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E. D. E. N. Southworth

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E. D. E. N. Southworth
Southworth circa 1860
Southworth circa 1860
BornEmma Nevitte
(1819-12-26)December 26, 1819
Washington, D.C., U.S.
DiedJune 30, 1899(1899-06-30) (aged 79)
Georgetown, Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting placeOak Hill Cemetery
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Notable worksThe Hidden Hand
SpouseFrederick H. Southworth

Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth (December 26, 1819 – June 30, 1899) was an American writer of more than 60 novels in the latter part of the 19th century. She was the most popular American novelist of her day.[1][2]

In her novels, her heroines often challenge modern perceptions of Victorian feminine domesticity by showing virtue as naturally allied to wit, adventure, and rebellion to remedy any unfortunate situation.[3] Though The Hidden Hand (1859) was her most popular novel, Southworth's favorite of her works was her novel Ishmael (1876).[4]

Early life and education[edit]

E. D. E. N. Southworth was born Emma Nevitte on December 26, 1819, in Washington, D.C., to Susannah Wailes and Charles LeCompte Nevitte, a Virginia merchant. Her father died in 1824, and per his deathbed request she was christened Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte.[4][5] She studied in a school kept by her stepfather, Joshua L. Henshaw. She later recalled her childhood as a lonely one, with her happiest moments spent exploring Maryland's Tidewater region on horseback. During those rides, she acquired an abiding interest in the area's history and folklore.[6] After attending her stepfather's school, she completed her secondary education in 1835 at the age of 15.[6]


She then accepted a position as a schoolteacher.[6]

In 1840, she married inventor Frederick H. Southworth,[7] of Utica, New York.[8] Southworth moved with her husband to Wisconsin to become a teacher. After 1843, she returned to Washington, D.C. without her husband and with two young children.[9]

After the birth of their second child, Frederick abandoned his family in search of Brazilian gold. Southworth never divorced her husband on conscientious grounds.[6][10]

She began to write stories to support herself and her children when her husband deserted her in 1844. Her first story, "The Irish Refugee", was published in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter.[8] Some of her earliest works appeared in The National Era, the newspaper that printed Uncle Tom's Cabin. The bulk of her work appeared as a serial in Robert E. Bonner's New York Ledger, and in 1857 Southworth signed a contract to write exclusively for this publication.[11]

The exclusive contract Southworth signed with Bonner in 1856 and royalties from her published novels earned her about $10,000 a year, making her one of the country's best-paid writers.[12] Southworth and her children were in ill health through much of the 1850s, but Bonner's contract guaranteed her income regardless of any periods of inactivity brought on by poor health. This arrangement remained intact for 30 years.[6]

Like her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe, she was a supporter of social change and women's rights, but she was not nearly as active on these issues. Her first novel, Retribution, a serial for the National Era, published in book form in 1849, was so well received that she gave up teaching and became a regular contributor to various periodicals, especially the New York Ledger. She lived in Georgetown, D.C., until 1876, then in Yonkers, New York, and again in Georgetown, where she died on June 8, 1899.[8][13]

Her best known work was The Hidden Hand. It first appeared in serial form in the New York Ledger in 1859, and was serialized twice more (1868–69, 1883) before first appearing in book form in 1888. Bonner used the appeal of the novel to "give an occasional boost to his weekly's already massive circulation."[14] It features Capitola Black, a tomboyish protagonist that finds herself in a myriad of adventures. Southworth stated that nearly every adventure of her heroine came from real life. Most of Southworth's novels deal with the Southern United States during the post-American Civil War era. She wrote over sixty; some of them were translated into German, French, Chinese, Icelandic and Spanish; in 1872 an edition of thirty-five volumes was published in Philadelphia.[15]

Bonner was asked by a reporter in 1889 "Who were your most successful story writers?" His reply was: "Mrs. Southworth and Sylvanus Cobb Jr. I think that the most popular and successful stories ever printed as serials were Cobb's 'The Gunmaker of Moscow' and Mrs. Southworth's 'Hidden Hand.' "[10]

Her novel Tried for Her Life was referenced in chapter 8 of Jack Finney's novel Time and Again.

She was a member of the Woman's National Press Association.[16]


Southworth is buried in Washington's Oak Hill Cemetery.[17][18]


note – most of Southworth's novels were serialized before their publications, sometimes under different titles, but online copies of many of the publications can be got at Project Gutenberg (https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=southworth&submit_search=Go%21).


