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The women Jefferson loved
Virginia Scharff
Adult Nonfiction E332.2 .S33 2010

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Scharff (Home Lands: How Women Made the West) doesn't shy from controversy in this account of five women who greatly impacted Thomas Jefferson's life and career. Jefferson's mother Jane was born into privilege and mismanaged her estate her entire life. But she was educated and motivated, and passed along a "sense of duty, respect for learning, and enjoyment of the fine things of life" to her children. Jefferson's wife, the widower Martha Wayles, was a strong woman who endured one tragedy after another; Jefferson described their 10 year marriage as "unchequered happiness." Martha was the half-sister and owner of Sally Hemings, the youngest of a family of slaves she inherited from her father. Scharff cites Hemings's son in writing that Sally's "coming of age" in her late teens was linked directly to her "becoming the mistress-or to use Madison Hemings's word, concubine-of Thomas Jefferson," who was thirty years her senior. Jefferson's fiercely devoted daughters, Patsy and Polly, denounced rumors of the affair and round out the cast of characters who populate Scharff's fascinating study. Writing with precision, control, and a delicate lyricism, Scharff unearths not only five important figures but also a society facing epic shifts. Photos. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal:

Scharff ( history, Univ. of New Mexico; Home Lands: How Women Made the West), who has also published mystery novels under the name Virginia Swift, presents an intimate study of one of our most documented Presidents by detailing his relationships with his mother, Jane Randolph; his wife, Martha Wayles; his slave and mistress, Sally Hemings; and his daughters, Patsy and Polly. Citing many secondary sources about Jefferson, especially those by Annette Gordon-Reed on the Hemings-Jefferson relationship and resulting lineage, Scharff lays out the "shadow families" of the Hemings in three generations of Jefferson's extended family whose presence shaped him as a man and a leader. Those Scharff profiles are all strong women, despite the hardships of the times and the restrictions placed on their gender by society. For Hemmings, the onerous burden of slavery forced her to make hard choices both as a woman and a slave. Despite few primary sources (true to a lesser extent as well for the others), Hemings still cuts a strong figure here. Verdict A fascinating and intimate account that will attract American history buffs and students of Jefferson.-Jane B. Marino, Great Neck Lib., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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