“Three Volumes of Light Reading for Yours and Mrs. B Amusement”: A Community of Reading Women in Early Republic Virginia

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 9:10 AM
Grant Park Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Alicia Tucker, Northern Virginia Community College
This paper explores the importance of print culture in creating rural reading societies, consumer networks and gendered consumption patterns in Virginia planter society during the early republic of the United States. Cultural historians have analyzed books, libraries, and reading practices to discern conversations between authors and readers and to explore ideas about gender, patriarchy, and domesticity. Drawing primarily on the library and reading practices of Virginian Jean Skipwith, this paper focuses specifically on the relationships created between planter women as they acquired, shared, and internalized their books and reading. Between 1785 and 1826, Skipwith purchased over 384 titles and 850 volumes to create one of the largest American women’s libraries of the period. Her library is unique not only because of its size and content, but because it remained relatively intact, its contents have been scrupulously recorded, and there are surviving invoices that clearly identify the books and the order in which they were purchased. Other sources indicate the extent to which Skipwith was part of a community of readers and the parameters of those communities. Analyzing invoices, letters, newspapers, and the library itself reveals a community of reading women and widens our understanding of the importance of print culture to southern women living in Southside Virginia.