When I asked my local library to reserve a copy of The Peabody Sisters by Megan Marshall, I had no idea the delight that the book would bring me. Retired from reading books that might add side stories and interest to my American literature classroom, I picked up the biography and intended to read for pleasure.
And pleasure it was.... [but I found myself wishing that I had a group of students to share the tidbits and wonderful facts that came from reading this book]
Born to Elizabeth [Eliza] Palmer Peabody and Dr.Nathaniel Peabody, Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody grew into young women who would not only marry men who shaped the culture of the age but influence them as well.
Eliza Peabody determined early on that her daughters would be bright, well-read, fluent in reading and writing more than one language, and be able to make their own way -- in an era where women made their ways as wives or if they had careers, as school teachers. All three of Eliza's daughters would surpass her goals for them and become women who moved in powerful circles of men and yes, had influence over them.
Elizabeth, the eldest, and possibly the brightest, wrote essays, edited magazines, books, sermons, and novels, held one on one conversations with theologians, writers, politicians, and educational reformers, and also used teaching methods that are still imitated in "gifted" classrooms today.
The second sister Mary, considered the "beauty," was an equally gifted teacher but found her passion in reform. She married the mover and shaker of public education of the time, Horace Mann.
The youngest sister, Sophia, an exceptional artist whose landscapes, pencil drawings, and sculpture rivaled the great male artists of her time, suffered greatly as an invalid but fell in love and eventually married Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Twenty years in the writing, Megan Marshall's biography reads like the best kind of literary and historical novel. Having done her homework [there are over 150 pages of notes at the end], Marshall interwove the personal letters of the three women and their contemporaries with the history and cast new light onto perhaps America's greatest time of intelligent thought.
Excellent book, but only for the American literature nerd like me.