  1. ^ "Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth", in Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture, Retrieved 7 March 2016
  2. ^ Baym, Nina. "E.D.E.N. Southworth's The Hidden Hand" Archived March 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, introduction to Oxford Popular Fiction Series edition of The Hidden Hand (1997)
  3. ^ "E.D.E.N. SOUTHWORTH (1819 – 1899)". www.librarycompany.org. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Huddleson, Sarah M. (1920). "Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth and Her Cottage". Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. 23: 52–79. JSTOR 40067138.
  5. ^ Simms, L. Moody Jr. (1999). "Southworth, Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte". American National Biography, Volume 20. Oxford University Press. pp. 397–398. ISBN 0-19-520635-5.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Southworth, E.D.E.N. (1819–1899) | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  7. ^ Sutherland, John (2012). Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives. Yale University Press. pp. 135–137. ISBN 978-1-84668-157-8.
  8. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Southworth, Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 25 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 518.
  9. ^ Dobson, Joanne. "E.D.E.N. Southworth". Dictionary of Literary Biography. Gale. Retrieved May 30, 2014.
  10. ^ a b Adcock, John (December 22, 2011). "Yesterday's Papers". Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  11. ^ Dowling, David (2012). Literary Partnerships and Marketplace. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. p. 207.
  12. ^ "E.D.E.N. Southworth". utc.iath.virginia.edu. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  13. ^ Dobson, Joanne (1988). Introduction. The Hidden Hand. NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  14. ^ Looby, Christopher (September 2004). "Southworth and Seriality: The Hidden Hand in the New York Ledger". Nineteenth-Century Literature. 59 (2): 179–211. doi:10.1525/ncl.2004.59.2.179.
  15. ^ Boyle, Regis Louise (1939). Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth. Washington DC: Catholic University Press.
  16. ^ Croly, Jane Cunningham (1898). The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America. H. G. Allen & Company. p. 340. Retrieved December 3, 2022. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  17. ^ "Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown, D.C. (Chapel Hill) - Lot 534" (PDF). Oak Hill Cemetery. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 2, 2022. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  18. ^ "Southworth's Gravesite". Southworthiana. June 9, 2015. Retrieved March 11, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bardes, Barbara, and Suzanne Gosset. Declarations of Independence: Women and Political Power in Nineteenth Century American Fiction. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1990.
  • Baym, Nina. Women's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820- 1870. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1978.
  • Carpenter, Lynette. "Double Talk: The Power and Glory of Paradox in E. D. E. N. Southworth's The Hidden Hand." Legacy 10.1 (1993): 17–30.
  • Cogan, Francis B. All-American Girl: The Ideal of Real Womanhood in Mid Nineteenth Century America. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1989.
  • Conrad, Susan P. Perish the Thought: Intellectual Women in Romantic America, 1830–1860. New York: Oxford UP, 1976.
  • Coultrap-McQuin, Susan. Doing Literary Business: American Women Writers in the Nineteenth Century. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1990.
  • Dobson, Joanne. "The Hidden Hand: Subversion of Cultural Ideology in Three Mid- Nineteenth-Century Women's Novels." American Quarterly 38 (1986): 223–42.-----
  • Ginsberg, Elaine K. "Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. Abridged Edition. New York: Ungar, 1988.
  • Habegger, Alfred. "A Well Hidden Hand." Novel 14 (1981): 197–212.
  • Harris, Susan K. "The House That Hagar Built: House and Heroines in E. D. E. N. Southworth's The Deserted Wife." Legacy 4.2 (1987): 17–29. -----
  • Harris, Susan K. 19th-Century American Women's Novels: Interpretive Strategies. New York: Cambridge UP, 1990.
  • Homestead, Melissa J. and Pamela T. Washington, editors. E.D.E.N. Southworth: Recovering a Nineteenth-Century Popular Novelist. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2012
  • McCandless, Amy Thompson. "Concepts of Patriarchy in the Popular Novels of Antebellum Southern Women." Studies in Popular Culture 10.2 (1987): 1-16.
  • Silverblatt, Arthur Martin. Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth and Southern Mythic Society. Diss. Michigan State U, 1980. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1980. 8106442.

External links[edit]