Catharine Maria Sedgwick was born after the Revolutionary War into a respected Massachusetts family. Her father, Theodore Sedgwick, served in the House of Representatives and in the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Sedgwick was educated at home and then at Payne’s Finishing School, a boarding school in Boston, and New York.
Image 4.3. Catharine Maria Sedgwick
After her mother died and her father remarried in 1813, Sedgwick lived with her brothers, alternating between their respective households in Boston and New York. In 1821, she took the unusual step of converting to Unitarianism. The next year, she published her first novel, A New-England Tale. It established some constants in her writing: a New England setting, interest in the benefits of the Unitarian faith, and focus on domesticity.
In most of her works, Sedgwick considers women’s lives, both within and outside of marriage. In Married or Single? (1857), she asked her readers not to consider women as mere extensions of men or as vessels of civilization and virtue best confined to the domestic realm. She also wrote of minority groups, including Native Americans. Hope Leslie (1827) sympathetically depicts the religious and social customs of Native Americans, a depiction based on her own research on the Mohawks. She had a public life through her activities in various reform movements tied to Unitarianism. She also had a public life as a very well-received writer. Indeed, in a September 1846 notice of “The Literati of New York City,” Edgar Allan Poe described Sedgwick as “one of our most celebrated and meritorious writers.” Besides her six novels, Sedgwick published biographies and children’s literature. She never married.