Elizabeth Oakes Smith

(1806 - 1893)

Biography of Elizabeth Oakes Smith

Elizabeth Oakes Smith (August 12, 1806 – November 16, 1893) was a poet, fiction writer, editor, lecturer, and women’s rights activist whose career spanned six decades, from the 1830s to the 1880s. Most well- known at the start of her professional career for her poem "The Sinless Child" which appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1842, her reputation today rests on her feminist writings, including "Woman and Her Needs," a series of essays published in the New York Tribune between 1850 and 1851 that argued for women’s spiritual and intellectual capacities as well as women’s equal rights to political and economic opportunities, including rights of franchise and higher education.

Smith was born August 12, 1806 near North Yarmouth, Maine to David Prince and Sophia née Blanchard. After her father died at sea in 1808, her family lived with her maternal and paternal grandparents until her mother remarried and moved with her stepfather to Cape Elizabeth, Maine then Portland, Maine. In her autobiography (parts of which were published in the 1860s and 1880s), she recalls being a precocious student, and at age twelve taught in a Sunday School for black children. Despite her wishes to attend college like her male cousins, however, she was married in 1823 at the age of sixteen to a thirty-year-old magazine editor and later humorist, Seba Smith, best known for his “Jack Downing” series.

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The Unattained

And is this life? and are we born for this?
To follow phantoms that elude the grasp,
Or whatso'er's secured, within our clasp,
To withering lie, as if each mortal kiss
Were doomed death's shuddering touch alone to meet.
O Life! has thou reserved no cup of bliss?
Must still THE UNATTAINED beguile our feet?
The UNATTAINED with yearnings fill the breast,
That rob, for aye, the spirit of its rest?

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