Date of this Version
Documentary Editing: Journal of the Association for Documentary Editing, Volume 31: 2010 ISSN 0196-7134
Born in Concord, Massachusetts, on the eve of the American Revolution, Mary Moody Emerson (1774–1863) is most widely known today as the brilliant aunt of American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). She was, however, an exciting figure in her own right: a scholar, a theologian, a proto-feminist, and an author whose writings offer a rare and prolific example of early American women’s intellectual production. In 1804, when she was thirty, and again in her seventies, Emerson published a handful of periodical essays. 1 But her most significant literary accomplishment is an unpublished series of manuscript “Almanacks” (c. 1804–1855), a miscellany spanning over one thousand pages and fifty years, and whose generic form derives from the commonplace book, devotional diary, and epistolary essay. Constructed from loose sheets of letter paper bound with thread, individual Almanacks were circulated among friends and correspondents, as single sheets with letters or as multiple-leaved gifts. These writings reflect Emerson’s immersion in Eastern and Western as well as classical, Enlightenment, and Romantic thought, and they offer perhaps the most complete literary example documenting a single, intellectual woman’s life during the antebellum era. Yet the complete text of these manuscripts has never been readily available.