Elizabeth Oakes (Prince) Smith
Born August 12, 1806 near North Yarmouth, Maine. Father dies at sea, 1808, family lives
alternately with her maternal and paternal grandparents until mother remarries and family
moves to Cape Elizabeth, then Portland. At age twelve begins to teach in Sunday School for
black children. Plans to become a teacher, but mother demurs. Married, instead, on March 6,
1823 to Seba Smith, editor of a Portland weekly, The Eastern Argus.
Manages Smith household, which includes both the family and apprentices and printers of
The Argus, who board. Bears six sons, Benjamin (1824), Rolvin (1825-1832), Appleton
(1828-1887), Sidney (1830-1869),Alvin (1832-1902) and Edward (1834-1865). Contributes poems,
sketches, stories, to the journal, either anonymously or over the signature "E.", and acts as
editor when her husband travels to Boston in 1833 to supervise the publication of The Life
and Writings of Major Jack Downing. In an unpublished autobiography claims during this
period to have read and studied the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Blackstone, Mill and others
after the rest of the family had retired to bed.
As husband loses his fortune speculating in the volatile market for land preceding the Panic
of 1837,attempting to recover his losses by backing an invention designed to clean Sea Grass
Cotton. Smith writes and later publishes Riches Without Wings, a moralist novel which
targets the victims of the Panic. Travels with her husband to Charleston, South Carolina,
where the invention proves unsaleable,and where she is exposed for the first time to the
reality of slavery.
Smith family boards in New York with
cousins of the Princes, Dr. Cyrus and Maria Child Weeks, plan to make their living writing.
Smith publishes stories in the Godey's Lady's Book, the Snowden's Ladies'
Companion, and other journals, over the signature "Mrs. Seba Smith," or a pseudonym,
"Ernest Helfenstein." First wide literary notice with "The Sinless Child," published serially
in the Southern Literary Messenger Jan-Feb 1842. First edition of her poems,
The Sinless Child and Other Poems, published by John Keese later that year, with
introductions by Keese, John Neal and H.T. Tuckerman. Continues writing poetry and fiction
for other popular magazines and gift books throughout the decade. Her second novel,
The Western Captive, appears as two "supplements" (nos 25-28) in Park Benjamin's
New World in 1842. Contributes short stories, poems, and probably editorial to
The Rover, edited by her husband from 1843-45.
Summer 1842, moves with her family to Brooklyn. Poems reprinted as
The Complete Poetical Writings of Elizabeth Oakes Smith, by Rufus Griswold in 1845.
Edits the gift book The Mayflower 1846-47. Publishes three volumes of children's
stories (The True Child, The Moss Cup, and The Dandelion), all subtitled
"stories not for good children, or bad children, but real children." In 1848, Putnam
publishes her third novel, The Salamander (later reprinted as Mary and Hugo),
with illustrations by Darley. Acknowledges the "death" of her pseudonym "Helfenstein" in
the preface to The Salamander, yet publishes occasionally under the
name in later years as "by the late Ernest Helfenstein."
Attends Women's Rights Convention October, 1850 in Worcester, MA, begins a series of ten
articles for Horace Greeley's Tribune entitled
"Woman and Her Needs" (Nov 1850--June 1851),
published in pamphlet form by Fowler and Wells in late 1851. Begins lecturing in New York in
June 1851, and by fall has several engagements in New England. Lecture tours in spring and
summer 1852 bring her west to Buffalo, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Chicago.
Continues writing--publishes Hints on Dress and Beauty and Shadowland; or,
The Seer, projects a woman's magazine, The Egeria, soliciting $500 in support and
fifty subscribers. At Women's Rights Convention at Syracuse, September, 1852, her nomination
as President of the Convention is rejected when she arrives in a dress exposing her neck and
Plans for The Egeria curtailed when Paulina Wright Davis begins The Una in
February, to which she contributes. Continues lecture tours through New England, Pennsylvania,
New York and Ohio,attends yearly Woman's Rights Conventions. In New York, helps to edit
The Weekly Budget with Seba Smith (1853-54). Publishes two new novels, Bertha and
Lily; or the Parsonage at Beech Glen and The Newsboy. Spring of 1855, moves back
to New York City with family. Articles in Tribune on marriage and
divorce, capital punishment for women.
In 1856 becomes co-editor, again with her husband, of Emerson's United States Magazine,
reprinting earlier stories and poems. Writes voluminous editorial matter, unsigned, on women's
rights and related issues. In November 1858, family buys the magazine, which continues as
The Great Republic, published by Oaksmith and Co. for one year. In 1859,
Smiths purchase a large home and property in Patchogue, Long Island,
name it "The Willows."
Lives a more retired life in Patchogue. Lectures occasionally on woman's rights,
temperance, and other reforms. Addresses Union troops
at a small pageant near her home in October, 1861, contributes cloaks and mittens to the
soldiers. Son Appleton is captured and indicted for equipping a slave-ship, December 1861.
With Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, he is quickly jailed, but soon escapes or
is mysteriously released. Visiting friends in New York, Smith is caught in a draft riot in
July 1863, and later records the experience in her diary. Visits Appleton, exiled in England,
returns to find Appleton's estranged wife has left "The Willows" deserted.
Begins publishing "Autobiographic Notes" in Beadle's Monthly, continues to seek aid
from Gerrit Smith, Thurlow Weed and others to have Appleton pardoned. Seba Smith dies,
July 29, 1868.
Living in dire financial straits--perhaps with her son Alvin's family in nearby
Blue Point, Long Island--Smith donates a selection of books to the Bowdoin Library and the
Portland Historical Society, but is forced to sell much of her library. Son Sidney dies in a
shipwreck in 1869. "The Willows" sold in 1870. In 1874, sails for
Beaufort, North Carolina, where Appleton has settled, loses almost all her possessions in
a shipwreck. Continues to publish poetry and articles in both popular and religious journals.
Serves as pastor of The Independent Church in Canestota, NY in 1877, and continues to attend
conventions on Women's Suffrage. In January, 1879, delivers "Biology and Woman's Rights" at
11th Woman's Suffrage Convention, in Washington D.C..
Spends summers in Blue Point, Long Island, winters in Beaufort. Writes much of her
autobiography, "A Human Life," between 1881-85. Lectures on "Emerson and his Circle."
Finds herself forgotten by most, her friends dead. Burns large quantities of correspondence.
Appleton dies in New York City, 1887. Although editors at The Home Journal advertise
her autobiography as near completion, it is never published. Writes in her journal that she
is ashamed to see so much of this writing reflect not her life but "the promise of her
childhood." Dies after a short illness in Beaufort, N.C., November 15, 1893, buried next
to her husband in Patchogue.
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