Tenney, Tabitha Gilman (1762–1837)

views updated

Tenney, Tabitha Gilman (1762–1837)

American author. Born Tabitha Gilman on April 7, 1762, in Exeter, New Hampshire; died on May 2, 1837, in Exeter; daughter of Samuel Gilman and Lydia Robinson (Giddinge) Gilman; education unknown; married Samuel Tenney (a surgeon and politician), in 1788 (died 1816).

Selected works:

The New Pleasing Instructor (1799); Female Quixotism: Exhibited in the Romantic Opinions and Extravagant Adventures of Dorcasina Sheldon (1801).

Tabitha Gilman Tenney was born in 1762 in Exeter, New Hampshire. It is believed that she was the eldest of seven children of Samuel and Lydia Giddinge Gilman , whose early ancestors settled New England. Little is known of Tenney's formal education, though it is generally accepted that she was well schooled in the Puritan traditions by her mother. Tenney developed a passion for books and learning, which led to an adeptness in her writing and articulation skills.

In 1788, probably in September, she married Dr. Samuel Tenney, a surgeon in a Rhode Island regiment during the Revolutionary War who entered politics after the conflict. Tabitha Tenney published her first work of merit, The New Pleasing Instructor, a manual of poetry and classical selections for use in the education of young women, in 1799. She then traveled with her husband in 1800 to Washington, D.C., where the couple spent several seasons while Samuel Tenney served in Congress.

Tenney is best known for her fictional work, Female Quixotism: Exhibited in the Romantic Opinions and Extravagant Adventures of Dorcasina Sheldon, which was published in 1801. In two volumes, she follows a young and prosperous ingenue who is taken with romanticism, reverie, and reading romantic novels. The heroine and her handmaid Betty experience a variety of escapades at the hands of scoundrels and cads who purport to woo the young heiress. The book is widely viewed as a satirical admonition to foolish young women and is regarded as one of the best parodies of Cervantes' Don Quixote.

Returning to New Hampshire after the death of her husband in 1816, Tenney lived to the age of 75. She died in Exeter on May 2, 1837, after a short illness, and was buried in the Winter Street Graveyard there.


Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Duyckinck, Evert A., and George L. Duyckinck. Cyclopaedia of American Literature. Philadelphia, PA: W.M. Rutter & Co., n.d. (reprinted Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1965).

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

Gloria Cooksey , freelance writer, Sacramento, California

More From encyclopedia.com