early American salon culture

Gilbert Stuart Portrait of Anne Willing Bingham 1797

A renowned literary coterie in 18th century Philadelphia — Elizabeth Fergusson, Hannah Griffitts, Deborah Logan, Annis Stockton, & Susanna Wright — wrote & exchanged poems & maintained elaborate handwritten commonplace books of memorabilia. Through their liberal hospitality they initiated a salon culture in their great country houses throughout the Delaware Valley.  Susan M. Stabile (Memory’s Daughters: The Material Culture of Remembrance in 18th Century America.  Ithaca: Cornell, 2004) shows that these female writers sought to memorialize their lives & aesthetic experiences—a purpose that stands in contrast to the civic concerns of male authors in the republican era. Drawing on material culture & literary history, Stabile discusses how the group used their writings to explore & at times replicate the arrangement of their material possessions, including desks, writing paraphernalia, mirrors, miniatures, beds, & even coffins. As she reconstructs the poetics of memory that informed the women’s lives & structured their manuscripts, Stabile focuses on vernacular architecture, penmanship, souvenir collecting, & mourning.

Elizabeth Graeme hosted Pennsylvania’s young literati at her weekly parties in Philadelphia or at her country house, Graeme Park, in Horsham (Bucks County). In the post-Revolutionary period, Anne Willing Bingham became the arbiter of fashion & intellectual conversation at her home, “Lansdowne,” in Philadelphia (3rd & Spruce Sts.). Even Thomas Jefferson, who hated salons in the Parisian mode, felt compelled to attend because the finest minds in the Republic gathered in the Bingham’s parlor.

Annis Boudinot Stockton, New Jersey’s great saloniere in Princeton, taught Martha Washington how to run a republican court, when hosting the Continental Congress (of which her brother Elias Boudinot was president) at her estate, Morven, in 1781.

Branson, Susan. These Fiery Frenchified Dames: Women & Political Culture in Early National Philadelphia. Phila: U of P, 2001.

Kerber, Linda K.  Toward an Intellectual History of Women: Essays Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1997

MacLean, Maggie  “Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson 1739-1801,” in History of American Women

Norton, Mary Beth   Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 Ithaca: Cornell, 1996

Otter, Samuel   “Philadelphia Experiments.” American Literary History 16 (2004) 103-16

Ousterhout, Anne M.   The Most Learned Woman in America: A Life of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson University Park: Penn State, 2004

Shields, David S.   “The Early American Salon,” Humanities 29 (Jan/Feb 2008) 29

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