Judith Sargent Murray
Feminism, Moral Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Social & Political Philosophy

Kate Lindemann's 

Women Philosophers


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Judith Sargent Murray is a remarkable figure in American history and letters. An important voice for women and women's rights, she is only now being accorded her rightful place in American philosophy.


1751 May 5 Judith Sargeant Murray is born, the first child of Judith Sanders Sargent and Winthrop Sargent, a couple from well known Massachusetts families made wealthy by the New England- West Indian trade.

Her family was cultured and politically aware. Judith and her brother Winthrop received some early education but while he was able to attend Harvard, she as a woman could not. She lamented this exclusion from higher learning and writes of it in a letter to her brother some years later.

1765 She begins a copybook of her correspondence. And she writes throughout her youth - encouraged by her father's obvious pride in her work.

1769 She marries John Stevens, of a well known Gloucester shipping family.

1770 Her portrait is painted by John Singleton Copley . Even more significant for her future is that her brother becomes interested in the writings of James Relly, and in 1771 he invited friends, including Judith, to his home to discuss these.

1773 She begins to write of the scenes she witnessed during the American Revolution. These notes continue until 1783. These notes, as well as many other volumes (25 in all) of her writings were discovered in 1984 and have been preserved in microfilm.

In 1774 her brother Winthrop invites John Murray, a prominent Universalist preacher to visit. When Judith met Murray she felt she "found a mentor" and guide. She later wrote to him: "I am not much accustomed to writing letters, especially to your sex, but if there be neither male nor female in the Emmanuel you promulgate, we may surely, and with the strictest propriety, mingle souls upon paper." An important correspondence begins.

See: the Unitarian Universalist page for Judith Sargent Murray

1776 A smallpox vaccination provokes illness.

1778 She is suspended from the Congregational First Church. She is no longer attending services because of her Universalist beliefs. A Universalist meeting is founded and after a long struggle is given recognition by the State of Massachusetts in 1786. This is a landmark in the history of United States freedom of religion.

Note: I thank Mary Ellen Holst for correcting an error I had on this page when I said (earlier) that Judith Sargeant Murray attended Unitarian meeting. As Mary Ellen Holst noted Murray held Universalist beliefs. It was not until 1962 that the Universalists and the Unitarians merged. (Always so grateful to those who help with this web site.)

1779 Reads Rousseau's Héloise ; writes "Equality of the Sexes."

1780 She and her husband adopt two orphan girls. The first was John's niece, Anna Plummer and the other was Polly Odell, a young cousin of Saunders.

1782 Having been involved in the religious education of these two children, she finally publishes Some Deductions , a catechism for Universalists. It is thought to be the first Catechism in the new Republic.

1784 Published "Desultory Thought Upon the Utility of Encouraging a Degree of Complacency in the Female Bosoms" Gentleman's and Lady's Town and Country Magazine.

1785 John Stevens's business had been bankrupted by the war. To avoid debtor's prison her flees to St. Eustatius.

1787 John Stevens dies.

1788 Rev. John Murray writes to her that he has long loved her. They later marry and move to Boston.

1789 Judith Sargent Murray gives birth to a son who dies a few days later. She publishes (under pseudonym Constantia) in Massachusetts Magazine.

1790 Numerous publications; travels to Philadelphia and New York.  Attends Universalist Convention at Philadelphia College; Guest of George and Martha Washington, John and Abigail Adams and other notable figures.

1791 Judith Sargent Murray gives birth to a daughter, Maria on August 22. She also publishes a number of poems.

1792 Gleaner Essays  published by subscription. It produced some income for its author.

1793 Relocates to Boston. In this year both her mother and father die.

1794 More poetry, essays published.

1795 Her play, The Medium, is produced at the Federal Street Theater. This was the first play by an American produced and staged in a public theater.

1796 The Traveler Returned another play is produced. Judith Sargent Murray meets Lafayette and his son in Washington.

1798 The Gleaner 3 vols. published.

1803 Continues publishing poetry. Sometimes uses the pseudonym Honora Martesia; writes a letter in defense of Mary Wollstonecraft.

1804 The Ladies Academy in Dorcester is opened, a school for girls with a rigorous curriculum. She helped Judith Saunders & Clementain Beach in its founding.

1805 Writes to her friend Mercy Otis Warren upon Warren's publication of Plays and Poems.

1809 Her husband John Murray has a stroke and is paralyzed.

1812 edits Murray's Letters & Sketches of Sermons 3 vols. Her daughter marries Adam Louis Bingamon.

1815 John Murray dies.

1816 Finishes her husbands autobiography; her portrait is painted by Gilbert Stuart.

1817 Meets Alexis Eustaphiere, Russian Consul.

1820 dies on July 6 in Natchez, Mississippi.


Judith Sargent Murray was a philosopher whose works range across metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, political philosopher. These works show her to be one of the early North American feminists who believed that one could work from reflections about what works well for women to deciding what would be good for society as a whole. See p. 219ff. Therese Boos Dykeman.

Primary Sources - selected list. For a complete list see: Therese Boos Dykeman's work listed below.

1782 Some deductions from the system promulgated in the page of divine revelation: ranged in the order and form of a catechism: Intended as assistant to Christian parent.

1784 Desultory Thoughts upon the Utility of encouraging a degree of Self-Complacency, especially in Female Bosoms. Gentleman and Lady's Town & Country Magazine .

1790 On the Equality of the Sexes Massachusetts magazine " On the Domestic Education of Children " Massachusetts Magazine

1792 - 1794. The Repository Massachusetts Magazine

1794 The Reaper published in Federal Orrery by Thomas Paine who as editor had solicited the manuscript.

1798 The Gleaner: A Miscellaneous production in three volumes Boston.

1816 Life of John Murray By Himself with Continuations by Judith Sargent Murray Boston.

Letters and Sketches of sermons J. Murray. ed by Judith Sargent Murray, Boston.

Some material is online:

See: Judith Sargent Murray on the Equality of the Sexes

Secondary Sources: This is a short list.

Therese Boos Dykeman, The Neglected Canon: Nine Women Philosophers first to Twentieth Century Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999.

L. Hersey, Biographical Sketches of Universalist Women Assoc. Universalist Women, 1954.

Bonnie Smith Hurd. From Gloucester to Philadelphia in 1790 Judith Sargent Murray Society, 1997.

This page was updated November 2, 2014.

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