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Sophia Peabody Hawthorne

American Transcendentalist, Writer, Artist, Wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Sophia Peabody Hawthorne

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne

Culture Club / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

About Sophia Peabody Hawthorne

Known for: publishing notebooks of her husband, Nathaniel Hawthorne; one of the Peabody sisters
Occupation: painter, writer, educator, journal writer, artist, illustrator
Dates: September 21, 1809 - February 26, 1871
Also known as: Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne Biography

Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne was the third daughter and third child of the Peabody family. She was born after the family settled in Salem, Massachusetts, where her father practiced dentistry.

With a father who had originally been a teacher, a mother who sometimes ran small schools, and two older sisters who taught, Sophia received a wide-ranging and deep education in traditional academic subjects at home and in those schools run by her mother and sisters. She was a lifelong voracious reader, as well.

Starting at age 13, Sophia also started having debilitating headaches, which, from descriptions, were likely migraines. She was often an invalid from that age until her marriage, though she did manage to study drawing with an aunt, and then studied art with several Boston area (male) artists.

While also teaching with her sisters, Sophia supported herself by copying paintings. She is credited with noted copies of Flight Into Egypt and a portrait of Washington Allard, both on display in the Boston area.

From December 1833 to May 1835, Sophia, with her sister Mary, went to Cuba, thinking this might bring relief from Sophia's health problems. Mary served as a governess with the Morell family in Havana, Cuba, while Sophia read, wrote and painted. While she was in Cuba, a landscape Sophia painted was exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum, an unusual accomplishment for a woman.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

On her return, she privately distributed her "Cuba Journal" to friends and family. Nathaniel Hawthorne borrowed a copy from the Peabody home in 1837, and likely used some of the descriptions in his own stories.

Hawthorne, who had led a relatively isolated life living with his mother in Salem from 1825 to 1837, formally met Sophia and her sister, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, in 1836. (They had probably seen each other as children, as well, living about a block apart.) While some thought that Hawthorne's connection was with Elizabeth, who published three of his children's stories, he was drawn to Sophia.

They were engaged by 1839, but it was clear that his writing could not support a family, so he took a position at the Boston Custom House and then explored the possibility in 1841 of living at the experimental utopian community, Brook Farm. Sophia resisted the marriage, thinking herself too ill to be a good partner. In 1839, she provided an illustration as the frontispiece of an edition of his The Gentle Boy, and in 1842 illustrated the second edition of Grandfather's Chair.

Sophia Peabody married Nathaniel Hawthorne on July 9, 1842, with James Freeman Clarke, a Unitarian minister, presiding. They rented the Old Manse in Concord, and began family life. Una, their first child, a daughter, was born in 1844. In March 1846, Sophia moved with Una to Boston to be near her doctor, and their son Julian was born in June.

They moved to a house in Salem; by this time, Nathaniel had won an appointment from President Polk as a surveyor at the Salem Custom House, a Democratic patronage position which he lost when Taylor, a Whig, won the White House in 1848. (He got his revenge for this firing with his portrayal of the "Custom-House" in The Scarlet Letter and Juge Pyncheon in The House of the Seven Gables.)

With his firing, Hawthorne turned to full-time writing, turning out his first novel, The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850. To help with the family's finances, Sophia sold hand-painted lampshades and firescreens. The family then moved in May to Lenox, Massachusetts, where their third child, a daughter, Rose, was born in 1851. From November 1851 to May 1852, the Hawthornes moved in with the Mann family, the educator Horace Mann and his wife, Mary, who was Sophia's sister.

The Wayside Years

In 1853, Hawthorne bought the house known as The Wayside from Bronson Alcott, the first home Hawthorne owned. Sophia's mother died in January, and soon the family moved to England when Hawthorne was appointed a Consul by his friend, President Franklin Pierce. Sophia took the girls to Portugal for nine months in 1855-56 for her health, still creating problems for her, and in 1857, when Pierce was not renominated by his party, Hawthorne resigned his Consul post, knowing it would soon end anywy. The family traveled to France and then settled for several years in Italy.

In Italy, Una fell seriously ill, first contracting malaria, then typhus. Her health was never good after that. Sophia Peabody Hawthorne also suffered a bout of ill health again, brought on by the stress of her daughter's illness and her efforts in nursing Una, and the family spent some time in England at a resort in hopes of finding relief. In England Hawthorne wrote his last completed novel, The Marble Faun. In 1860, the Hawthornes moved back to America.

