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Enterprising Woman: Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, the artist

Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne (September 21, 1809 – February 26, 1871) was the wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne. She was also well-known for her work as a painter, illustrator, and writer. She was a native daughter of Salem, Mass. At age 15, she began to study drawing and continued to hone these skills through her teens and early adult years.

In the early 1830s, Sophia was painting on a regular basis. Many of her early works include reproductions of artworks of the time, but eventually, she came into her own and began to paint landscapes. In a letter to her sister Elizabeth, she wrote of her art,

“What do you think I have actually begun to do? Nothing less than create and do you wonder that I lay awake all last night after sketching my first picture. I actually thought my head would have made its final explosion. When once I began to excurse, I could not stop. Three distinct landscapes came forth in full array besides that which I had arranged before I went to bed and it seemed as if I should fly to be up and doing. I have always determined not to force the creative power but wait till it mastered me and now I feel as if the time had come and such freedom and revelry of spirit does it bring!”

Some of Sophia’s work as an illustrator can be seen in her husband’s books including The Gentle Boy and Grandfather’s Chair.

Later in life, Sophia tried her hand at sculpture.

Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sophia were married in 1842. Like many women of her time, the obligations of marriage in the 19th century shortened her career. According to the Hawthorne In Salem website, “Patricia Dunlavey Valenti…says, ‘Sophia, wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne’ is the simple inscription which marks the grave of a woman remembered for her marriage to one of the foremost men in American letters. However, she deserves to be remembered among the earliest women in American painting.”

If you’d like to learn more about Sophia’s artistic endeavors, check out History Alive, Inc.’s Salem Women’s History Day event, The Marble Flock. The staged reading follows the Hawthorne family to Italy and looks at their life as well as competition for artistic endeavors. If you’d like to see examples of Sophia’s work, take a wander through the Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace, included with your admission to The House of the Seven Gables.

Post Sources:

Hawthorne in Salem: Sophia Peabody Hawthorne

Wikipedia: Sophia Peabody Hawthorne

The Thought Co.: Sophia Peabody Hawthorne



Date: February 25, 2020

Author: sperling

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