Rubin Stuart’s nuanced biography of Mercy Otis Warren, America’s first, Revolution-era female playwright, poet, and historian.
Death by lightning, duels, treason, smallpox, 16-page rants written with quill pens, nervous breakdowns. This may sound like the stuff of an overwrought period novel, but it’s straightforward fact in Nancy Rubin Stuart’s nuanced biography of Mercy Otis Warren, America’s first, Revolution-era female playwright, poet, and historian. A tireless correspondent with the day’s sharpest political minds and a champion for liberty, she was also a proto-feminist whose own life became an example of what a female mind could accomplish—if given the chance.
From the first page, Stuart sets off on a speedy (and scholarly) gallop through Warren’s life and times: as a daughter “allowed” to be educated alongside one of her Harvard-bound brothers (the incorrigible “Jemmy” Otis, who helped sow the seeds of the Revolution with his “taxation without representation is tyranny” speech); to her passionate marriage to politician James Warren that produced five boys; to her direct influence on 10 items in the Bill of Rights; to the mixed reception given to her magnum opus, The History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution (1805)—the first anti-Federalist take on the decades surrounding the nation’s founding—and the feud it sparked with her former mentor, President John Adams.Warren broke into the boys’ club and left the door open. So why isn’t she lauded as frequently as our other Founding Mothers? Stuart persuasively argues for her reinstatement.