The life of a woman in early 19th century New York
November 27, 2022 5:04 AM   Subscribe

If you were a woman born into a wealthy family in 1801, in the Hudson Valley in New York, what major inventions, events and publications would impact your upbringing and young adulthood? What would you remember?

I am looking for global and nationwide things, as well as local (eg - the North River Steamboat), and am particularly interested in memorable and specific personal experiences - like riding on a steam boat, or seeing a gas street light - rather than say, the impact of a political policy.

I'm also looking for published journals or letters from this time, local to the North East US, written by women (famous or not) in the 1800-1850 period, and any other resources that might be relevant. Thanks!
posted by mani to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Here are a couple of good overviews of what type of clothing she would be wearing. The fashions (chemise dresses in particular) of the era were influenced by a scandalous portrait.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 5:41 AM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Lydia Marie Child, born in 1802, published some journals.
posted by xo at 5:49 AM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Had You Lived Then... is an interesting look at the early 1800s, from the perspective of a middle-class/merchant family. And Early American is a YouTuber who does historical recipes mostly from the 1800-1820s period. Much of a girl's/woman's life, even in a wealthy family, would have been restricted to the domestic.

That said, Emma Willard opened the first women's college in the US in 1821, in Troy, New York. It sounds like it was something of a cross between a finishing school and a university. Elizabeth Cady Stanton attended (and was underwhelmed, by all accounts). ECS is a little younger than your hypothetical woman (born 1815), but her memoir and letters might be worth looking at. Also the antebellum First Ladies: Abigail Fillmore (born 1798) and Jane Pierce (born 1806).

A child born around 1800 would almost certainly have a sibling who died in childhood, usually of a now-preventable disease. Vaccination was not yet common (Jenner's smallpox experiments were only published in 1798) although other forms of inoculation did exist.

The Year Without A Summer wreaked havoc on New England and the Mid-Atlantic states in 1816; crop failures would have affected the food budget of even a wealthy family.

Literature: Jane Austen published most of her works (anonymously) in the 1810s. Your hypothetical teen would probably also have read Frankenstein (1818), or, if more inclined to satire than sci-fi, perhaps Washington Irving's Sketchbook (1819) -- added bonus of being local to the Hudson Valley.
posted by basalganglia at 6:37 AM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

The end of slavery in NY. Sojourner Truth was born in the Hudson Valley just a few years before your character

The Erie Canal, construction of which started in 1817, and the influx of Irish laborers to build it.

The War of 1812, google for her county in that war.

Labor and technology.
posted by mareli at 7:15 AM on November 27, 2022

To find letters and diaries check out county historical societies, local public libraries, and the NY State Museum. You can also search here.
posted by mareli at 7:27 AM on November 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Good quality soap, specifically Pear's soap which was invented in 1807, would have been a luxury product.

Whale oil would have been one of the major commodities of the day.

When she was born, cotton fabric was probably mainly imported from Britain or India, and made from India-grown cotton. But the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 slowly revolutionised the industry in the USA and eventually most cotton was grown in the American South, harvested by slaves.

1800 to 1820 is the era of the satire of early Gothic novels, although it looks like Gothic novels continued to be very popular right into the Victorian era.
posted by plonkee at 12:40 PM on November 27, 2022

The War of 1812 would be a huge deal in NY - what with multiple NY-based invasions of Canada, pitched naval battles on Lakes Erie, Ontario, and Champlain, the blockade of trade out of NYC, the burning of Washington, etc.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:56 PM on November 27, 2022

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