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Mr. Jefferson's Women (Vintage)by Jon Kukla
Synopses & Reviews
A pioneering study of Thomas Jefferson's relationships with women in his personal life and in American society and politics.
The author of the Declaration of Independence, who wrote the words all men are created equal, was surprisingly hostile toward women. In eight chapters based on fresh research in little-used sources, Jon Kukla offers the first comprehensive study of Jefferson and women since the controversies of his presidency.
Educated with other boys at a neighborhood boarding school, young Jefferson learned early that homemaking was the realm of his mother and six sisters. From adolescence through maturity, his views about domesticity scarcely wavered, while his discomfort around women brought a succession of embarrassments as he sought to control his emotions. After Rebecca Burwell declined his awkward proposal of marriage, Jefferson reacted first with despondence, then with predatory misogyny, and finally with the attempted seduction of Elizabeth Moore Walker, the wife of a boyhood friend. His marriage at twenty-nine to Martha Wayles Skelton brought a decade of genuine happiness, but ended in despair with her death from complications of childbirth. In Paris a few years later, Maria Cosway rekindled his capacity for romantic friendship but ultimately disappointed his hopes. Against the background of these relationships, Kukla offers a fresh and cogent account of Jefferson's liaison with Sally Hemings.
Jefferson's individual relationships with these women are examined in depth in five chapters. Abigail Adams, the women of Paris, and the wife of a British ambassador figure in the first of two closing chapters that examine Jefferson's attitudes toward women inpublic life. In the last chapter, Kukla draws connections between Jefferson's life experiences and his role in defining the subordination of women in law, culture, and education during and after the American Revolution.
From the acclaimed author of A Wilderness So Immense comes a pioneering study of Thomas Jefferson's relationships with women, both personal and political.
The author of the Declaration of Independence, who wrote the words “all men are created equal,” was surprisingly uncomfortable with woman. In eight chapters, Kukla examines the evidence for the founding father's youthful misogyny, beginning with his awkward courtship of Rebecca Burwell, who declined Jefferson's marriage proposal, and his unwelcome advances toward the wife of a boyhood friend. Subsequent chapters describe his decade-long marriage to Martha Wayles Skelton, his flirtation with Maria Cosway, and the still controversial relationship with Sally Hemings. A riveting study of a complex man, Mr. Jefferson's Women is sure to spark debate.
About the Author
Jon Kukla received his BA from Carthage College and his MA and Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. From 1973 through 1990 he directed historical research and publishing at the Library of Virginia. From 1992 to 1998 he was curator and then director of the Historic New Orleans Collection. From 2000 to 2007 he was director of Red Hill, The Patrick Henry National Memorial in Charlotte County, Virginia. He now lives and writes in Richmond, Virginia.
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Biography » Historical