The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism

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HMH, 2006 M05 11 - 624 pages
4 Reviews
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Pulitzer Prize Finalist: “A stunning work of biography” about three little-known New England women who made intellectual history (The New York Times).

Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody were in many ways the American Brontës. The story of these remarkable sisters—and their central role in shaping the thinking of their day—has never before been fully told. Twenty years in the making, Megan Marshall’s monumental biography brings the era of creative ferment known as American Romanticism to new life.
Elizabeth Peabody, the oldest sister, was a mind-on-fire influence on the great writers of the era—Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau among them—who also published some of their earliest works; it was she who prodded these newly minted Transcendentalists away from Emerson’s individualism and toward a greater connection to others. Middle sister Mary Peabody was a passionate reformer who finally found her soul mate in the great educator Horace Mann. And the frail Sophia, an admired painter among the preeminent society artists of the day, married Nathaniel Hawthorne—but not before Hawthorne threw the delicate dynamics among the sisters into disarray.
Casting new light on a legendary American era, and on three sisters who made an indelible mark on history, Marshall’s unprecedented research uncovers thousands of never-before-seen letters as well as other previously unmined original sources. “A massive enterprise,” The Peabody Sisters is an event in American biography (The New York Times Book Review).
“Marshall’s book is a grand story . . . where male and female minds and sensibilities were in free, fruitful communion, even if men could exploit this cultural richness far more easily than women.” —The Washington Post
“Marshall has greatly increased our understanding of these women and their times in one of the best literary biographies to come along in years.” —New England Quarterly

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - fromthecomfychair - LibraryThing

Megan Marshall created a page-turner about the lives of three 19th century sisters, and also filled this biography with so much fascinating information about life in the 19th century, Boston, Salem ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Jaylia3 - LibraryThing

I can’t resist books about sisters, I've read more by and about the Mitford sisters than I’d care to admit, and this thoroughly researched book about the Peabody sisters has all the charms that the ... Read full review


July 9 1842
Origins 17461803
The Family School 18041820
Elizabeth 18211824
Mary and Elizabeth 18251828
Sophia 18291832
Somerset Court and La Recompensa 18331835
Before the Age in Salem 18361839
13 West Street Boston 18401842
May 1 1843
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About the author (2006)

Megan Marshall is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, awarded for her work on Margaret Fuller, and the author of The Peabody Sisters, which won the Francis Parkman Prize and the Mark Lynton History Prize, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. She is a Charles Wesley Emerson College Professor and teaches narrative nonfiction and the art of archival research in the MFA program at Emerson. For more, visit

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