Una continued to have bouts of bad health, her malaria returning, and lived on and off with her aunt, Mary Peabody Mann. Julian left to attend school away from home, visiting sometimes on weekends. Nathaniel struggled unsuccessfully with several novels.

In 1864, Nathaniel Hawthorne took a trip to the White Mountains with his friend, Franklin Pierce. Some have speculated that he knew he was ill and wanted to spare his wife; in any case, he died on that trip, with Pierce at his side. Pierce sent word to Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, who notified her sister, Sophia, of her husband's death.

Widowhood

Sophia fell apart, and Una and Julian had to make the arrangements for the funeral. Facing serious financial difficulties, and to bring her husband's contributions more fully to the public, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne began editing his notebooks. Her edited versions began to appear in serialized form in the Atlantic Monthly, with his Passages from the American Note-books coming out in 1868. Then she began working on her own writings, taking her own letters and journals from the period of 1853-1860 and publishing a successful travel book, Notes in England and Italy.

In 1870 Sophia Peabody Hawthorne moved the family to Dresden, Germany, where her son was studying engineering and where her sister, Elizabeth, on a recent visit had identified some affordable lodging. Julian married an American, May Amelung, and returned to America. She published Passages from the English Note-books in 1870, and Passages from the French and Italian Note-books.

The next year Sophia and the girls moved to England. There, Una and Rose both fell in love with a law student, George Lathrop.

Still in London, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne contracted typhoid pneumonia and died on February 26, 1871. She was buried in London at Kensal Green Cemetery, where Una was also buried when she died in London in 1877. In 2006, the remains of Una and Sophia Hawthorne were moved to be be reburied near those of Nathaniel Hawthorne in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, on Author's Ridge, where the gravesites of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott are also found.

Rose and Julian:

Rose married George Lathrop after Sophia Hawthorne's death, and they bought the old Hawthorne home, The Wayside, and moved there. Their only child died in 1881, and the marriage was not happy. Rose took a nursing course in 1896 and, after she and her husband converted to Roman Catholicism, Rose founded a home for incurable cancer patients. After George Lathrop's death, she became a nun, Mother Mary Alphonsa Lathrop. Rose founded the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. She died July 9, 1926. Duke University has honored her contribution to cancer treatment with the Rose Lathrop Cancer Center.

Julian became an author, noted for a biography of his father. His first marriage ended in divorce, and he married again after his first wife died. Convicted of embezzlement, he served a brief jail term. He died in San Francisco in 1934.

Legacy:

While Sophia Peabody Hawthorne spent most of her marriage in the traditional role of wife and mother, supporting her family financially at times so that her husband could focus on writing, she was able in her last years to blossom as a writer in her own right. Her husband admired her writing, and occasionally borrowed images and even some text from her letters and journals. Henry Bright, in a letter to Julian right after Sophia's death, wrote sentiments that are shared by many modern literary scholars: "No one has yet done justice to your mother. Of course, she was overshadowed by him, -- but she was a singularly accomplished woman, with a great gift of expression."

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Eliza Palmer Peabody
  • Father: Nathaniel Peabody
  • Peabody Children:
    • Elizabeth Palmer Peabody: May 16, 1804 - January 3, 1894
    • Mary Tyler Peabody Mann: November 16, 1807 - February 11, 1887
    • Nathaniel Cranch Peabody: born 1811
    • George Peabody: born 1813
    • Wellington Peabody: born 1815
    • Catherine Peabody: (died in infancy)

Education:

  • well-educated privately and in schools run by her mother and two older sisters

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: Nathaniel Hawthorne (married July 9, 1842; noted writer)
  • children:
    • Una Hawthorne (March 3, 1844 - 1877)
    • Julian Hawthorne (June 2, 1846 - 1934)
    • Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (Mother Mary Alphonsa Lathrop) (May 20, 1851 - July 9, 1926)

Religion: Unitarian, Transcendentalist

Books About Sophia Peabody Hawthorne:

  • Louann Gaeddert. A New England Love Story: Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sophia Peabody. 1980.
  • Louisa Hall Tharp. The Peabody Sisters of Salem. Reissue, 1988.
  • Patricia Valenti. Sophia Peabody Hawthorne: A Life, Volume 1, 1809-1847. 2004.
  • Patricia Valenti. To Myself a Stranger: A Biography of Rose Hawthorne Lathrop. 1991.

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