New Release Books by Catherine Kerrison

Catherine Kerrison is the author of Jefferson's Daughters (2019) and Claiming the Pen (2015).

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Jefferson's Daughters

release date: Jan 29, 2019
Jefferson's Daughters
The remarkable untold story of Thomas Jefferson''s three daughters--two white and free, one black and enslaved--and the divergent paths they forged in a newly independent America Thomas Jefferson had three daughters: Martha and Maria by his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and Harriet by his slave Sally Hemings. In Jefferson''s Daughters, Catherine Kerrison, a scholar of early American and women''s history, recounts the remarkable journey of these three women--and how their struggle to define themselves reflects both the possibilities and the limitations that resulted from the American Revolution. Although the three women shared a father, the similarities end there. Martha and Maria received a fine convent school education while they lived with their father during his diplomatic posting in Paris--a hothouse of intellectual ferment whose celebrated salonnières are vividly brought to life in Kerrison''s narrative. Once they returned home, however, the sisters found their options limited by the laws and customs of early America. Harriet Hemings followed a different path. She escaped slavery--apparently with the assistance of Jefferson himself. Leaving Monticello behind, she boarded a coach and set off for a decidedly uncertain future. For this groundbreaking triple biography, Kerrison has uncovered never-before-published documents written by the Jefferson sisters when they were in their teens, as well as letters written by members of the Jefferson and Hemings families. She has interviewed Hemings family descendants (and, with their cooperation, initiated DNA testing) and searched for descendants of Harriet Hemings. The eventful lives of Thomas Jefferson''s daughters provide a unique vantage point from which to examine the complicated patrimony of the American Revolution itself. The richly interwoven story of these three strong women and their fight to shape their own destinies sheds new light on the ongoing movement toward human rights in America--and on the personal and political legacy of one of our most controversial Founding Fathers. "Beautifully written . . . To a nuanced study of Jefferson''s two white daughters, Martha and Maria, [Kerrison] innovatively adds a discussion of his only enslaved daughter, Harriet Hemings."--The New York Times Book Review

Claiming the Pen

release date: May 05, 2015
Claiming the Pen
In 1711, the imperious Virginia patriarch William Byrd II spitefully refused his wife Lucy''s plea for a book; a century later, Lady Jean Skipwith placed an order that sent the Virginia bookseller Joseph Swan scurrying to please. These vignettes bracket a century of change in white southern women''s lives. Claiming the Pen offers the first intellectual history of early southern women. It situates their reading and writing within the literary culture of the wider Anglo-Atlantic world, thus far understood to be a masculine province, even as they inhabited the limited, provincial social circles of the plantation South. Catherine Kerrison uncovers a new realm of female education in which conduct-of-life advice—both the dry pedantry of sermons and the risqué plots of novels—formed the core reading program. Women, she finds, learned to think and write by reading prescriptive literature, not Greek and Latin classics, in impromptu home classrooms, rather than colleges and universities, and from kin and friends, rather than schoolmates and professors. Kerrison also reveals that southern women, in their willingness to "take up the pen" and so claim new rights, seized upon their racial superiority to offset their gender inferiority. In depriving slaves of education, southern women claimed literacy as a privilege of their whiteness, and perpetuated and strengthened the repressive institutions of slavery.


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