“Considerably different for her sex”

Ten-year old Patsy’s reading would be “considerably different . . . for her sex in any other country than America,” Congressman Jefferson declared. What did he mean by “considerably different,” and why was her “sex” a criterion for what she read? What was “America” in 1783, anyway?

Unanswered questions like these, launched me on a long journey wending through hundreds of letters between daughter, father, husband, children, and more. Signposts along the way disclosed Thomas Jefferson’s elaborate notions of education but, more critically, it revealed that love and affection lit the way, not just for learning but also for their lives together. “If you love me then, strive…to acquire those accomplishments…which will go far towards ensuring you the warmest love of your affectionate father,” he admonished the youngster (TJ to MJ, 28 November 1783). By age fourteen, Patsy had learned this lesson well: “You say your expectations for me are high, yet not higher than I can attain. Then be assured, my dear papa, that you shall be satisfied in that, as well as in anything else that lies in my power; for what I hold most precious is your satisfaction…” (MJ to TJ, 9 April 1787).

Just how these experiences figured in Martha’s adult identity and Jefferson’s political life are described in Martha Jefferson Randolph: Republican Daughter & Plantation Mistress (Palmyra, VA: Shortwood Press) available from Amazon and CreateSpace

Related articles

Reading as a means of female education is described artfully & thoroughly in Catherine Kerrison’s Claiming the Pen: Women and Intellectual Life in the Early American South (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006)

The emergence in the 19th Century of formal female academies and women’s civic associations are chronicled in Mary Kelley, Learning to Stand and Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America’s Republic (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006)

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