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George Eliot and Her Heroines: George Eliot and Her Characters in Fiction and Non-Fiction (1886)
Abba Goold Woolson, the seventh of seven children, was born in 1838 in Windham, Maine, not far from Portland, where she later graduated as valedictorian of the Portland High School for Girls.
In addition to her native French and Latin, she has also picked up a number of other languages including German, Greek, Italian, and Spanish.
She married Moses Woolson, a man 17 years older when she was 18, her former principal. Woolson began teaching at Portland High School and writing for a variety of media soon after this.
The couple moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1862, and she began teaching literature at the Mount Auburn Young Ladies’ Institute there.
While living in Columbus, Ohio, Abba helped her husband with his school administration tasks and wrote personal pieces for inclusion in major periodicals including the Home Journal, Portland Transcript, and Boston Journal when she returned to New York.
Woolson’s first collection of essays, Woman in American Society, was released in 1873 and received positive reviews. Women’s rights advocates like Woolson were quick to point out the various cultural barriers that women face in the United States, regardless of their marital status or financial status.
According to Woolson, the most important demands placed on women were those relating to norms of attractive attire. She argued that changing the dress code for women was essential to their emancipation because the restrictions placed on women’s clothes were not only unnecessary but harmful as well.
This Bloomer costume, she argued, had been rejected because it had originated in America rather than Paris, and not because it was outmoded.
Woolson was also the chair of the New England Women’s Club’s dress-reform committee in 1873, which recommended the “union suit,” a combination of a flannel shirt and connected plantlets (Susan Taylor Converse later improved the design in 1875 by making it a two-piece garment and calling it the Emancipation Suit).
The New England Women’s Club was one of the earliest groups to advocate for changes to the way women’s clothing was designed, and it hosted a series of talks by four prominent female physicians on the dangers of wearing restrictive undergarments like corsets.
Abba Woolson died in 1921 at the age of 83, having outlived her husband by 25 years. She was laid to rest in the Goold family grave in Windham, Maine.
Woolson left a gift to Bowdoin College in honor of her paternal grandpa, establishing the Nathan Goold Prize, which is given to the graduating senior with the greatest grade point average in Greek and Latin.
Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, 1607–1950, by Edward T. James. The Belknap Press of Harvard University published the book in 1971 in Cambridge, MA.
Drew Walker is a New York-based freelance writer.
Abba Woolson Quotes:
- “And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days.” – James Russell Lowell
- “Summer is a promissory note signed in June, its long days spent and gone before you know it, and due to be repaid next January.” – Hal Borland
- “The summer night is like a perfection of thought.” – Wallace Stevens
- “In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.” – John Steinbeck
- “If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance.” – Bernard Williams
- “It is the month of June, The month of leaves and roses, When pleasant sights salute the eyes and pleasant scents the noses.” – Nathaniel Parker Willis