Mercy Otis Warren: America’s First Female Political Author

Mercy Otis Warren was one of the few women who expressed her political views in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Her first play, The Adulateur, used fictional characters to criticize Boston’s royal governor Thomas Hutchinson. She wrote that he would stop at nothing to destroy the colonists “boasted rights, and mark them as slaves.” Although Mercy was bold to publish her writings at a time when a woman’s involvement in politics was considered scandalous, she was conscious of society’s opinions. She published her early works anonymously, knowing that a female writer might not be taken seriously.  At this point in her career she accepted society’s belief that men should take an active role in politics, while women were “confined to the narrow circle of domestic cares.”

Mercy was a gifted political writer, but she was only able to achieve this because of the men in her life. Her father and brother supported her classical, unconventional education, providing her with the skills she needed for a writing career. Her husband supported her talent when she doubted herself, and John Adams became her mentor. As she said in a letter to Adams, “Your Criticism, or Countenance, your Approbation or censure…may in some particulars serve to regulate my future conduct.”  As Adams gained political prominence in early America, he often helped Mercy’s work gain an audience.

Later in her career, Mercy asserted that women had the right to understand political matters, and she stopped publishing her works anonymously. Consequently, male reviewers dismissed her History of the American Revolution because it was written by a woman. She gained respect from the men around her for her talent, but her career remained dependent on male opinions of her work.

 

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