Talk:Elizabeth Willing Powel

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Featured articleElizabeth Willing Powel is a featured article; it (or a previous version of it) has been identified as one of the best articles produced by the Wikipedia community. Even so, if you can update or improve it, please do so.
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The text of the entry was: Did you know ... that it was reportedly Elizabeth Willing Powel (pictured) who asked Benjamin Franklin whether the United States was to be "a republic or a monarchy", to which he responded: "A republic ... if you can keep it"?
On this day... A fact from this article was featured on Wikipedia's Main Page in the "On this day..." column on February 21, 2021.
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Powel maintained frequent correspondence with her influential interlocutors.[a] She discussed politics, and the education and social standing of women, exchanged poetry, recommended books, and reviewed scientific findings in medicine and physics.[2] She frequently studied and wrote on the subject of health, prompting Elizabeth Hamilton to later recall, "[r]emember Mrs. Powel on the advantages of health, and disadvantages of the want of it."[3] When Rush published his Thoughts upon Female Education (1787), he dedicated the work to Powel.[4][5]

She wrote to some extent on the subject of religion, to her eventual protégé Bushrod Washington, saying of David Hume and of deist philosophers generally, they they were like a person who would leave a family homeless by knocking down their house without providing shelter, arguing that the foundations of the home were not solid.[6]

Like many during the Revolutionary War, the Powels suffered extensive destruction of property, specifically those they owned outside the city. For her part, Elizabeth lamented the lack of education the war would cause, citing "the want of proper schools for the instruction of youth ... especially when the barbarities of war have almost made mankind savage."[7]

The role of women[edit]

In her letters, Elizabeth expressed contempt for Lord Chesterfield's Letters to my son and his treatment of women. To her sister Mary, she wrote, "he mistook appetite for love and regarded the object of his inclinations only as it could contribute to the gratification of his vicious desires." She warned of the dangers of taking pity on seductive men, that would lead women to a precipice of "utter and inevitable disadvantage." She later wrote, warning of the dangers of men who were "destined by opinion and uncontrolled custom," and who "do not love to find a competitor in the softer sex," an arrangement which required the utmost delicacy from educated women.[4]

Despite her proximity to and friendships with the political and philosophical elites of the day, Powel also expressed her own misgivings about the role of women in politics:

A fine woman is totally unfit for government and what we commonly called the great affairs of public life. [Women] are quick at expedient, ready in the moment of sudden exigencies, excellent to suggest, bu their imagination runs riot; it requires the vigor of mind alone possessed by men to digest and put in force a plan of any magnitude. There is a natural precipitancy in our sex that frequently frustrates its own designs.[8]


The Powels maintained a substantial cadre of servants, including slave, free, and indentured. At least as of 1774, the purchase of a slave for the price of £100 was noted according to local tax records. As of 1790, the family no long owned slaves, although their peers and neighbors continued to do so.[9] According to existing records, the Powels took considerable care regarding their servants' welfare, including allowing for a number of them in her will once Elizabeth became a widow.[10][b] In one instance, she caused a dsipute with the family of Alexander Wilcocks, by luring away their cook, Betty Smith, who was unhappy with the treatment of her former employers. Powel concluded that Smith was ultimately a free woman, and could make such decisions for herself.[10]


  1. ^ According to an estimate by Samantha Snyder, reference librarian at George Washington's Mount Vernon, more than 500 of Powel's letters survived, and were identified among the collections of institutions across the United States.[1]
  2. ^ Though Maxey cautions this should not be interpreted as a so-called class of happy slaves, somehow more well-off than their free counterparts, as histories of the time may have reported.[10]


  1. ^ "Elizabeth Willing Powel's Republic of Letters". Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  2. ^ Templier 2013, p. 62.
  3. ^ Templier 2013, p. 63.
  4. ^ a b Maxey 2006, p. 71.
  5. ^ Mulford 1995, p. 229.
  6. ^ Maxey 2006, p. 29.
  7. ^ Maxey 2006, p. 25.
  8. ^ Maxey 2006, p. 19.
  9. ^ Maxey 2006, p. 21-2.
  10. ^ a b c Maxey 2006, p. 22.