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A Notorious Woman

Anne Royall in Jacksonian America
Elizabeth J. Clapp

BUY Cloth · 280 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813938363 · $39.50 · Mar 2016
BUY Ebook · 280 pp. · ISBN 9780813938370 · $39.50 · Mar 2016

During her long career as a public figure in Jacksonian America, Anne Royall was called everything from an "enemy of religion" to a "Jackson man" to a "common scold." In her search for the source of such strong reactions, Elizabeth Clapp has uncovered the story of a widely read woman of letters who asserted her right to a political voice without regard to her gender.

Widowed and in need of a livelihood following a disastrous lawsuit over her husband’s will, Royall decided to earn her living through writing--first as a travel writer, journeying through America to research and sell her books, and later as a journalist and editor. Her language and forcefully expressed opinions provoked people at least as much as did her inflammatory behavior and aggressive marketing tactics. An ardent defender of American liberties, she attacked the agents of evangelical revivals, the Bank of the United States, and corruption in government. Her positions were frequently extreme, directly challenging the would-be shapers of the early republic’s religious and political culture. She made many enemies, but because she also attracted many supporters, she was not easily silenced. The definitive account of a passionate voice when America was inventing itself, A Notorious Woman re-creates a fascinating stage on which women’s roles, evangelical hegemony, and political involvement were all contested.


I am always looking for evidence to challenge my students’ assumptions that America was from the start a united, pure, religious nation. A few minutes with Anne Royall and the realization of how strongly supported she was in the larger culture will dispel such notions. This excellent book is the first scholarly consideration of Royall’s life, a cradle-to-grave biography and one we shouldn’t take for granted: just telling the life of a woman, through words and action, is still the number one mission of women’s history.

Catherine Allgor, the Huntington Library, author of A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation

Deeply researched, convincingly argued, and appealingly written, A Notorious Woman makes a notable contribution to the history of nineteenth-century U.S. politics and print culture, and women’s place within those arenas. As the first serious recent biographer of Anne Royall, Elizabeth Clapp dispenses once and for all with nineteenth-century caricatures of her subject and presents Royall as a complete and comprehensible human being who forged a visible publishing career within the brash, roiling print culture of her times. Historians and literary scholars, along with scholars of politics, gender, and women’s rights, will find this book illuminating.

Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware, author of Women’s Rights in the United States: A History in Documents

Clap’s argument here is well executed if not surprising given the growing body of scholarship on gender in nineteenth-century America. Yet her subject adds nuances to our understanding of the era.

In the absence of subscription numbers—notoriously elusive for early publications—Clapp has provided an insightful and thought-provoking analysis of an important literary figure in Jacksonian America and of key issues of contemporary political culture.

Amanda Mushal, The Citadel · The Journal of Southern History

Elizabeth Clapp’s A Notorious Woman expertly chronicles the life of an intriguing, controversial, and overall "Notorious" figure."

Susan Ibarrato, Minnesota State University · Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

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