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A Mere Woman
A shy Yankee named Hannah Adams never thought of herself as liberated, but she was our first professional female writer.
December 1972 | Volume 24, Issue 1
At her death, Hannah Adams remained the earliest native-born American woman to have published a book under her own name. She was much too shy to advance a public claim to be any sort of “first” among American writers, yet the evidence is strong that she was likewise the first American writer of either sex to earn her living at that profession. Her dictionary of religions, first published under that marathon title in 1784, predated by fourteen years the publication of Alcuin, a Dialogue , by Charles Brockden Brown, who is sometimes called America’s first professional writer. However, that claim is a matter of interpretation —for she did not make enough profit from writing to undertake it as a full-time means of support until the reissue of her first book in 1791. Nevertheless, Miss Adams was in the forefront of the American literary parade, no small honor for someone who probably never saw herself as a Liberated Woman.