Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Price, Abby Hills (1814–1878)
Author:
Ceniza, Sherry
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Abby Hills, born in Windham, Connecticut, married Edmund Price in 1838; in 1842 the Prices moved to Hopedale, Massachusetts, to become part of the founding of Adin Ballou's Hopedale Community, a Practical Christian commune subscribing not only to pacifism but also to a form of pre-Marxian socialism, temperance, and abolitionism. The community was also unusual in its practice of women's rights. Abby Price lived in Hopedale until 1853, when she was publicly reprimanded for counseling a married couple and single woman in what turned out to be an adulterous relationship. The Price family left Hopedale in 1853 to live at the Raritan Bay Union, outside Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where they stayed until 1855, when they moved to Brooklyn. Price and Whitman became close friends in 1856 and remained so until her death in 1878.

Of utmost importance to Whitman studies is the fact that Abby Price, a person who would now qualify as a "radical feminist," befriended Whitman and his family, offering present-day scholars a view which runs counter to that of Charles Eldridge, likewise Whitman's friend, who said in 1902 that Whitman "delighted in the company of old fashioned women; mothers of large families preferred, who did not talk about literature or reforms" (381). Abby Price, anything but an old-fashioned woman, did talk about literature and reform. Numerous articles written by her appear in the Hopedale newspaper, The Practical Christian (1842–1853). Articles by her appear, as well, in The Una and the Liberator, and her speeches given at the 1850, 1851, and 1852 National Woman's Rights conventions appear in the New York Tribune and in History of Woman Suffrage, as well as the proceedings of the conferences.

By reading the speeches given at the national, state, and local women's rights conferences in the decade of the 1850s, a person soon begins to hear points of view similar to those expressed in Leaves of Grass. Whitman was not antipathetic to the issues forwarded by women's rights activists, though, admittedly, he did not create images of women working outside the home nearly so much as activists like Price and her activist friend Paulina Wright Davis promoted. But a critical evaluation of Whitman and/or Leaves must take into account women like Abby Price, who was one of Whitman's closest friends in his most creative years, 1850–1860. In evaluating Whitman's stance toward women in his poetry and prose, Abby Price is a key figure in regard to any feminist critique of Whitman.

Bibliography

Ceniza, Sherry. "Walt Whitman and Abby Price." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 7 (1989): 49–67.

———. "Whitman and Democratic Women." Approaches to Teaching Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." Ed. Donald D. Kummings. New York: MLA, 1990. 153–158.

Eldridge, Charles. "Walt Whitman as a Conservative." Saturday Review of Books and Art supp. to New York Times 7 June 1902:381.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. History of Woman Suffrage. 1881. 3 vols. Rochester: Susan B. Anthony, Charles Mann, 1992.

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. Vols. 1–2. New York: New York UP, 1961.


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