The Women Jefferson Loved
The Women Jefferson Loved
Harper, Hardcover, 9780061227073, 496pp.
Publication Date: November 1, 2010
Throughout his life, Thomas Jefferson constructed a seemingly impenetrable wall between his public legacy and his private life, a division maintained by his family and the several traditional biographies written about this founding father. Now Virginia Scharff breaks down the barrier between Jefferson's public and private histories to offer an intriguing new portrait of this complicated and influential figure, as seen through the lives of a remarkable group of women.
Scharff brings together for the first time in one volume the stories of these diverse women, separated by race but related by blood, including Jefferson's mother, Jane Randolph; his wife, Martha; her half sister, Sally Hemings, his slave mistress; his daughters; and his granddaughters. "Their lives, their Revolutions, their vulnerabilities, shaped the choices Jefferson made, from the selection of words and ideas in his Declaration, to the endless building of his mountaintop mansion, to the vision of a great agrarian nation that powered his Louisiana Purchase," Scharff writes. Based on a wealth of sources, including family letters, and written with empathy and great insight, The Women Jefferson Loved is a welcome new look at this legendary American and one that offers a fresh twist on American history itself.
“[A] luminous and long overdue addition to Jefferson scholarship. . . . This book is a tour de force; a must read for all who are interested in the early America, Jefferson, and Monticello.”
-Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
“A smart, eye-opening, vividly written saga of Monticello. It’s an indispensable portrait of Thomas Jefferson like none other. Highly recommended!”
-Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History, Rice University, and author of The Wilderness Warrior
“With wit and verve, Scharff introduces us to a new side of the Founding Father, unraveling the intricate ties between his public and private lives and creating an unforgettable portrait of a man bound up in the struggle between head and heart.”
-Martha A. Sandweiss, author of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line
“It is not often that I spend a day reading a single book, but The Women Jefferson Loved is that gripping. Moving, brilliantly written and deeply sympathetic to everyone concerned, it is a wonder.”
-Richard White, Professor of History, Stanford University, and author of The Middle Ground
“Scharff weaves a fascinating tale, enriched by the insights of the best contemporary scholarship, and seamlessly constructed from family lore, letters, garden and account books, and Martha Jefferson’s housekeeping journal. This is a terrific read!”
-Barbara Oberg, General Editor, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Princeton University
“We’ve all heard about the influence of the women ‘behind’ great men. Virginia Scharff actually shows this by examining all the women in Jefferson’s life-his mother, white wife, black common-law wife, daughters and granddaughters. A grand, lively read.”
-Linda Gordon, Professor of History, New York University, and author of Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits
“If you think there’s nothing new to learn about Thomas Jefferson, think again-and read this original, shrewd and above all compassionate book. Virginia Scharff introduces us to the remarkable women who, as much as Jefferson himself, illuminate their time through their lives and their strength of character.”
-Elliott West, author of The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story