Aspinwall Tappan (b. 1851).

Born in 1819, Caroline "Carrie" Tappan grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, the fourth child in a family of five girls and one boy. Both of her parents were descended from old Cape Cod families. Her maternal grandfather John Davis was the U.S. district court judge for Massachusetts and the long-time president of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Like sisters Ellen Sturgis Hooper and Susan Sturgis , Caroline was educated at home and interested in literature. At age 13, she met Margaret Fuller , whom she greatly admired. In 1835, when she was 16, Ralph Waldo Emerson was a guest in her parents' home. The following year marked the first of several extended visits that Tappan made with Fuller to the Emersons in Concord, and both Fuller and Emerson would continue to play an important role in her life.

When Fuller began her famous "Conversations" in the winter of 1839, Caroline and her sister Ellen were frequent attendees. After Emerson, Fuller, and other Transcendentalists began publishing the periodical Dial in 1840, Tappan contributed verse under the pseudonym "Z." She spent summers with the Emersons in Concord (Ralph was then married to Lidian Jackson Emerson ) or with Fuller traveling the Great Lakes to Niagara and Fishkill-on-the-Hudson. In 1845, Tappan spent the summer as a boarder with Nathaniel and Sophia Peabody Hawthorne in Concord. And sources suggest that it was Emerson who introduced her to her husband William Aspinwall Tappan, walking companion of Henry David Thoreau and the son of a wealthy New York merchant.

Married in 1847, William and Caroline had two daughters, Ellen (b. 1849) and Mary Aspinwall (b. 1851). They lived in Boston and spent their summers in the Berkshires. The "Little Red House," where Hawthorne wrote The House of Seven Gables, was situated on the Tappans' estate in Lenox, eventually renamed Tanglewood. The couple spent much of their time abroad, mostly in Italy, from the 1850s onward, eventually returning in 1885 to settle in Boston. Throughout her travels, Tappan wrote and published several children's books. Although her contributions to the Transcendentalist movement were minor, she has been remembered for her close associations with its leaders. Caroline Tappan died at the age of 69 in Lenox.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan