Martha Saxton, Historian Who Explored Women’s Lives, Dies at 77

The historian’s penetrating exploration of women’s lives has led to new insights into figures from author Louisa May Alcott to 1950s actress and sex symbol Jane Mansfield to Mary Washington, mother of the first president of the United States. Martha Saxton has died. She turned 77 on Tuesday at her home in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Daughter Josephine Saxton Ferrelli said the cause was lung cancer.

First as a freelance writer, then as an assistant professor of history and women’s studies at Amherst College, Professor Saxton unearthed women’s lives from beneath the morass of male privilege set by historians during and before the subject’s time.

“I have spent my life researching and writing the history of North American women, trying to recapture some of what was lost, to put misunderstandings and criticisms into historical context, and to put stereotypes and feelings into evidence.” she wrote. Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington. “

The book, published in 2019, stars a woman that generations of historians (almost all men) have dismissed as a brutal slaveholder who abused her famous son. Without judging her, Ms. Saxton showed that Mary Washington was just her contemporary and that her life was a window into the experience of women in 18th-century Virginia.

Professor Saxton brought the same point of view to her first book, Jayne Mansfield and the American Fifties (1976), the first full-scale performance of an actress known for her physical talents rather than her dramatic skills. It was also a positive evaluation.

Professor Saxton’s first book was also the first serious evaluation of an actress known for her physical talents rather than her dramatic skills.

This is a work of feminist history at the dawn of the field. The first sentence reads, “Unlike the history of men, the history of women is also the history of sex.” And if the term seems less true in 2023 than it did in 1976, it’s partly due to the work of academics like Professor Saxton.

Professor Saxton argued that Jane Mansfield was both a victim and an agent, a sexualized woman who used her image as an indiscreet entanglement to get ahead in a male-dominated society.

“Only the 1950s could have produced her,” she wrote. “Like most women, she was not allowed to lead, but for a moment she was a discerning follower endowed with her unique talents.”

She followed “Jane Mansfield” a year later with an entirely different biography. Louisa May Alcott: A Modern Biography is a complex portrait of a woman under the control of an eccentric and domineering father and a patriarchal New England society. But it is also a deep reflection on Olcott’s most famous book, Little Women.

In particular, “Louisa May Alcott” captures one of Professor Saxton’s enduring intellectual themes. Concepts of ethics and morality are often gendered, so what makes a “good” woman can also make a “bad” man, and vice versa.

“Wakakusa Monogatari has become a handbook for girls seeking wisdom on how to be a good woman,” she wrote.

In her biography of the book’s author, Professor Saxton wrote that Little Women “became a handbook for young girls seeking wisdom on how to be a good woman.”

Martha Porter Saxton was born in Manhattan on September 3, 1945 and raised in Newton, Massachusetts. Her father Mark Saxton and her mother Josephine (Stocking) Saxton both worked in the publishing industry.

After graduating from the University of Chicago with a degree in history in 1967, she briefly considered a career in law, but instead worked in the publishing industry for several years in New York, while working for magazines such as The New Yorker. I was doing freelance writing.

She married photographer Enrico Ferrelli in 1977. Enrico Ferrelli passed away in 2014. She is left by her son Francesco Saxton Ferrorelli with her daughter. her younger brother, Russell Saxton; and his grandson.

It was only after she had established herself as a published author that Professor Saxton decided to pursue a PhD. Recorded in the history of Columbia University.

She received her PhD in 1989 and published her doctoral dissertation in 2003 in the book Being Good: Women’s Moral Values ​​in Early America. She joined Amherst’s faculty in 1997 after holding a number of short-term academic positions. In 2015 she received the title of honorary member.

As a scholar, Professor Saxton broadened the scope of her historical inquiry to explore the lives of women of color, enslaved women, and incarcerated beyond middle-class white women.

Together with Amherst’s colleague Professor Amrita Bass, she has developed courses on human rights activism, gender and the environment. She also, with various collaborators, taught a course called ‘Inside/Out’ that linked Amherst undergraduates with those incarcerated at Hampshire County Jail near Northampton.

Saxton was nearing the completion of his last book, a biography of 18th-century British historian Edward Gibbon, when he died. All she lacked was her final chapter. Professor Bass, a close friend of author Judith Thurman, said he would finish the draft.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button