Lydia H. Sigourney (1791-1865)
One of the nineteenth century's most popular and prolific poets, Lydia Sigourney was among the first American women to enjoy a successful literary career. In 1815, with the assistance of Hartford philanthropist Daniel Wadsworth, she published her first book, Moral Pieces, in Prose and Verse, which the North American Review called "exquisitely beautiful and pathetick . . . if not sublime." After her marriage in 1819 to Charles Sigourney, a prosperous merchant, Sigourney continued to write, but in accordance with her husband's wishes, she published her work anonymously. During the early years of her marriage, she used her literary income to support a number of philanthropic concerns, including what she termed "the good cause of African Colonization." In 1833, when her husband's finances suffered serious reverses, Sigourney began publishing under her own name. Her success was immediate, and her poems and literary sketches became a fixture of the newspapers and popular magazines of the day, while collections of her work also appeared regularly in book form. Dubbed "the Sweet Singer of Hartford," Sigourney was that city's most famous literary celebrity, a distinction she enjoyed until her death in 1865.
Augustus Washington not only daguerreotyped Sigourney but corresponded with her after immigrating to Liberia. When she wrote to him in 1859 requesting "some produce" from his farm, Washington obliged by shipping her 110 pounds of sugar produced from his latest crop of sugarcane.
Quarter-plate daguerreotype, circa 1852
Image courtesy The Watkinson Library, Trinity College