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How did a priviledged Victorian matron, newly widowed and newly impoverished, manage to raise and educate her six young children to restore her family to social prominence?
Mary Baker McQuesten's personal letters, 155 of which were carefully selected by Mary J. Anderson, tells the story. In her uninhibited style, in letters to mostly her children, Mary Baker McQuesten chronicles her financial struggles and her expectations. The letters reveal her forthright opinions on a broad range of topics-politics, religion, literature, social sciences, and even local gossip. We learn how Mary assessed each of her children's strengths and weaknesses, and directed each of their lives for the good of the family. For example, she sent her daughter Ruby out to teach so she could send her earnings home to educate Thomas, the son Mary felt was the most likely to succeed. And succeed he did, as a lawyer and MPP, helping to build many of Hamilton's and Ontario's highways, bridges, parks and heritage sites, and in doing so, bringing the family back to social prominence.
Mary Baker McQuesten was also president of the Women's Missionary Society. The appearance, manner, and eloquence of the various ministers and politicians all come under her uninibited scrutiny, providing lively insights into the Victorian moral and social motivations of both men and women and about the gender conflicts that occurred both at home and abroad.
This book will satisfy many readers. Those interested in the drama of Victorian society will enjoy the images of the stem Presbyterian matriarch, the sacrificed female, family mental illness, the unresolved death of a husband, and the dangers of social stigma. Scholars looking for research material will find an abundance in the letters, well annotated with details of the surrounding political, social, and current events of the times.
"Mary J. Anderson has raised the blinds on several windows at Whitehern-Hamilton's historic residence-revealing to the public eye the private life of a complex family. Using the letters of Mary Baker McQuesten in the Whitehern archives, Anderson has woven a narrative so skillfully that it reads like Victorian fiction."
-Rev. Dr. T. Melville Bailey, Editor in Chief, Dictionary of Hamilton Biography
"Through her expert and detailed analysis of the McQuesten letters, Mary J. Anderson lovingly places them in context-of the family, the burgeoning city of Hamilton, the nation, and of Western society in general... The letters are riveting reading."
Brian Henley, local historian and author of Hamilton Back Then
"Mary J. Anderson has performed a valuable service for historians, women's studies scholars, and students of autobiography and cultural history by editing and disseminating the letters of Mary Baker McQuesten: public woman, family matriarch, social hostess, and above all, powerful personality. Mary McQuesten's letters form a fascinating archive of life in late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century Ontario."
Lorraine York, McMaster University
To purchase The Life Writings of Mary Baker McQuesten: Victorian Matriarch, please contact Whitehern Historic House and Garden or order direct from Wilfrid Laurier University Press.